Age Is Just a Number: The Best 40-Year-Olds in Sports
It’s no secret that sports are a young man's or woman’s game. Whether it’s baseball or football or tennis or swimming, young adults have many advantages over their older counterparts as athleticism wanes as one ages. Speed, strength, flexibility, health, reflexes — they all decline as one progresses from their 20s to their 30s and especially when they reach their 40s.
But some athletes have been better than others at staving off Father Time. Whether they’ve slowed the aging process thanks to sports medicine advancements, reinvented themselves with new skills or simply used experience and knowledge to stay a step ahead, athletes from all kinds of sports have remained productive into their 40s and, for some, even beyond!
Ponce de Leon had these athletes in mind when searching for the Fountain of Youth. Here are the best 40-year-old athletes of all time.
30. Vince Carter
Birthdate: Jan. 26, 1977
Career: 22 seasons (1999-2020)
Stats after 40: 194 G, 6.9 PPG, 35 Dunks
Bottom Line: Vince Carter
The only player in NBA history to play 22 seasons and the only player in NBA history to compete in four decades, Carter transformed his game as he aged. He is best remembered as a high-flyer and arguably the greatest dunker ever, but as he got older, his game became more floor-bound.
Over 60 percent of Carter’s field goal attempts after turning 40 were 3-pointers, compared to just over 25 percent during his 20s and 30s. But he still had some hops in his reserves and showed off a between-the-legs dunk at age 40 during a shootaround.
29. Cap Anson
Birthdate: April 17, 1852
Career: 27 seasons (1871-97)
Stats after 40: 676 G, .317 BA, 90 SB
Bottom Line: Cap Anson
Anson, who began his MLB career at 19 years old, played until he was 45 and holds most of the MLB records for players over 40. He is the all-time leader in hits, runs, RBI and walks for players over 40, while ranking second in stolen bases and batting average. Anson, however, did have quite an advantage in receiving playing time at such an advanced age because he was actually a player-manager.
Thus, Anson the manager often penciled in Anson the player into the starting lineup and ahead of guys half his age. Perhaps coincidentally, once Anson retired as a player, he also essentially gave up managing and only managed 22 more games after retiring.
28. Zdeno Chara
Birthdate: March 18, 1977
Career: 24 seasons (1997-present)
Stats after 40: 22 G, 46 A, 68 PTS
Bottom Line: Zdeno Chara
In basketball, there’s an old saying that there are two things that don’t diminish as you age: your ability to shoot and your size. Well, in hockey, Chara doesn’t take many shots as a defenseman, but his 6-foot-9 stature is the same as it was when he entered the NHL in the late 1990s.
The intimidation factor that the Slovak provides hasn’t gone away, and he led the league in postseason plus/minus as a 41-year-old. While he’s already the tallest player in NHL history, Chara would have to stick around to the 2028-29 season to become the oldest player in league history.
27. Phil Mickelson
Birthdate: June 16, 1970
Career: 30 years (1992-present)
Stats after 40: 7 PGA Tour wins, 2 Major wins, 2 Champions Tour wins
Bottom Line: Phil Mickelson
Thanks to winning the 2013 Open Championship at age 43 and five runner-up major finishes, Mickelson was on the bubble for this list until the 2021 PGA Championship. Then at the event, Lefty made history by becoming the oldest major winner ever, as he pulled off the feat just days shy of his 51st birthday.
Mickelson also made his debut on the Champions Tour at the age of 50, and all he did was win in his debut appearance. Suffice it to say, Mickelson’s 50s are off to a pretty good start, as he’s already clinched a spot on the list of “Best 50-Year-Old Athletes.”
26. Adam Vinatieri
Birthdate: Dec. 28, 1972
Career: 24 seasons (1996-2019)
Stats after 40: 107 G, 86.5 FG%, 810 PTS
Bottom Line: Adam Vinatieri
With his longevity, clutchness and record-breaking career, Vinatieri is widely regarded as the greatest kicker in NFL history. He had one of his finest seasons in 2018 when he turned 46 years old and became the fourth-oldest player in NFL history. He became the oldest player to make a 50-yard field goal and then went on to break his own record three more times that season.
The four-time Super Bowl champion also became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer in 2018, a record he still holds today. With his histrionics in the playoffs as well, Vinatieri is the all-time leading scorer in both the regular and the postseason.
