There’s a little-known rule in the NBA that prohibits teams from signing a player to a four or five-year contract if he’s going to turn 36 during the time of the deal. It was put in place to prevent clubs from offering guys more money than the salary cap permits by paying them for seasons when they would likely already be retired, with 36 deemed the age by which players were assumed to be out of the league.
That rule is about to change, thanks in large part to LeBron James. Now in his 14th season, James is 31 years old, with his 32nd birthday coming in December. The way things currently stand, LeBron would be unable to sign a new five-year max contract next summer since he’d be 37 by the time it expired. Is there anyone on the planet who actually doubts James will still be going strong at age 37?
LeBron is the superstar of all superstars, and his influence with the Players Association (NBPA) is prompting the number to jump from 36 to 38 in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, which is expected to be announced later this year. Other big-name veterans, like 31-year-old NBPA President Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, 32, also stand to benefit.
While on the surface it seems quite clear that “King James” is the driving force behind this rule change, it makes sense from a big-picture standpoint as well. To paraphrase the great Jay-Z (sort of), when it comes to NBA stars, 38 is the new 36. The league is acknowledging the fact that its players are capable of remaining at or near the top of their game at a more advanced age than ever before.
Today’s pros have access to information and technology that was never previously available. A few decades ago, superstars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird drank beer regularly during the season. Now we have empirical evidence that suggests it may take as long as four days to recover from a single night of drinking. Imagine what Jordan and Bird might have accomplished over the course of their careers had they known this?
World-class athletes are now infinitely more aware of what’s going on with their bodies. They eat better, train smarter, sleep more efficiently and do everything possible to perform at the highest level.
Many NBA players, James included, hire their own personal chefs in order to ensure they are eating properly. Veteran forward Paul Pierce used to put down fast food burgers and cola before games. Those days are long behind him. The 39-year-old now follows a careful diet and drinks almost exclusively water. Pierce also swears by the benefits of a hyperbaric chamber, which was introduced to him by long-time friend and former teammate Kevin Garnett, who just retired from the league at age 40 after 21 seasons.
Technology is at the forefront of extending NBA players’ careers, and WHOOP has the potential to play a key role.
The 24/7 analysis WHOOP provides allows athletes to have a much greater understanding of their Sleep, Strain and Recovery. For aging players looking to remain competitive with guys close to half their age, optimal Sleep goes a long way. In fact, WHOOP even has real data to show basketball players’ shooting percentages increase when they have higher Recovery scores.
Players also become more susceptible to injury the older they get–Kobe Bryant is a perfect example. Bryant retired last spring at age 37, but he took the floor for only 107 out of a possible 246 games over his final three seasons due to shoulder, knee and Achilles injuries.
Data indicates athletes using WHOOP reported injuries 60-percent less often. Might WHOOP have been able to help Kobe spend less time on the sidelines during the twilight of his career?
The NBA’s “over 36 rule” changing to 38 is a clear sign of players’ ability to last longer in the league than ever before. And who knows, maybe WHOOP will help bump that number even higher in the years to come.