Calvin Roberts missed the NBA as a young man, but he's still determined to make his dream come true

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 25, 2017 11:41 AM
Credit: Courtesy Calvin Roberts

Calvin Roberts believes it’s never too late for second chances.

The 61-year-old is on a mission to become the oldest person ever to play in the NBA after failing to make the team when he was selected by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1980 NBA Draft. He officially retired in 1999 after a career spent playing overseas, but Roberts got the itch for a comeback when his wife bugged him to get into shape so he could play with their children.

“When I started working out, I reached a point where I got back into my college shape, and it just kind of kicked in, I felt good,” Roberts tells PEOPLE. “It just kind of clicked like riding a bicycle — you don’t forget how to ride.”

Then he kept pushing himself harder, to the point where he felt he was in even better shape than when he was a player at California State University Fullerton (where he once played against Magic Johnson).

He increased his workouts, pushed heavier weights, and played ball against the guys at the local YMCA in Las Vegas. With a newly transformed body and a desire to correct his past, Roberts told his wife that he wanted to give the NBA one more shot. So, the father of five and grandfather of two sent letters to teams stating he was ready to hit the court for them during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Problem is, none of them — including the team that drafted him nearly four decades ago — sent him an answer.

Credit: Courtesy Calvin Roberts

But… they also haven’t said no.

“To me, it doesn’t sound like I did anything wrong, it sounds like I need to do something better,” the muscular, 6-foot-8, 245-pound Roberts says, contemplating exactly what he needs to improve.

“I’m going to put it out there because I know people are thinking it: It’s got to be my age, the reason nobody is getting back to me,” he says, his voice dropping slightly. “How long can a 61-year-old person last in the NBA? I’m pretty sure that’s what went through their minds. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re thinking.”

As the Summer League began and with no teams inviting him to try out, Roberts attended the games as a spectator so he could hear coaches calling out plays, catch the players talking, and to see the seats along the sidelines where he felt he belonged.

Summer League came and went, and still, to this day, no responses.

“As long as I’m in physically good shape and I can rebound, jump, shoot, and everything, I fulfilled my part,” Roberts says. “It’s just, is there anybody out there that will want me on their team?”

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The oldest active player currently in the NBA is 40-year-old Vince Carter of the Sacramento Kings. The oldest person to ever play in the NBA was Nat Hickey at 45. But that was an extraordinary circumstance — Hickey was a coach of the Providence Steamrollers who activated himself as a player. He missed all six of his shot attempts during his only game.

Roberts is still working toward his dream and hopes to make it onto an NBA roster. He feels ready, and when it comes to age, he doesn’t see his as a problem — he feels that all he needs is a chance.

“There are so many people behind me I can’t stop, I got to keep pushing,” Roberts says.

“Has there been a point in your life when you look back and say, ‘You know what, if I would have turned left instead of right, I could have done this? I could have done that?’ Do you ever have that feeling that you could have made something better?” he asks.

“I have a chance to correct something most people never get to do. I have a chance to change something.”