25. Bernard Hopkins
Birthdate: Jan. 15, 1965
Career: 29 years (1988-2016)
Stats after 40: 10-6-1, 1 NC, 0 KO
Bottom Line: Bernard Hopkins
Hopkins’ 40s didn’t start off great, as he lost three of his first six fights after reaching the age. But he then suffered only one defeat over his next 10 fights and claimed the WBC and The Ring light heavyweight titles in 2011 at 46 years old. That made him the oldest boxer to ever win a world championship, but Hopkins wasn’t done just yet.
He continued fighting and winning, with his last victory at 49 years old, making him the oldest boxing champion ever. Hopkins’ last boxing match came at 51 years old in 2016 when he fell by TKO to Joe Smith Jr., who wasn’t even born when Hopkins’ first pro match took place in 1988.
24. Randy Johnson
Birthdate: Sept. 10, 1963
Career: 22 seasons (1988-2009)
Stats after 40: 75-52 (.591 W-L%), 3.83 ERA, 1,020 K
Bottom Line: Randy Johnson
At 40 years old during the 2004 season, Johnson had the best performance of his Hall of Fame career. He struck out 13 batters in the 17th perfect game in MLB history, making him the oldest to accomplish the feat. He would finish as the NL Cy Young runner-up that season and is one of just three players to strike out at least 1,000 batters after turning 40.
Never known for his bat — and looking awkward as his 6-foot-10 frame hunched in the batter’s box — Johnson also collected one of his 15 career extra base hits at the ripe, old age of 44.
23. Michael Jordan
Birthdate: Feb. 17, 1963
Career: 15 seasons (1984-93, 1995-98, 2001-03)
Stats after 40: 30 G, 22.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG
Bottom Line: Michael Jordan
Jordan’s averages of 22.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists after turning 40 are essentially the same as Julius Erving’s averages for his entire career. Jordan spent just the last two months of his NBA career as a 40-year-old, but it was a historic period. Four days after his 40th birthday, Jordan dropped 43 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Nets.
That made him the first — and thus far the only — 40-year-old to score at least 40 points in a game. Also, there was no “load management” in Jordan’s era, as he never rested a single game and averaged 39.9 minutes over this stretch.
22. Darrell Green
Birthdate: Feb. 15, 1960
Career: 20 seasons (1983-2002)
Stats after 40: 45 G, 4 INT, 18 PD
Bottom Line: Darrell Green
It’s one thing for an NFL player sticking around in his 40s when he’s playing a position like quarterback or kicker. But it’s a whole other thing for such a player to play a position that relies on speed and athleticism like Green did at cornerback. He was covering players, literally, half his age in his last year at 42 years old.
In the final game of his Hall of Fame career, Green returned a punt on a reverse for 35 yards, making him the oldest player with any type of yardage gain of 35-plus yards in NFL history. His 295 games played are the most ever by a defensive back, and Green, allegedly, was still running sub-4.4, 40-yard dashes at the age of 50!
21. Chris Chelios
Birthdate: Jan. 25, 1962
Career: 26 seasons (1984-10)
Stats after 40: 14 G, 79 A, 93 PTS
Bottom Line: Chris Chelios
During Chelios’ final season in 2009-10, he had 20 Thrashers teammates who had not yet been born when he was drafted in 1981. You wondered who he hung out with on the road, as no teammate was even within 10 years of his 48 years of age.
Chelios was a critical piece to two Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in his 40s, and he also led the NHL in plus/minus for the only season of his career at age 40. He ended up being the second-oldest player in NHL history and holds the record for the most games by a defenseman in NHL history.
20. Martina Navratilova
Birthdate: Oct. 18, 1956
Career: 32 Years (1975-2006)
Stats after 40: 3 Grand Slams in mixed doubles, 12 Tournament wins in doubles
Bottom Line: Martina Navratilova
After retiring from singles competition at 38, Navratilova came out of retirement at 43 to play doubles and mixed doubles. In 2003, she won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in mixed doubles, becoming the oldest major winner ever at 46 years old. She would later break her own record by winning the 2006 U.S. Open in mixed doubles at the age of 49.
Ever the competitor, Navratilova also managed to compete in a couple of singles matches during this time, winning a Wimbledon match at 47 years old. That made her the oldest player, male or female, to win a professional singles match in the Open Era.
19. Mariano Rivera
Birthdate: Nov. 29, 1969
Career: 19 seasons (1995-2013)
Stats after 40: 126 SV, 1.95 ERA, 167 K
Bottom Line: Mariano Rivera
Not only did the greatest closer in MLB history have to stave off Father Time, but he also had to overcome a torn ACL at 42 years old. Rivera was injured in a freak accident when his leg buckled on the warning track while shagging fly balls during batting practice.
