Within a matter of months this past off-season, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett all retired from the NBA.
That trifecta’s departure turned the page on three of the most iconic careers in pro basketball annals.
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett combined to earn 48 All-Star berths during their careers: 18 by Bryant and 15 each by Duncan and Garnett
With those retirements, only five players remain who have collected at least 10 All-Star berths.
They are Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (13), Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (12), Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (11), Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (10) and guard Ray Allen.
Allen last played for Miami in 2014 and hasn’t officially turned in his retirement papers. In addition, the Heat hasn’t cleared Bosh to play this season because of various health issues.
The retirement notifications by Bryant, Duncan and Garnett didn’t go unnoticed by Nowitzki, who came up in the same era as those players and generally had a similar impact on the game.
“It’s sad,” Nowitzki said. “It’s sad to see three of the best to ever do it go in one year.
“I think all three of them meant a lot to the game, not only on the court, but off the court — the stuff that they did. I had epic battles with all three of them and have nothing but respect for what they’ve done for our sport.”
The only players in NBA history with as many or more All-Star berths as Bryant, Duncan and Garnett are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19) and Shaquille O’Neal (15). Thus, for Bryant, Duncan and Garnett to retire in the same off-season, that’s unprecedented.
“Guys like Dirk don’t play 19 years without putting in hours and hours and hours and hours of work with body strength, core development and everything under the sun,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Also, guys like Dirk and Kevin Garnett and Duncan, these guys have long limbs, their joints are highly leveraged because of their angularity, and it just requires that they do an awful lot of strength work.”
Nowitzki, now 38 years old, will start his 19th season at 6 p.m. Wednesday when the Mavericks play the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis.
He has always compensated a lack of speed and quickness with hard work. Carlisle describes Nowitzki’s workout regimen as the best he’s ever seen.
“I wouldn’t dare to presume that the other guys don’t put a lot of work in either,” Carlisle said. “But Dirk’s the most amazing athlete I’ve ever been around, and that’s the absolute truth.
“When you factor in everything — the load he’s carried, the longevity, the consistency — he’s one of the really, really special players we’ve ever seen in this league.”
The only time Nowitzki didn’t make the All-Star team from 2002-15 was in 2013, when he missed the first 27 games of the season in order to undergo arthroscopic right knee surgery.
Vince Carter, Nowitzki and Pierce were all drafted in 1998. The only player officially still in the NBA drafted before that trio is Allen, who was drafted in 1996.
“There are a few old guys, obviously, still doing it,” Nowitzki said. “Vince was in my draft, Paul Pierce was in my draft, so we’ll see how long this generation can still do it.
“But I signed for two more years, so hopefully I can play the next two out and go from there.”
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett combined to win 11 NBA titles, including five each by Bryant and Duncan. Their collective departures signaled the end of one of the most engaging eras in NBA history.
“It’s been an amazing run over the last 20 years with this group of guys with Garnett, Duncan, Nowitzki and Bryant,’’ Carlisle said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever see another group like this come through two decades together.
“It’s very, very unusual. But you must understand that these guys are all very specially wired, they have a very special internal motor and fire, and they’re uncompromising with everything that they do.’’