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Once upon a time, the NBA cherished players who stayed with teams for their whole career. There was once a time when we thought those players as glorious as Michael Jordan and Karl Malone would never leave the Bulls and Jazz. But little did we know the struggles of these players and their desire to continue playing the game. This was proven when Malone went to the Lakers for the 2003-2004 season, and Jordan couldn’t let go of the game and played for the Wizards from 2001 to 2003. The most impressive part of Jordan’s return is that he was still leading the team in points, assists, and steals when he was 39 years old.
It’s really a rare accomplishment to see players stay with a team for their whole career. The most obvious players that come to mind are guys like Reggie Miller and John Stockton. Then there are others who play for a team for a few months of their career but lose the recognition (remember when Hakeem Olajuwon went to Toronto for the 2001-2002 season and played half the year). The list of current players who have played for one team isn’t exactly extensive. In this list, I eliminated players who have played less than 10 years in the league because young players still have a lot of time to move around.
10. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers, Years Pro: 10, Career Earnings: $52,427,244
Varejao was the first player in the modern NBA to have the Sideshow Bob haircut and he rocked it in style. Known as a pure hustle player, he came to the league one year after LeBron James and made LeBron’s life much easier while he was in Cleveland. While he was originally drafted by the Magic, he was traded the same summer and has only worn a Cavaliers jersey in his career.
He’s often forgotten in Cleveland in the post-LeBron era, but he still brings a strong veteran presence and leadership to the locker room. Despite his injury plagued seasons since 2010 and always being the primary name rumored around the trade deadline, Varejao continues to be a valuable piece of the Cavaliers organization.
9. Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic, Year Pro: 10, Career Earnings: $52,167,977
Jameer Nelson helped lead the Magic to the Finals in the 2008-2009 season. He is one of the lone veterans on a team that is clearly rebuilding, and he’s teaching the younger players how to play the game right. Standing at 6 feet tall, Nelson is often seen as undersized because of his height, but makes up for it with his strong upper body and his intelligent game.
Nelson is also often in the middle of trade rumors but has survived the constant talks around him. He now leads the Orlando Magic as the most tenured player on the team, and continues to teach new point guard, Victor Oladipo, how to run an offense and how to lead a team.
8. Nick Collison, Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, Years Pro: 10, Career Earnings: $48,251,987
This is the ultimate locker room guy. Nick Collison is the guy on the team that every superstar wants to have with them. The kind of player who hustles to get loose balls, plays awesome defense, knows where to be, and never forces shots unless he absolutely has to. The best of the best when it comes to doing dirty work on the hardwood.
Collison is the longest tenured player on the Thunder right now, serving as one of the few players who played for the Supersonics in Seattle as well. Although Collison missed the 2003-2004 season due to a shoulder injury, I’m sure the organization is proud to have this Kansas Jayhawk.
7. Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat, Years Pro: 11, Career Earnings: $46,916,977
Haslem came into the league in the coveted year that current Miami Heat superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh entered the league as well. The primary difference between Haslem and the draft picks from the year, is that Udonis Haslem went undrafted and became a regular starter and eventually helped the Miami Heat earn their first NBA Championship in franchise history.
Haslem played solid defense, hit mid-range jumpers, and set screens to get the superstars open. Although Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal are the ones remembered for their contributions to the 2006 title team, UD40 provided a grit and grind attitude that helped turn this contender into a champion.
6. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat, Years Pro: 11, Career Earnings: $121,321,666
Three-time NBA Champion, Dwyane Wade has never felt the need to leave Miami. Besides the beautiful weather, he’s turned Wade County into an NBA city that is always marveled upon. After being the primary reason that the Miami Heat got to the playoffs in his first season and had a stellar opening series against the New Orleans Hornets in 2004. It only continued from there, where he won a NBA Title with Shaq in 06 and has currently won back-to-back titles with LeBron.
Wade, now after signing with Chinese shoe company Li Ning, continues to play at a high level with help. With LeBron on the same team as him now, Wade doesn’t need to carry the load but remains one of the most important members of the repeating champions Heat.
5. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs, Years Pro: 12, Career Earnings: $101,225,615
Manu Ginobili is the first player of three on this list that comes from the San Antonio Spurs. As a 3-time NBA Champion, Ginobili always impresses fans with his amazing footwork and ability to score from every angle possible.
Ginobili, best known for his ability to avoid charges with the Euro-Step, has played with the Spurs for 12 years and continues to wear the black and silver proudly. After a long career, Ginobili is now infamous for the bald spot on his head, and his ability to hit big shots when it matters.
4. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, Years Pro: 13, Career Earnings: $107,446,521
Tony Parker always flies under the radar but has turned his career into an exceptional one. One of the few point guards in the league to average over 50% from the field in multiple seasons, Parker demonstrates his ability to penetrate the lane and get easy lay-ups through trees of defenders.
Another 3-time Champion, Parker is able to get into the heart of any defense and get his shot. Combine that with a deadly crossover AND possibly the best tear-drop lay up, Parker proves that he is still one of the best point guards in the league at 31 years old.
3. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, Years Pro: 16, Career Earnings: $204,063,985
The first 7 footer on our list, Dirk has always demonstrated the ability to stay healthy as a big man. On draft day, the Bucks sent Dirk and Pat Garrity to the Dallas Mavericks for Robert Traylor. Needless to say, I believe that the Mavericks won this trade by far.
As a league MVP, NBA Champion, and 12-time All-Star, Dirk is basically cemented to be in the Hall of Fame. All these accolades added to a fade-away, one legged jump shot that has inspired countless young players to change their offensive game, Dirk proves himself as one of the best shooters in NBA history.
2. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, Years Pro: 17, Career Earnings: $224,709,155
The Big Fundamental himself has not only spent his whole career with the same organization, but he’s one of the oldest players in the NBA today. At 37 years old, Duncan continues to impress the NBA today. As the leader of the Spurs, this 4-time NBA Champion has led the well-oiled machine for 17 years and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
Duncan, as a 2-time MVP and 14-time All-Star, makes it look easy to play in the NBA late into his 30s. Arguably the best power forward of all time, Duncan leads his team year-after-year in the locker room and on the hardwood.
1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Years Pro: 18, Career Earnings: $279,738,062
Some remember Kobe as #8, while others remember him as #24. Some remember him as the antagonist that made the Lakers pick between him and Shaquille O’Neal, and others remember him for his amazing offensive game. And Raptors fans will always remember him for scoring the 2nd highest point total by a single player.
No matter how you feel about Kobe, he’s still one of the best players to ever grace the hardwood. His ability to score, play defense, and versatility, combined with his relentless attitude to win, Kobe Bryant demonstrates what you need to be in the league for 18 years and still be dominant.