The injury prematurely ended his 2012 season, but he returned for one last season in 2013 and looked like the old Mo’ instead of an old Mo’. Rivera had 44 saves in 2013, which was the exact same number he had the year before he got hurt and won the AL Comeback Player of the Year award.
18. Willie Gault
Birthdate: Sept. 5, 1960
Sport: Football, Athletics
Career: 11 Seasons (1983-93)
Stats after 40: Set 7 Masters Athletics World Records
Bottom Line: Willie Gault
Gault is the only athlete on this list whose post-40 career was in a different sport than what made his name and fame. Gault was a deep-threat receiver for 11 years who ranks seventh all-time in yards per reception. He won a Super Bowl with the ’85 Bears and had a game-high of 129 yards in that game.
But after retiring at 33, Gault shifted towards Masters Athletics in which he competed in sprinting events versus people in his age group. He set world records in both the 100m and 200m dash for the 45 to 49 age group, the 50 to 54 age group and the 55 to 59 age group. He also is part of the world record for the 40 to 44 age group in the 4x100m relay, giving Gault seven world records in Masters Athletics.
17. Robert Parish
Birthdate: Aug. 30, 1953
Career: 21 seasons (1976-97)
Stats after 40: 272 G, 6.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG
Bottom Line: Robert Parish
The man who played the most games in NBA history also played in the most games after 40 in league history. Parish, who won three championships with the Celtics, spent his final year in Boston at the age of 40.
He then spent two years with the Charlotte Hornets before concluding his career at 43 years old on the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls team. He also won a title that season, and Parish faced a handful of players, including 18-year-old rookie Kobe Bryant, who weren’t even born when Parish made his NBA debut in 1976.
16. Randy Couture
Birthdate: June 22, 1963
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Career: 15 years (1997-2011)
Stats after 40: 8 Wins, 6 Losses, 2 KO
Bottom Line: Randy Couture
After starting out as an amateur wrestler and serving in the military, Couture didn’t make his pro MMA debut until 33 years old. He then became one of the first stars in UFC and won the light heavyweight title twice after turning 40.
After a brief retirement, Couture then moved up in weight class to heavyweight and showed he still had the chops at 43 years old, winning UFC’s Heavyweight Championship. That made him the oldest UFC Champion in promotion history, and Couture’s last victory at 47 made him the oldest fighter to ever win a UFC match.
15. Jerry Rice
Birthdate: Oct. 13, 1962
Career: 20 seasons (1985-2004)
Stats after 40: 161 REC, 2,169 YDS, 10 TD
Bottom Line: Jerry Rice
Imagine being a 22-year-old cornerback and lining up opposite Jerry Rice. You likely played with Rice on Madden or another video game, and even at 40, 41 and 42 years old, Rice was still burning by DBs. He posted six games with 100-plus receiving yards after 40 including an eight-catch, 145-yard game at the ripe old age of 42 in 2004. He is one of three players to catch an NFL pass after 40 years old with the others being Brett Favre and Tom Brady.
In 2018 at 55 years old, Rice said that if he wanted to unretire and rejoin the NFL, he could still compete. “If I wanted to, I could come back,” Rice said. “Catch over 80 balls and really be productive on the field.”
Who’s gonna doubt him?
14. Warren Moon
Birthdate: Nov. 18, 1956
Career: 17 seasons (1984-2000)
Stats after 40: 28 G, 5,538 YDS, 37 TD
Bottom Line: Warren Moon
Because of stereotypes regarding black quarterbacks in the 1970s, Moon didn’t even get a chance in the NFL until he was 28 years old. Thus, he was more prolific in his 40s than his 20s, with more passing yards and passing touchdowns after hitting the big 4-0.
He was named a Pro Bowler in his age-41 season after leading the NFL in passing yards per game and then spent another three years serving as a backup and mentor to younger quarterbacks. He remains one of two QBs to make a Pro Bowl at age 41 or older, with the other being Tom Brady.
13. Phil Niekro
Birthdate: April 1, 1939
Career: 24 seasons (1964-87)
Stats after 40: 121-103 (.540), 3.84 ERA, 1,148 K
Bottom Line: Phil Niekro
Niekro didn’t become a full-time starter until he was 29 years old, so having a light load in his 20s enabled his career to last until he was 48. Also being a knuckleball picture factored into his longevity because when you’re throwing just 70 mph, your pitch count is never really taxed. Niekro’s 121 wins after 40 are the most in MLB history and more than Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and R.A. Dickey had in their entire careers.
