Playing any sport at an elite level is a huge challenge for most athletes. Being one of the best at your chosen sport just got harder. And to be one of the best in years – not to say decades – is even more of an achievement. Very few athletes can be top of their game in their 20s to 40s. A recent article in The Ringer documented how Henry Aaron did this – and that is a testament to how great Aaron was even among the greats in the game.
The same could be said for Tom Brady; the same goes for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar spent 20 seasons in the NBA before retiring; Brady’s professional career began in 2000 and shows no end sign. In a new article for The Guardian, Abdul-Jabbar was inspired by his own gaming experiences in his forties give advice to Brady.
Abdul-Jabbar empathizes with the effect aging can have on an athlete’s body. “[A]ging for an athlete is betrayal. The body does not respond with the same speed, the same intensity, the same precision, ”he writes. “Your best friend has become a complaining companion, fearing cold drafts, back pain, and sore knees.”
He also highlights the psychological effects of the end of his career. “In a very visceral way, it’s like facing death,” writes Abdul-Jabbar. “Not the cessation of bodily functions, but rather the cessation of one’s identity.”
His advice to Brady is less about conditioning or preparing for the next game, but more about being aware of his legacy outside of the game and his next step. Abdul-Jabbar notes that his work after his career ended has included writing and activism. “Apart from your excellence in your sport, what do you represent, what values do you represent? ” he asks.
Every athlete’s career ultimately ends, and Abdul-Jabbar’s life has had a more interesting second act than almost all of his peers. The questions he raises in this article relate to Brady’s long career, but they apply just as easily to other athletes playing at a high level – and they likely will for years to come.
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