Career Timelines for Every Basketball Player Who Has Played an NBA Game

We looked at the wideout view of percentage of players still on their original team over time, but I was curious what the career timelines looked like for individual players. Some players, like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan, spend their entire careers with a single team. That seems to be growing more rare these days though.

The chart below shows the career timelines of every player who has ever played an NBA game, since the first season in 1946 up to the 2019-20 season. Players are sorted by the number of consecutive years they played on a team, so the stars tend to be at the top and the journeymen tend to be more towards the bottom.

Other than a growing league, it’s clear that the percentage of players who play only a single season (maybe only a few games) with a team has increased. I suspect it’s more common these days for teams to call people up from the NBA G League (the NBA’s development league) on limited contracts. If you make it to a second consecutive season with a team, you make a big jump in the ranks.

In contrast, if you browse the top players, you see the climb as they build their reputation with a single team. And oftentimes there’s a sudden drop at the end when the players finish their careers elsewhere. Hakeem Olajuwon ended in Toronto; Patrick Ewing ended in Orlando; Shaquille O’Neal landed in Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston.

Looking at earlier decades, the league was a lot smaller and there were probably fewer options for players, so the timelines look different. The view is more compressed as the league figured itself out.

You might also recognize some players who later became head coaches, which was fun for me to flip through.

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