Welcome to the club.
Jalen Rose can’t wait to be able to say that to Mikal Bridges, who is slated to play his 83rd game of the season Sunday against the Sixers at Barclays Center.
Bridges, who started the year with Phoenix and played 56 games there before being traded to the Nets, is on the precipice of joining Rose and a select group of players who have played in 83 or more games in a single season. According to ESPN, only 41 players have ever played in more than 82 games. Walt Bellamy holds the record for a single season having played 88 regular-season games for the Pistons and Knicks during the 1968-69 season.
“I’m a huge fan of Mikal,” Rose, now an analyst for ESPN, told Newsday last week. “The sky is the limit for him. I keep a close eye on a handful of guys — the five or 10 — who really take pride in showing up and performing every night. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in this era where analytics are telling guys not to play every night.”
Bridges, who hasn’t missed a single game in his five years in the league, will become the first player to play 83 games since Josh Smith did it in the 2014-15 season for Detroit and Houston.
It’s a feat that is exceedingly rare for several reasons. First, since each team plays 82 games in a season, a player has to be traded to a team that has played fewer games than his previous team. Second, in this era of load management, there aren’t many players who play every game.
Rose’s story of how he played 83 games in 2001-2002 borders on mind boggling. He said he was less than thrilled to hear two days before the deadline that he had been traded from the Indiana Pacers, a team he had helped take to the NBA Finals, to the Chicago Bulls, who at that time had nine wins.
“It tests your professionalism,” Rose said. “I think I could have taken three days to digest what had happened and report. Instead, I just threw a bunch of my own items in my car and drove myself to Chicago the day I was traded. I got to my hotel at 2 a.m., woke up, had a physical and played that night.
“I grew up in a blue-collar family where my mother showed up to work every day and we all took pride in that . . . It’s all about a mentality that you bring to your game and watching Mikal I can tell he brings that.”
That’s a story Bridges, 26, can relate to as he watched his mother work full-time and go to college at night in order to earn a career in business administration.
“I definitely got a work ethic from watching my Mom,” Bridges told Newsday. “I just want to be out there all the time and play. It got really serious when I got to ‘Nova. Coach [Jay] Wright didn’t want you to miss a game unless you are really hurt. That mentality really grew when I was in college.”
Aside from his redshirt year, Bridges didn’t miss a game in college. The last time he missed a game he was eligible to play in, he was a student at Grand Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and was too sick to play.
Bridges and Cam Johnson were at Barclays Center for a game against the Bulls on Feb. 9, the day after it was announced the Nets had acquired them from the Suns for Kevin Durant. The two were not allowed to play, however, as details of the deal were still being finalized. Johnson told reporters after the game that Bridges “was shaking” in their courtside seats because he wanted so badly to be able to play the game.
“I’m like, ‘Calm down, man’” Johnson said. “I think that was a little hard for him. He was like, ‘Can we play tonight, can we play tonight?”
The league did not count that game as a missed game because of the “trade pending” situation. That means his consecutive game streak is intact and if he plays out this season he will finish the year with 392 games, the longest active consecutive game streak in the league.
Bridges' streak is the third longest ever, though he has a long way to go before he catches A.C. Green, who played 1,192 games without an absence from 1986 to 2001, or Randy Smith, who played 906 games from 1972-82.
"He’s the Ironman,” said Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Bridges' reliability and the fact that he was averaging 27.4 points per game heading into the final three games of the season has been crucial for the team as they try to hang on to the No. 6 seed for the playoffs.
"Availability is the best ability," Nets center Nic Claxton said. "He's playing at an All-Star rate right now, so it's good having him out there, for sure."
There’s no doubt Bridges wants to be out there every night, though he’s not comfortable being made the face of the anti-load management movement. He knows he’s been lucky to avoid being sick or injured and he said his desire to play isn’t so much about keeping his streak alive as it is that he just enjoys his job.
“If I can play, I’m going to, play,” Bridges said. “Yeah, I do take pride in it. But I think when people talk about a streak — I guess A.C. Green back in the day he would clock in and get some minutes and get out, I would never do that. If I can’t go, I’m not going to go.”
Those who played at least 83 games since 1980
Josh Smith, 2014-15, 83
Ramon Sessions, 2013-14, 83
Jarrett Jack, 2010-11, 83
Casey Jacobsen, 2004-05, 84
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 2003-04, 85
Theo Ratliff, 2003-04, 85
James Posey, 2002-03, 83
Bo Outlaw, 2001-02, 83
Jalen Rose, 2001-02, 83
Mark Jackson, 2000-01, 83
Chris Gatling, 1999-00, 85
Michael Finley, 1996-97, 83
A.C. Green, 1996-97, 83
Aaron McKie, 1996-97, 83
Benoit Benjamin, 1995-96, 83
J.R. Reid, 1992-93, 83
Thurl Bailey, 1991-92, 84
Tyrone Corbin, 1987-88, 84
Mark West, 1987-88, 83
James Donaldson, 1985-86, 83
Clemon Johnson, 1982-83, 83
Phil Hubbard, 1981-82, 83
Mike Mitchell, 1981-82, 84
Mike Woodson, 1981-82, 83
Billy McKinney, 1980-81, 84