Corona has most likely taken away the final games of Vince Carter – the last chance to bid him farewell, a goodbye to a player who re-defined himself.
It was March and the magnitude of the Corona crisis only slowly sunk into the collective consciousness in the United States. The chaos of China or Italy seemed far away. But it was an illusion that gradually faded away – headline by headline, press release by press release.
March 11, 2020 is when it all changed: Covid-19 had reached the NBA as Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was Patient Zero and the 2019-20 season was suspended after the night’s games – even while some NBA games were still going on in other cities.
One of those games was taking place at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where the Hawks were playing the New York Knicks. With overtime slowly coming to an end, the Atlanta crowd sensed this might be the last basketball they’d see for a while and began to chant “We want Vince!” – urging for the beloved Vince Carter to return for a possible goodbye in his 22nd and final season.
Carter came back in with 19.5 seconds left and swished a three-pointer on his final shot and hugged teammates and opponents in what could the end of his career.
Fifteen games were still scheduled of Carter’s final season, which was not a farewell tour the likes of Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant. But it was the end of the longest career in NBA history.
“It’s just weird,” Carter said afterwards. “At least I scored my last basket. It will be a weird-but-cool memory.”
At 43 years of age, Carter is the fourth oldest player to play the game, a fan favorite of a lottery team playing out the final days of a legendary career that saw him transform himself.
In 1998, Carter entered the NBA with the stamp of being the next Michael Jordan – Carter even played his college ball at North Carolina like MJ. Carter started with the Toronto Raptors and took Canada by storm – winning the Rookie of the Year and then the slam dunk contest and guiding Toronto to the playoffs in his second season. Carter’s “Air Canada” nickname was even a play on Michael’s “Air Jordan”.
Other Carter monikers included “Vinsanity” and “Half Man, Half Amazing”. Carter’s spectacularness reached a new level at the 2000 Olympics when he unleashed arguably the greatest dunk of all-time, jumping over the 7-foot-2-inch French center Frederic Weis.
But Carter fought knee and ankle injuries for two seasons – 2001 to 2003 – and the Raptors dropped to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. In 2004, Carter asked to be traded from Toronto after a number of issues inside the team.
He ended up going to the New Jersey Nets, where his career was reborn along side Jason Kidd. Carter had averaged just 15.9 points in his final 20 games with the Raptors and then collected 27.5, 24.2 and 25.2 points the following two-plus seasons with New Jersey. He helped the Nets reach the second round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. But things went south after Kidd left in 2008 and Carter headed out the next season – going back home to Florida to play for the Orlando Magic.
In Orlando, Carter teamed with Dwight Howard and the Magic lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Celtics. It was in Orlando where “the re-education” of Vince Carter took place, as he realized at 32 years of age he was no longer the superstar player but just a solid NBA veteran.
In December 2010, Carter was traded to the Phoenix Suns and he began to embrace his role as a dependable professional who could start games or come off the bench and help others with his experience. In his six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, Carter reached the playoffs five times and his final three seasons were with the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks.
If this is in fact the end, Carter finished his career as the 19th top scorer of all-time. Despite his image a dunker, he also connected on the sixth-most three-pointers in NBA-ABA history. He appeared in eight All-Star games, made two All-NBA teams and was the top scorer of the United States team that won the 2000 Olympic gold medal.
Sure he will go down as the best dunker in NBA history, but he never won an NBA title, not even reaching the NBA Finals. Carter did appear in the playoffs in 11 of his 22 seasons and he averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists over his career.
While many had hoped he would be “like Mike” and become the next Michael Jordan, Vince Carter instead took his own path and became unlike anyone ever. Goodbye Vince – and thanks for the memories.
by FIVE Magazine #168 – Vince Carter – Text: Jan Hieronimi