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Two Sports Giants Unceremoniously Winding Things Down In Tri-State Area

Jaromir Jagr played in the NHL for the first time on October 5, 1990, and Kevin Garnett stepped on an NBA hardwood for the first time on November 3, 1995. It’s easy to forget how long we’ve had them, but even the harshest critics have to marvel at their inspiring battle with Father Time.


Jaromir Jagr played in the NHL for the first time on October 5, 1990. Kevin Garnett stepped on an NBA hardwood for the first time on November 3, 1995. It’s easy to forget how long we’ve had them, but even the harshest critics have to marvel at their inspiring battle with Father Time. How they keep churning out points and have the same passion to play after hitting points in their careers where a game just shouldn’t mean as much anymore. While Jagr’s performance during the last two seasons has been a pleasant surprise for the Devils, Garnett’s stay in Brooklyn hasn’t gone as fruitful.

When Devils’ President and general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Jagr as a free agent in July of 2013, many regarded him as a fill-in on power plays and on spot shifts. No one expected him to be the team’s leading scorer, but he was easily their best player despite his advancing age. He played in all 82 games and notched 67 points, becoming the N.H.L.’s oldest team scoring leader; at 42 years and almost 2 months, passing Gordie Howe, who held the previous mark, according to Elias Sports Bureau, at 42 years 5 days when he led the 1969-70 Red Wings in points.

Jagr, who played his 1,523rd NHL game on Monday, is one goal away from tying Phil Esposito (717) for fifth on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list, and he is within just 14 points of tying Ron Francis (1,798) for fourth place on the all-time points list. Jagr’s place on the career scoring lists is impressive, yet he might be standing higher — behind only Wayne Gretzky and Howe — if he had not spent 2008-9 through 2010-11 playing in the Russian K.H.L for the Avangard Omsk in Siberia.

Jagr, whose career has spanned for more than a quarter-century with 11 clubs in five countries, came to the N.H.L. as a teenager sporting a mullet and wearing No. 68 in honor of his grandfather’s resistance to the 1968 Soviet invasion. He has won five N.H.L. scoring titles, an Olympic gold medal and played 11 years in Pittsburgh, where he and Mario Lemieux won two Stanley Cups. He will be celebrating his 43rd birthday this Sunday, but other aging N.H.L. skaters have fared fine. Howe scored 15 goals for the Hartford Whalers before retiring at 51; Chris Chelios played a big role for the Red Wings until he was 46; Mark Recchi recently skated off into the sunset after putting up 48 points at the age of 43; and just last season Teemu Selanne, at 43, had 27 points in 67 games for the Anaheim Ducks.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Garnett waived his no-trade clause to accept a deal to the Nets last season in order to play for Jason Kidd and try to win a title in Brooklyn with his close friend Paul Pierce. Now both are gone and Garnett’s tenure with the Nets, which was supposed to be a victory lap for his brilliant two-decade NBA career, has been considered mostly a disappointment. Garnett struggled in his first season as a Net, posting several career lows and missing 28 games battling back spasms and old age. His field goal percentage, 44%, and his PPG, 6.5, were the lowest of his career. His rebounding numbers, 6.6 RPG, haven’t been that low since his rookie season.

Of course, it is only natural for Garnett to slow down at this stage in his career. This is his 20th NBA season, making him only the fourth player to achieve that, joining Robert Parrish and Kevin Willis, with 21 seasons and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 20. While he has seemingly only drawn attention this season for head-butting and throwing a basketball at Dwight Howard, and for trying to bite Joakim Noah, it’s not as though he’s simply treading water with the Nets. For a 38-year old on a staunchly mediocre team, Garnett is having himself a pretty good year and he’s still the same exuberant trash talker whose voice sometimes reverberates around the gym. He is just six games away from passing Kevin Willis for fifth all-time in games played and he recently passed Nate Thurmond for eighth on the career rebounds list. He has also taken to mentoring the Nets’ younger players, such as Mason Plumlee and rookie power forward Cory Jefferson.

Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins recently stated, unprompted, that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver should name Garnett to the all-star team this weekend in New York in recognition for what he’s done to revolutionize the game and carry the league for two decades. He has played 1,419 regular-season games, 143 more in the playoffs. He has been a 15-time All-Star, has more career points than Iverson and Barkley, more rebounds than Duncan and Shaq, more assists than Walt Frazier and Rick Barry. He has won an NBA championship, come close a couple more times and is the highest paid player (on court earnings) in league history with over $325M by the end of this season.

Garnett, who hasn’t stated whether or not he’ll retire after this season, has brushed off reporters when asked about the possibility, but we all know that honest, sweat-soaked work can only carry an aging superstar so far. Unlike Derek Jeter’s farewell tour in the Bronx last season, Garnett and Jagr will not be getting any rocking chairs, surf boards, or commemorative pieces honoring their long and illustrious careers. They are however, both involved in trade discussions, as the Nets and Devils are watching their playoff hopes slip away.

If this is indeed the end of the two Hall of Famers careers, you’d love to see them be able to chase another championship before it’s all over. Either way, make sure to enjoy KG and Jagr while you still can because players like them don’t come around that often.

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