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Catch these sports stars as their careers wind down

Sports is a revolving door. Every year, it's out with the old and in with the new. Old stars leave the game as new stars are introduced. But now and then, we are afforded the chance to appreciate the legends while they still have something left, while they are still playing. Here's a list of those in sports whom we need to pay particular attention to as they wind their way to the end of their careers. Some still have plenty of fuel in their tank, and others are about to call it quits. Either way, catch them if you can.

Shaquille O'Neal

It seems like just the other day that Shaq was playing at LSU. Now he's wrapping up his 19th season in the NBA. After O'Neal won three titles with the Lakers and another with the Heat, it appeared he would slowly fade away when he went to Phoenix in 2007. After two nondescript seasons with the Suns, O'Neal was shipped to Cleveland this offseason to help LeBron James finally win an NBA title, but injuries limited O'Neal to only 53 games. With the playoffs under way and O'Neal, 38, working back into the rotation, the Shaq Daddy looks fresh. In the first-round series clincher against Chicago, O'Neal played 26 minutes with 14 points and eight rebounds, and now has a showdown with Kevin Garnett and the Celtics as he makes what could be his final run at a title.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Sadly, Griffey's gas tank appears to be on "E." Through Saturday, he was 13-for-58 (.224) with one double, no homers and four RBIs. He's poring over video trying to fix the flaws of his swing, but part of the problem is not fixable — Junior is 40 years old. Still, we do have some time left to watch one of the best players in baseball history. He has never gotten the full credit he deserves because he has spent the majority of his 22 seasons playing for small-market, under-publicized teams in Seattle and Cincinnati. But his 630 homers are fifth all time, and he could end up 11th all time in RBIs by season's end. He's among the best of his generation — or, for that matter, any generation.

Thierry Henry

Americans pay little attention to international soccer, which is why most don't know Henry, one of the most famous athletes in the world. The French soccer star played for Arsenal in the English Premier League from 1999 to 2007, and it was there he became a legendary figure in soccer history. He was a two-time runnerup for FIFA world player of the year in 2002 and 2003 and twice named EPL player of the year. Henry is only 32, and there are rumors he eventually will make the move to North American soccer. But this summer, Henry likely will play in the World Cup for France, and this could be his last turn on that stage. Watch him while you can. And appreciate one of the sport's all-time stars.

Donovan McNabb

The former Eagles quarterback has spent 11 years in the NFL, and everyone has spent more time talking about the things he hasn't done instead of the things he has. Most notably, he is criticized for never leading Philadelphia to a Super Bowl title. But in those 11 years with McNabb, the Eagles made the playoffs eight times, the NFC Championship Game five times and the Super Bowl once. He is the Eagles' all-time leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns and is a six-time Pro Bowl player. The lack of a championship likely will keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but his numbers are impressive. Now he moves to the rebuilding Redskins. He's 33, so he should have a couple of productive seasons left. Wouldn't it be great to see him turn around the Redskins?

Nicklas Lidstrom

Last week, as the Red Wings were struggling with the Coyotes in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a few whispers were heard that maybe Lidstrom, arguably the NHL's second-best defenseman in history behind Bobby Orr, had lost more than a step. The 40-year-old Swede was no longer the impact player who had won six Norris trophies as the NHL's best defenseman. So what was his response? In Game 7 at Phoenix, Lidstrom scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Red Wings to a 6-1 victory and into the second round of the playoffs. Who knows how far the Red Wings will go in the playoffs? It's quite possible they won't get out of this round against the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Maybe he's not the Lidstrom of 10 years ago, but at 40, he's better than most 30-year-olds.

Venus Williams

Here's a number that might surprise you: Venus Williams turns 30 in June. While it seems as if the Williams sisters have been around forever, it also seems as if they're perpetually 22 years old. But Venus turns the big 3-0 this year, and it's mildly surprising that she is still playing tennis considering all of her other interests outside of the sport. She hasn't won a Grand Slam singles title since Wimbledon in 2008, but she still is ranked No. 4 on the WTA Tour and reached the finals of the Sony Ericsson Open last month. You get the feeling that she still has at least one more majors run — probably at Wimbledon — in 2010.

Fred Couples

In the time well before Tiger Woods came along, Couples was once the best golfer in the world. He was the PGA Tour player of the year in 1991 and 1992 and won the 1992 Masters. Injuries, most notably to his back, have limited his career and likely cost him a couple of major champion­ships. He hasn't won a PGA Tour event since 2003, and that victory was his first since 1998. He turned 50 in October and is now tearing up the Champions Tour. But he still plays on the PGA Tour, too, and a month ago finished sixth at the Masters, leading us to believe that, like Tom Watson, he might have a few tricks left in his golf bag.

Vin Scully

Scully just might be the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time. He has been calling Dodger games for 60 years, meaning he dates back to when the team was in Brooklyn. The starting pitchers for the first game he called were Don Newcombe and Robin Roberts. He called games nationally and was behind the microphone for Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956, Hank Aaron's 715th homer in 1974 and Bill Buckner's error in 1986. He was honored with the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame … 28 years ago! And today, at age 82, Scully will be in Dodger Stadium calling the Pirates-Dodgers game. He says he hasn't decided if this will be his last season, but there are rumors that he will retire. Do whatever you can to listen to him call a game this season just in case.

Catch these sports stars as their careers wind down 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 10:12pm]
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