Niekro, or rather “The Niekros,” clearly had good genetics, as Phil’s younger brother, Joe, was also an MLB graybeard who pitched until he was 43.
12. Dara Torres
Birthdate: April 15, 1967
Career: 23 years (1984-92, 1999-2012)
Stats after 40: Three Olympic medals, American record in 50m freestyle
Bottom Line: Dara Torres
At 33 years old, Torres was the oldest member of the U.S. Swim Team at the 2000 Olympics. So, she must have felt like a grandmother when the 2008 Olympics rolled around, and she was still on the team. At 41, she became the oldest U.S. Olympic swimmer in history, but she was more than just a token participant. Torres won three medals at the 2008 Games and set an American record with her time in the 50m freestyle.
Torres then tried to make the 2012 Olympic team at 45 years old but finished just .09 seconds behind the second qualifier, and she retired shortly thereafter.
11. Dominik Hasek
Birthdate: Jan. 29, 1965
Career: 28 seasons (1980-2011)
Stats after 40: 93-31-13, .914 SV%, 2.09 GAA
Bottom Line: Dominik Hasek
Known as one of the best goaltenders of all time, Hasek’s career spanned an impressive 28 seasons — 16 of which were with the NHL. When he retired from the league in 2008, he was the NHL’s oldest active goalie at 43.
But he didn’t stop there. The Czech Republic native played professionally again with HC Pardubice of the Czech Extraliga. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
10. George Foreman
Birthdate: Jan. 10, 1949
Career: 20 years (1969-77, 1987-97)
Stats after 40: 17 wins, 3 losses, 12 KO
Bottom Line: George Foreman
Big George retired at 28, unretired at 38 and got another heavyweight title shot at 42. He lost that match to Evander Holyfield and then lost another title fight to Tommy Morrison, seemingly ending his dreams to recapture a heavyweight championship. But at the age of 45, Foreman stunningly knocked out Michael Moorer to win the WBO Heavyweight Title. He became the oldest heavyweight champion ever and remained the lineal champion until he was 48.
Foreman’s second run also increased his popularity and led to the introduction of the George Foreman Grill in 1994. That appliance has netted Foreman more than $200 million, which dwarfs his earnings from his boxing career.
9. Dale Earnhardt
Birthdate: April 29, 1951
Sport: Auto Racing
Career: 27 years (1975-2001)
Stats after 40: 26 Cup Series wins, 3 Cup Series Championships
Bottom Line: Dale Earnhardt
The Man in Black won four Cup Series championships in a five-year span with three of those victories coming after turning 40. He was just as intimidating at that age as he was in his 20s and 30s and lived up to his nickname, “The Intimidator.”
Also, Earnhardt’s only win at the Daytona 500 came at an advanced age, as he claimed the checkered flag at 46 years old in 1998 after falling short in 19 previous attempts at Daytona. Earnhardt would infamously be killed at the 2001 Daytona 500 when he was 49 years old, and his son, Dale Jr., finished runner-up in the race.
8. George Blanda
Birthdate: Sept. 17, 1927
Career: 26 seasons (1949-58, 1960-75)
Stats after 40: 125 G, 22 TD, 155 FGM
Bottom Line: George Blanda
No one in the history of the NFL played more seasons than Blanda’s 26, and he’s one of two players to play in four different decades. Nicknamed “The Old Man,” Blanda played his final season in 1975. Twenty-five of his Raiders teammates hadn’t even been born yet when he was drafted in the late 1940s.
Once a prolific quarterback and kicker, at 40 years old, Blanda gave up QB duties for the most part and was sparingly used under center. But he had another decade of football in him primarily as a kicker and didn’t retire until he was 48 years old.
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Birthdate: April 16, 1947
Career: 20 seasons (1969-89)
Stats after 40: 156 G, 12.4 PPG, Stat 5.3 RPG
Bottom Line: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Abdul-Jabbar was one of the early athlete practitioners of yoga, which he took up in 1976. He credits that for keeping him limber, and it helped him score more points after turning 40 years old than any player in NBA history. Even at 42 years old, Cap had a throwback game with 24 points and 13 rebounds in the 1989 Finals versus Detroit.
