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Rising stars of NBA basketball retained more of their skill as they aged beyond their peak performance, according to a new study.

Image shows man jumping in the air holding a basketball in one hand attempting to dunk the ball in the hoop.

National Basketball Association (NBA) players who excelled during the first part of their career also displayed a slower decline in performance after the peak of their career.

Our results challenge a large body of evidence that demonstrates that age is not kinder to more able, active, or knowledgeable people.
- Dr Nemanja Vaci

Dr Nemanja Vaci, corresponding author of the study, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said: "One explanation for the findings is that once the decline in physical performance begins, more knowledgeable or more able players may utilise knowledge (i.e. motoric and context specific information) from earlier in their career to help effectively preserve their performance while ageing."

The new study, Large Data and Bayesian Modeling – Aging Curves of NBA Players, investigated 'development and aging' and how the interactions of these two factors provide insight into the rates of development and deterioration of skill over the course of a player’s life. It has potential applications beyond performance research as it indicates that a person's knowledge structures may sustain in the brain, even when there is a decline in their information processing speed known as 'executive function'.

Dr Nemanja Vaci and colleagues used data collected by the NBA to assess the interaction between ageing and the development and deterioration of basketball skills in professional players. They analysed data from a total of 2,845 players over 50 years. This included player demographics and performance level variables, such as positions played in the game, minutes of game play, players' contribution to team wins and how efficient a player was. The authors found early career development to be an important factor in the rate of skill decline after a player's career peak.

The researchers found that a player's position on the court did not affect their rate of skill decline. However, those who played more minutes per game had a greater increase in performance during the first part of their career and slower decline in performance with age.

Studying the changes that occur as people age is challenging for a number of reasons, including the immense time scale that needs to be captured. Fortunately, this study was able to use a data set where players have taken part in an activity throughout their lives, and a vast amount of data has been systematically recorded.

To view the study


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