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Clippers' Grant Hill, Knicks' Kurt Thomas: This is 40 in the NBA

When Clippers face New York on Sunday, it will be a meeting of the league's oldest players. Grant Hill and Kurt Thomas are 40, with Thomas older — by one day.

March 16, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Clippers' Grant Hill, left, Hill is part of one of the best benches in the NBA, capable of locking down a top scorer while knocking down a couple of shots; New York's Kurt Thomas has become very relevant to the Knicks' playoff hopes with several teammates either slowed or sidelined with injuries.
Clippers' Grant Hill, left, Hill is part of one of the best benches… (Chuck Myers / MCT; Frank…)

They are the 40-year-old endorphins, providing a feel-good boost on the court at a time when most players their age have collected framed jerseys and moved on to more leisurely pursuits.

Coaching and entrepreneurial endeavors aren't on the agenda for Kurt Thomas and Grant Hill. Maybe in another 40 years.

Thomas is too busy starting for the New York Knicks amid a rash of injuries to younger teammates.

Hill isn't slowing down, though the veteran Clippers forward did stop Knicks star Carmelo Anthony last month in a signature defensive performance.

While it may seem like a blast from the past when the NBA's two oldest players converge Sunday at Staples Center, it will actually be a study in current events.

Thomas, who is one day older than Hill, has become very relevant to the Knicks' playoff hopes with Anthony and Tyson Chandler hobbled and fellow big men Amare Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace sidelined indefinitely.

Hill is part of one of the best benches in the NBA, capable of locking down a top scorer while knocking down a couple of shots. His twentysomething teammates call him "young fella." He fires back by calling them "the vets."

"We have a good time with it," Hill said. "This team, this locker room is all about having fun with one another and certainly they get on me from time to time about my age."

A seven-time All-Star and former co-rookie of the year who has persevered though one injury after another, Hill remains widely recognized wherever he goes.

Thomas seemed shrouded in relative anonymity Saturday afternoon on the walk from practice at the old UCLA men's gym to the team bus. The power forward pulled the hood of a black jacket over his head and kept going while eager bystanders asked teammates J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby to stop for pictures and autographs.

Merely remaining active gives Thomas one distinction Hill can't match, if only by 24 hours.

Said Thomas: "He's definitely glad I'm still in the league so he's not the oldest man in the NBA."

Said Hill: "I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing."

Being 40 in a league that includes players less than half that age can be a maddening thing. Hill has to make a conscious effort to get adequate rest during the season because he has more difficulty napping than he did only a few years ago. Thomas has found bouncing back from games and practices more of a challenge than it was earlier in his career.

At least Thomas can look around the locker room and exchange knowing glances with teammates who feel his pain. The Knicks are the oldest team in league history, with Jason Kidd (39), Wallace (38) and Camby (38) also closer to AARP status than their NCAA days.

Thomas and Hill trudge on despite being written off more frequently than charitable donations.

A columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote last month that Hill was probably in the midst of his final season.

"That particular writer has been writing that since 2004," Hill said.

It's never smart to bet against anyone who has stuck around so long that everything old is becoming new again. If Hill plays out the final season of his Clippers contract in 2013-14, he could be joined in the NBA by Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III, the son of the player by the same name taken ahead of Hill in the 1994 draft.

Not even Thomas figured he'd be playing at this age. During his first season with the Knicks, 1998-99, Thomas overlapped with veteran center-forward Herb Williams, then entering his final NBA season at age 40.

"I used to joke with him when I first came to New York about his age and how I would never play at 40," Thomas said of Williams, now a Knicks assistant coach. "And now here I am playing at 40. So he's always throwing little jabs at me because of those comments I made when I was a young fellow."

Nobody calls Thomas or Hill a youngster anymore, except in jest.

The duo has combined for 36 seasons, 2,129 regular-season games and 26,093 points while playing for 13 teams.

One thing they haven't tallied is a championship. But that's OK because their journeys have been a delight even if they haven't ended in parades.

"I definitely would love to get a ring," Thomas said, "but I just enjoy competing. I enjoy being out there with the guys and I enjoy being in the gym, I enjoy traveling."

While he hasn't been as productive as he was early in his career when he was projected as one of the game's all-time greats, Hill said some of his favorite memories have been forged since the last of his four ankle surgeries, 10 years ago this month.

"I'm probably more proud of what I've done since then than what I did prior to that," he said, "overcoming it and having to fight to get back."

There's plenty of fight left in Hill and Thomas. Even if the jabs are sometimes comical.

"I always get a good laugh whenever I see Grant," Thomas said. "I always mess with him about who has the most gray hair."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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