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Experience Pays In The NBA: Old Stars Get Big Bucks

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Two NBA stars who are certainly past their primes and almost over the hill signed huge new contracts this week.

Make no mistake, Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash are still world-class basketball players. But it's been eight years since Garnett won his Most Valuable Player award, and it's been six years since Nash won back-to-back MVPs. Garnett is 36 years old, and Nash is 38.

"At 38, you're an active senior in NBA terms," sports writer Dave Zirin of The Nation magazine says. "You might as well be playing shuffleboard."

Instead, Nash will be playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. He signed a three-year deal worth $27 million. And Garnett will anchor the Boston Celtics' defense again next year. He signed a three-year deal worth $34 million.

Zirin spoke with weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz about how Nash can still help the Lakers contend for an NBA championship and why there's been a paradigm shift to offer larger contracts to older players.


Interview Highlights

On 38-year-old Nash going to the Lakers

"Last year, he averaged 12.5 points, 10.7 assists. Remarkably for a point guard, he shot 53 percent from the field, so people definitely think he still has something left in the tank. But he was offered a bigger contract, actually, to go to the Toronto Raptors. Steve Nash, of course, is Canadian. That would've been the career victory lap — to end by going to Toronto. But clearly, he's thinking much more in line of, how do I get a championship ring before I retire?"

On why players are staying stronger longer

"The question that comes up, I think, is why? Why has there been this paradigm shift in the NBA, which is very recent, of offering these large contracts to older players? I think, on one hand, you have to look at advances in training, particularly strength training. There have been huge advances. People like [Lakers' star player] Kobe Bryant have gone overseas to Europe for experimental treatments that haven't even been cleared in the United States. They're not illegal — I want to be very clear about that — but they are risky treatments."

On the financial side of big contracts

"I think another thing that we have to recognize is the NBA lockout, which of course occurred last year and limited this current season, was supposed to be done to limit the sort of financial anarchy in the NBA — which is huge money — guaranteed money of players with no way to get out of those contracts. I think what you're seeing is there are still loopholes to exercise financial anarchy in front offices in the NBA."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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