16 athletes with the longest careers

George Blanda. Focus On Sport/Getty Images
  • From golf to basketball, these athletes loved their sport so much that they played for decades.
  • George Blanda played for the NFL for 26 years as a quarterback and kicker.
  • Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina is still competing at 44 – she had already won an Olympic gold medal by the time some of her present-day competitors were born.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For stars like George Blanda or Oksana Chusovitina, sport is a way of life.

The athletes on this list have dominated their fields for decades – breaking records and winning Olympic medals along the way.

Here are 16 athletes with the longest careers in their sport.

Vince Carter has played in the NBA for 22 years, longer than Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

Vince Carter. Will Newton/Getty Images

According to Yahoo! Sports, Carter is considering finally hanging up his jersey before the NBA returns post-coronavirus pandemic. When he entered the NBA in 1998, Carter won Rookie of the Year playing for the Toronto Raptors. He won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games.

In total Carter has played 1,541 games – the third most of all time – and has played for the Atlanta Hawks since 2018.

Sue Bird has played the most games of any player in the WNBA.

Sue Bird. Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

According to the WNBA, Bird surpassed fellow player’s DeLisha Milton-Jones record with 500-plus games played. At 39, Bird is the oldest active player in the WNBA. She joined the Seattle Storm in 2002 and helped lead the team to three championships. She holds four Olympic gold medals as well.

Bird was out during the 2019 season due to knee surgery, but according to ESPN, she plans to compete for the next few years in the WNBA and wants to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

Gary Player’s professional golf career spanned over half a century.

Gary Player. Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

In 2009, Player made his final appearance at the Masters Tournament. In total, he participated in a record-breaking 52 Masters, winning three.

Nicknamed “Black Knight,” “Mr. Fitness,” and the “International Ambassador of Golf,” Player made his first PGA appearance in 1957.

Gordie Howe, who is considered one of the all-time hockey greats, played more games than any other player in the NHL.

Gordie Howe. Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Known as Mr. Hockey, Howe played from his teenage years until his early 50s, playing in all but 80 of his 1,767 regular season games. Howe joined the Detroit Red Wings in 1946 and retired in 1971 for the first time.

The allure of the ice and the game was too much for Howe, who returned a year later. He finally retired for good in 1980 after playing for the Hartford Whalers. During his career, Howe won four Stanley Cups.

George Blanda spent 26 seasons in the NFL as both a quarterback and kicker.

George Blanda, left. Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Blanda, who was nicknamed “The Grand Old Man,” started his historic football career with the Chicago Bears. Blanda finished his time in the gridiron with the Oakland Raiders, where over the course of five games he brought his team to four victories and one tie with last minute scores. Blanda retired in 1975 at the age of 48.

Martina Navratilova has the longest career of any professional tennis player, competing for over three decades.

Martina Navratilova. Peter Valentino/Shutterstock

According to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Navratilova started playing professional tennis in 1975 in a career that stretched until she retired in 2006. She won 167 single tournaments, 177 double events, and 2,189 matches – more than any other player ever has. This included nine Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championships.

For men’s tennis, Jimmy Connors holds the record for most games played.

Jimmy Connors, left. Debby Wong/Shutterstock

Connors’ professional career spanned almost 25 years. Of the 1,557 matches Connors played, he won 1,274 of them. Connors also holds the men’s tennis record for most title wins at 109, according to Bleacher Report.

Ildefons Lima holds the Guinness World Record for the longest men’s international soccer career.

Ildefons Lima. Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

According to Guinness World Records, Lima started playing for the Andorra national soccer team in 1997. In his debut game, Lima scored the only game against Estonia. Lima has made a career out of soccer, playing for the past 22 years.

Nicknamed “Queen of Caps,” Kristine Lilly has represented her country more than any other female soccer player in history.

Kristine Lilly. AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

According to the US Soccer Foundation, Lilly has 354 caps, or match appearances. Lilly has won two of the five World Cups that she has played in. She played on the US national team from 1987 until her retirement in 2010.

Pitcher Nolan Ryan played ball for 27 years in the MLB.

Nolan Ryan. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Ryan’s career wins tied with those of Cap Anson, who played in the late 1800s.

Ryan began playing for the New York Mets in 1966 and retired with the Texas Rangers in 1993. During his time on the mound, Ryan set records for no-hitters and strikeouts, and he won a total of 324 games.

Boxing champion Archie Moore competed for 28 years as a fighter.

Archie Moore. The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Nicknamed “The Mongoose,” Moore competed from 1935 to 1963. According to Britannica, Moore held the world light-heavyweight championship for the better part of a decade, from 1952 until 1962. His record has never been broken.

In one of his last fights, he fought Cassius Clay, who would become known as famous boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and was knocked out in the fourth round.

At 44 years old, Oksana Chusovitina is one of the oldest gymnasts competing at an Olympic level.

Oksana Chusovitina. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Chusovitina’s career stretches back to the Soviet Union, which she represented in the 1992 Olympics. According to ESPN, Chusovitina had already won an Olympic gold medal by the time some of her present-day competitors were born. She shows no signs of stopping, having qualified to compete for the Tokyo Olympics.

Kayaker Josefa Idem has the most Olympic appearances for a female athlete.

Josefa Idem. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Idem became the first woman to compete in eight Olympic Games. Taking up canoeing in 1977, Idem has earned five Olympic medals including gold, in addition to 35 other international titles. Shooter Nino Salukvadze hopes to break Idem’s record with the Tokyo Games.

Ian Millar holds the record for most Olympic Games appearances.

Ian Millar. NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Olympic show jumper holds a record that’s in the double digits, having appeared at 10 consecutive games. Millar debuted in the Munich Games in 1972, but didn’t win his first medal until he was 62 in the Beijing Games in 2008.

One of the pioneers of cricket, WG Grace played the sport for 44 years.

WG Grace. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Grace started playing cricket at 16 in 1865, and he didn’t retire until he was 60. Grace is known today by many as a pioneer of the sport.

Before he was 18, Pete Weber was a professional bowler. His career has spanned more than 30 years.

Pete Weber. Bob Levey/Getty Images

According to Sportsnet, Pete Weber started bowling professionally with his father 37 years ago in 1979. Over his career, he has won 37 PBA Tour titles.