At first glance, NBA talents Pablo Prigioni and Anthony Davis have absolutely nothing in common.
Anthony Davis was a 19-year-old Kentucky stud who was expected to become a franchise changing star. If you’re a casual NBA fan, the name Pablo Prigioni might not even ring a bell.
But in 2012, both these guys would earn the title of NBA Rookie.
As the NBA shifts to a younger and younger league, we’re used to seeing rookies look like they can barely grow facial hair. Even in a world after the prep-to-pro area, we’re used to teenagers invading the NBA as if it’s an arcade palace.
The average age of a lottery pick in the 2019 draft was just over 19.5 years. Only three of the 14 will legally be allowed to drink when they make their season debuts.
These young guys get enough attention. How much have you heard about Zion Williamson already? Let’s put the spotlight on some guys who introduced themselves to the NBA at an older age. Like, a whole decade older.
Here’s a complete rundown of the oldest rookies in NBA history.
6. ARVYDAS SABONIS- 30 years, 319 days
Let’s start off the countdown with a familiar name: Arvydas Sabonis.
Born in the Soviet Union, Sabonis was so good, he was playing with the Soviet National team at the ripe old age of 15.
In fact, his basketball talent saved him from having to serve in the Soviet Army at a time when you probably did not want to enlist.
Although Sabonis was a coveted player in the United States, an Achilles injury and a frigid relationship between the Soviets and the States meant the Lithuanian legend couldn’t play until 1995.
By that time, thanks to an insane amount of injuries, his best days were behind him. However, Sabonis was still a force to be reckoned with.
Despite his older age and such a bad injury history a doctor claimed he could “qualify for a handicapped parking spot,” Sabonis put up quality numbers in the NBA for seven seasons.
Now, his legacy is continued by his son, Domantas, who got his start in the league much earlier than his dad.
5. ANTOINE RIGAUDEAU- 31 years, 33 days
The man known as “Le Roi”, AKA “The King”, in his birthplace of France is one of the country’s most decorated basketball players.
Rigaudeau was the MVP of the French League five times, and won the EuroLeague twice.
All his success caught the eye of scouts across the ocean, and the Dallas Mavericks signed Rigaudeau.
But unlike the American “King”, Rigaudeau didn’t see much success in the NBA.
He played exactly 11 games in an NBA jersey, scoring 17 points total for the Mavs.
While he will go down in history books as one of the best Euro-League players of all time, his lasting mark on the NBA will be his advanced debut.
4. PERO ANTIC- 31 years, 93 days
Pero Antic is another EuroLeague legend who took his talents to the US of A. Thanks to his 6’11 frame and impressive athleticism, Antic was recruited to the NBA.
After 14 years and eight different EuroLeague teams, Antic landed in Atlanta – not to go to clubs, either. To play in the best basketball league in the world.
As a member of the Hawks, he quickly became a fan favorite.
Antic is fondly remembered in Atlanta for his penchant to hit three’s and his willingness to get in opponents’ faces.
But his most impressive stat might be that he took the Macedonian national team to the semi-finals in the FIBA Eurobasket tournament.
For reference, Macedonia has a population half the size of Los Angeles. So while he might not have much of an NBA following, Antic will always be a national legend, and fondly remembered in Atlanta.
3. ANDRE INGRAM- 32 years, 142 days (oldest American)
Andre Ingram is the only player born in the United States on this list.
Ingram’s story is truly one of grit and perseverance.
The man played all four years of college ball at American University, and finished fifth all time on the school’s all-time scoring list while getting a bachelor’s degree in physics.
Ingram had the option to use his college degree to land a solid job off the court, but basketball was his passion.
He grinded it out in the G-League for a whopping ten years, becoming the league’s leader for all-time games played.
Finally, his hard work was rewarded on April 10th, 2018. And what a debut it was.
Graying hair and all, Ingram would score 19 points and provide several goosebump moments for the Staples Center crowd.
In two games with the Lakers, Ingram made just $5,000 less than he had in an entire G-League season, and became one of the most memorable, and ancient, rookies of all time.
2. MARCELO HUERTAS- 32 years, 156 days
Marcelo Huertas is another older rookie who played for the Lakers.
The Brazilian point guard was picked up by a Los Angeles squad that was desperate for guard depth after 14 years of international play.
Huertas, known as a pass-first guard, didn’t stick around to long in Los Angeles.
After just two years and 76 games, he would return to Spain to close out his career.
Still, “Marcelinho” can look back at his basketball career fondly. He won a total of four gold medals in the Brazilian uniform, and will rank as one of his nations best ballplayers along with names like Nene, Anderson Varejao, and Leandro Barbosa.
1. PABLO PRIGIONI- 35 years, 169 days
Last but not least, the oldest rookie in NBA history, and it’s not even close. Let’s talk about a man starting a new job in the same profession when most dudes are leaving it!
Pablo Prigioni is over three years older than Huertas, so he has a strong case to hold this record for quite some time.
The Argentinian point guard made his NBA debut with the Knicks at the age where some guys are eyeing retirement, and actually managed to carve himself out a decent career in the most competitive basketball league in the world.
Over four seasons, Prigioni embodied the stereotypical European guard: A stubborn defender who always looked for the pass and hit his open shots.
By the time he returned to Europe, Prigioni had earned the respect of his NBA colleagues.
Who knows if we’ll ever get another rookie as old as Prigioni. But we’ll definitely continue to see European imports get their shot at pulling a Pablo and becoming a solid NBA player, no matter what age.