NBA superstar-turned-analyst Charles Barkley commonly utters the truism, “Father Time is undefeated.”
Barkley is undoubtedly right. Professional sports is a young man’s game. Aging players tend to get “old” overnight. One day they can play at a high level. The next day, they’re out of the league.
This harsh reality makes one man’s comeback attempt seem especially ridiculous.
A man in his early 60s is attempting to play in the NBA, and he’s gravely serious.
From SB Nation:
Calvin Roberts is a former Junior College All-American, NBA draft pick, and Liga ACB veteran. In most cases, a resume like that wouldn’t look out of place on a roster of Las Vegas Summer League hopefuls.
That’s except for one small detail: Roberts is 61 years old.
Roberts hasn’t played professional basketball in almost 20 years, but decided to attempt a comeback far later than nearly any player ever has. Why? To finish what he started and prove to himself that he really was good enough for the NBA.
“I feel like I missed out on something that I should’ve finished a long time ago,” Roberts told SB Nation. “I just now have the chance to achieve something that nobody else has done before.”
Roberts was drafted by the Spurs in the fourth round in 1980 and saw camp stints with the San Diego Clippers and Atlanta Hawks, but that was the extent of his NBA chance before heading overseas. Roberts formally retired in 1999 when his agent couldn’t find any teams that wanted to bring him on because of his age. He was 43 then.
Nearly two decades later, he’s giving his NBA dream another shot. And he’s serious about it.
“I just said once I start, I’m not going to stop,” Roberts said.
The NBA fantasy returned into focus a year ago, when his wife goaded him to get back into shape to play basketball with his kids. As Roberts began shooting around with his two younger children, he came to a realization: He felt as good as ever.
As his workouts began to show results, Roberts sent letters to the Hawks, Spurs, and Clippers all teams he once had cups of coffee with nearly four decades ago, pitching a Summer League roster spot. He also contacted Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson. Why? Because he played against Johnson in 1978, back when Johnson was a teenage star at Michigan State.
Mark Warkentein, the New York Knicks director of player personnel, knew about Roberts’ quest to make it to Las Vegas Summer League. Once upon a time, Warkentein coached and recruited Roberts to Cal State Fullerton as an assistant coach. But that was decades ago.
“You see the headline stuff, ‘Calvin Roberts wants to make a comeback.’ I said ‘wait a second, that can’t be my Calvin Roberts,’” Warkentein told SB Nation. “I’m 64-years-old. I coached him when I was in my early 20s. So yeah, I took notice very quick.”
“Realistically? I coached Calvin in the 70s,” Warkentein said. “I coached Calvin when Nixon was president.”
Summer league is now over, and Roberts’ dream seems farther than ever. But he didn’t work this hard for a year to stop now. One day, he vows to become the oldest man to play in the NBA.
“How long I’ll keep doing it? I don’t know. Until somebody acknowledges that I’m trying to get on a team,” Roberts said.
“They can give me a yes or no answer. That’s all I’m asking for.”
Although Roberts’s pursuit seems delusional, there is some precedent for his goal.
Hockey legend Gordie Howe retired in 1980 at age 52, then suited up for one game in 1997, playing professionally in six different decades.
Boxing icon George Foreman came out of retirement and became the oldest heavyweight champion in history at age 45.
It seems highly unlikely Roberts will get the call, but it would make for a fantastic comeback story.