The sports world takes its young stars and spits them out in a frenzy, as if they're all Macauluy Culkins and Gary Colemans. A gymnast is considered old when she is in her late teens, Andre Agassi can make his comeback at age 28, a star quarterback begins to age at 33 or 35, or in Brett Favre's case, 56--apparently, athletic years are akin to dog years.
In this era of advanced technology that allows people to live much longer than ever before, it seems weird to say that an athlete, depending on his sport, might be on the downside of his career at 27, 29, or 31. Though it is of course quite subjective, I have heard people state that a pitcher's prime is around 28, and a golfer's is in the early 30s. This seems true, or else how else would you justify the fact that Jamie Moyer, while by no means dominant, is able to pitch fairly effectively in the Major freakin Leagues up to the age of 46 with a fastball that averages 80.4 mph.
Golf, pitching, these are more intellectual pursuits than sprinting the length of the floor or dunking a basketball, however. Seeing a 30 year old Kobe watching his Afro'ed self dunk on video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP_teS6y3e8, Check #5 particularly) last spring and commenting that it was his "young legs" that allowed him to do that and that he "wouldn't try that these days" was frankly a little depressing for any weekend-and three-days-a-week warrior.
It seems now like it was so long ago, but it was only four of five years ago that Shaquille O'Neal was absolutely unguardable. There was not a man alive who could guard Shaq one-on-one, and it was pure brute force that made it this way. To see Shaq in 2009 is to see but a shell of his former shelf. It is unfortunate that this hobbled image, while not in any way diminshing Shaq's earlier accomplishments, will slightly distort the picture in one's mind of Shaq when he decides to hang up his size 28s.
LaDainan Tomlinson was at the top of the football world for a relatively short time before he had one subpar (at least "subpar" according to his souped-up scorecard) season, and dispersion was cast on his legs, his cutting ability, his speed, his future. That those critics were in some way right is not the point; the point is that many times, perception of an athlete's future becomes reality. In many ways, those sounding the early death knell were the ones printing the accusation on Page One in blaring bold type and printing the retraction of the accusations on Page 13.
It seems that it is getting earlier and earlier in one's career when he is said to be a "cagey veteran." On the plot diagram, rollercoaster-shaped, of an athlete's career, it's scary how close the "downside" of his career is to the prime of his career.
As I set forth on my quest to dunk, where do I fall on that rollercoaster?
Ah, to rid my mind of these negative thoughts, I'm going to watch some Rocky--good thing Rocky Balboa/Sly Stallone never used any performance-enhancing drugs to reverse time...