Chicago's Lindsey Hunter to Retire
"Click. Click. Click,'' was a sound he heard. His wife, Ivy, wondered what it was.
"It's ridiculous,'' said Hunter, the Chicago Bulls guard who is the NBA's oldest player at 39. "When I got up and started walking around, my ankles click when I walk. My wife asked, 'What is that?' I said, 'It's my ankles.' Seriously, my ankles click when I walk. You can't recover (at his age) the way you used to.''
That's one reason Hunter said in an interview with FanHouse he expects to retire after this season. Hunter, who was brought back for a final year primarily to serve as a mentor for Chicago's young players, realizes the NBA is no place for 40-year old guards.
"It is unless something drastically changes,'' Hunter, a 17-year veteran, said of this being his final NBA season.
Later, after Hunter was asked if he was pretty sure this is indeed his final season, he said, "Yeah.''
It's been quite a ride for Hunter, known mainly only to basketball junkies when taken with the No. 10 pick by Detroit in the first round of the 1993 NBA draft out of tiny Jackson (Miss.). He's been a defensive stalwart and effective long-range shooter on NBA title winners with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 and with the Pistons in 2004.
Hunter has thought about retiring several times in recent seasons but was persuaded to come back. Hunter admitted some surprise when there was a reasonable amount of interest in him last summer before the Bulls re-signed him to a one-year minimum contract.
"I was just honored by the fact they wanted me back,'' said Hunter, who turned 39 Dec. 3. "And the funny thing is I had a couple of other teams call me. That was crazy. I was like, 'What are they looking at?' But it does make you feel good on the inside that you have some people who value your leadership and mentoring the young guys.''
The Bulls really don't need Hunter to play. He's appeared in one game since Dec. 12, and that was a seven-minute stint in a 120-87 blowout of the Pistons.
Hunter, averaging 1.0 points in 13 games, is like another assistant coach, and it's not surprising he's considering going into coaching when his career ends. But let the record book show he's one of the few 39-year-old guards ever to lace up high tops in NBA history.
Utah guard John Stockton lasted until he was 41 in 2002-03. Michael Jordan played that season at 40, but it must be said Jordan returned to play forward when he had his 2001-03 stint with Washington.
Bob Cousy had a cameo seven-game appearance at 41 with Cincinnati in 1969-70 after he ended a six-year retirement while he also was coaching the team. And Terry Porter played until 39 in 2002-03.
Sam Cassell was on Boston's roster early last season at 39, but never got into a game. So Cassell's last NBA game was at 38.
"That's right,'' Hunter said, taking pride when realizing he's been an older player than Cassell, who was the only previous member of the 1993 draft class to still be active.
Hunter, though, actually doesn't hold the distinction of being the NBA's longest-serving player. Cleveland center Shaquille O'Neal, who turns 38 next month, is in his 18th season after being drafted in 1992.
"It's real amazing,'' Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose said of Hunter's longevity. "You think of how many games he played in the league and he still has the energy to play. He really helps this team. He's like the father on the team, making sure everybody is doing the right thing. He'll tell you what you're doing wrong or right ... He's telling you anything he can to make you play harder and to go out there and better the team.''
Hunter is old enough to be the father of Rose, 21, or Bulls rookie guard James Johnson, 22. He's just four years younger than Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.
"Lindsey knows how to play,'' Del Negro said. "He's a tough, veteran guy. He's a good locker-room guy. He knows good leadership, and we have young guys in the locker room.''
Hunter's leadership is so well regarded there was a swarm of reporters around his locker before Saturday's game against Miami. His opinion was wanted on the one-game suspension the Bulls handed out earlier in the day to forward Tyrus Thomas, 23.
Dispensing his wisdom, Hunter calmly discussed how "life is full of trials and tribulations.'' He expressed confidence Thomas will get through this dip.
Hunter knows all about life's ups and downs. Shortly after being traded from Milwaukee to the Lakers in 2001, Hunter's only sibling, 19-year-old Tommie, died in a car accident.
Two of the next three seasons saw Hunter being outfitted with NBA title rings. But he said the death of his brother gave him a new perspective on life.
"I looked at things differently after that,'' said Hunter, who has a career scoring average of 8.5 points but hasn't averaged in double figures since 2000-01. "Life is precious. It's so short. I try to enjoy my wife, my kids, my family. (Tommie's death) kind of put it all in perspective.''
While life might be short, Hunter's career hasn't been. To realize how long he's been around, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer were teammates when Hunter was a Detroit rookie in 1993-94.
Soon, though, his NBA days will come to an end.
"Coming into the league, I didn't plan on (playing so long),'' Hunter said. "It just kind of happened. I'm really grateful ... It's been a great ride for me. I've come full circle. I've been a major part of teams. I've been a good role player on great teams.''
When he plays his last game, Hunter said it "will be pretty sentimental for me.'' But Hunter doesn't want to go out with any fanfare.
"I don't want a press conference,'' Hunter said. "I'm out of there. I'll go have dinner with my family.''
At least, while seated at the dinner table, his wife won't hear his ankles click.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse or on Twitter @christomasson