He would retire shortly thereafter, but like so many other athletes, Abdul-Jabbar briefly thought about unretiring a few years later. In 1991 and after Magic Johnson’s HIV revelation, a then-44-year-old Abdul-Jabbar flirted with the idea of returning to the NBA so that he could make more money and donate it to AIDS research. He obviously didn’t go through with the idea, but few doubt that he would have been at least serviceable even at that advanced age.
6. Jack Nicklaus
Birthdate: Jan. 21, 1940
Career: 45 years (1961-2005)
Stats after 40: 5 PGA Tour wins, 3 Major wins, 10 Champions Tour wins
Bottom Line: Jack Nicklaus
Despite the sport not requiring the athleticism of others, golf is still a young man’s game. Jack Nicklaus knows that, as he won seven majors in his 20s and eight majors in his 30s. But as a middle-aged man, he still showed he had some juice left, claiming three major championships after the age of 40.
The most memorable of those was winning the 1986 Masters at the age of 46 for his final major championship. It made him the oldest Masters winner in history, and it was his sixth green jacket, both of which are records that still stand today.
5. Barry Bonds
Birthdate: July 24, 1964
Career: 22 seasons (1986-2007)
Stats after 40: 332 G, 79 HR, .288 BA
Bottom Line: Barry Bonds
Yes, Bonds was using PEDs to accumulate the most home runs after age 40 in MLB history, but so were the pitchers who served up those long balls. Thus, it all cancels out. Also, as far as we know, PEDs don’t help your vision, and Bonds had an incredible batting eye as a middle-aged MLB player.
He led the NL in walks and on-base percentage in each of his final two seasons in addition to averaging 27 home runs a year. With his advanced age, previous injuries and rigid physique, Bonds could barely move out in left field, but his bat more than made up for his subpar defense.
4. Ric Flair
Birthdate: Feb. 25, 1949
Sport: Pro Wrestling
Career: 41 years (1972-2012)
Stats after 40: 10 World Heavyweight Championships
Bottom Line: Ric Flair
The Nature Boy was still the limousine-ridin', jet-flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin', son-of-a-gun in middle age as he was during his heyday in the 1980s. He went from WCW to WWF back to WCW back to WWF/E then to TNA and back to WWE once again after turning 40 and was showcased to a whole new group of fans who didn’t see him perform for NWA. Flair may have lost a step, but he was still a headliner, as evident by those various promotions making him champion multiple times over.
There are a couple of athletes on this list who accomplished enough to make the “50-year-old” version of this list, but Flair is the only one who still competed into his 60s, not retiring until he was 63 years old.
3. Gordie Howe
Birthdate: March 31, 1928
Career: 32 seasons (1946-71, 1973-80)
Stats after 40: 113 G, 155 A, 268 PTS
Bottom Line: Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey’s stats after 40 only tell half the story because those are just his NHL stats. He played another six years in the WHA from ages 45 to 50, in which he scored another 174 goals, collected another 334 assists and posted another 508 points.
Like Flair, he surpassed playing in his 40s and continued playing in the highest level of ice hockey until he was 52 years old. Howe even stuck around long enough to play with his sons — Mark and Marty — as the three Howes were teammates on the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers.
2. Nolan Ryan
Birthdate: Jan. 31, 1947
Career: 27 seasons (1966, 1968-93)
Stats after 40: 71-66 (.518 W-L%), 3.33 ERA, 1,437 K
Bottom Line: Nolan Ryan
Mike Hampton, Ben Sheets and Jack McDowell were all pretty good pitchers in the 1990s and 2000s, and each player made multiple All-Star teams. But each of those three also had fewer strikeouts in their entire careers than the Ryan Express had after turning 40 years old.
Ryan was an anomaly who seemed to get stronger as he got older. He averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his 20s, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his 30s and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his 40s. Make sense of that!
1. Tom Brady
Birthdate: Aug. 3, 1977
Career: 21 seasons (2000-present)
Stats after 40: 64 G, 17,622 YDS, 125 TD
Bottom Line: Tom Brady
You could split Brady’s career into thirds: his 20s, his 30s and his 40s … and you’d arguably have three different Hall of Famers. Even though he’s played just four seasons in his 40s, Brady has won two Super Bowls, an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP while showing he’s more than just a product of the Patriots system.
Brady is out to defy Father Time, and he’s even, somehow, become a craftier runner in his 40s. He’s scored seven rushing touchdowns since scoring 40, compared to having just three scores on the ground in his 20s.