Written by: Jordan Vitkauskas (@Lower_Merion33)
Everyone in the NBA has rejoiced over the past two days as the board of governors announced (and then approved) their proposal to finish the 2019-20 season in Disney World. The proposal meant 22 teams will be playing in eight regular-season games before the standard 16 squads face off in the playoffs. One team not invited was the Atlanta Hawks, who finish the season at a less-than-stellar 20-47, after preseason optimism had people picking them to snag the 7th or 8th seed. With Atlanta’s year officially over, it also means the end of Vince Carter’s 22-year career.
No final home game with video tributes and countless standing ovations. No roars for one last dunk. No line after the game of young players looking to congratulate one of their idols growing up on a great (and potential Hall of Fame) career. Just like that, Carter’s time playing in the league has finished after the weirdest season in NBA history, and three full months of waiting. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Carter deserved more. He earned more.
Carter came out of North Carolina in 1998 and had to wait an extra four months to play in his first pro game due to the dubious lockout that saw players come back out of shape and forced teams to play 50 games in a super-condensed schedule. Nonetheless, Carter cruised to the Rookie of the Year award, beating out Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and a scrawny Paul Pierce in the process.
Carter’s peak (1999-2007) had him averaging almost 25 points, five rebounds and four assists a night, a sneaky good 37.9% from three, and a guaranteed 2-3 spectacular dunks that brought fans of both teams out of there seats. He was a spectacle to watch athletically. Fans eagerly waited for Carter to run out on a fast break and then fly (the guy seemed to hang in the air forever) above the rim for a dunk by himself or bring down an alley-oop from a teammate.
His 2000 slam dunk contest victory remains possibly the best ever (yes even over MJ, Dominique, and this past season’s). Carter put on four mind-boggling dunks that have now seen the crowd reactions (think Shaq with the handheld video camera) turned into more into memes than memories. But don’t let those fool you, the dunks were absolutely ridiculous showcases of creativity and athletic ability. I’m not sure if a crowd has ever cheered louder for one man dunking a basketball in a non-game situation. His nicknames of Vinsanity, Air Canada, and Half-Man/Half-Amazing are all-timers; iconic and fitting alternate titles for the man who could soar above the rim. Oh, and let’s not forget the “Dunk of Death” over 7’2” Frederic Weiss in the Olympics.
That 2000 dunk contest of course is one of the three biggest achievements for Carter, which kind of hurts his overall legacy. He never had the success on the court that his scoring peers such as Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and even Allen Iverson had. Carter was chastised for flying out to his graduation at North Carolina the morning of game seven of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, especially after he shot 6-of-18 from the field in the loss (Carter missed the game-winner at the buzzer by about three inches).
He came to New Jersey, Orlando, and Dallas 1-2 years after those teams made the Finals, and they weren’t the same with him there. By 2010, he was out of his prime and had the label of a guy who could never win the big one and would force his way out of a bad situation (see – the Raptors blowup). However, heading into his mid-30s, Carter overcame those early year reputations and began a new one as a respected veteran and beloved teammate. He was brought into Memphis, Sacramento and Atlanta not to play 35 minutes and score 20 points a game, but to mentor the young players and be a positive locker room presence. Carter’s teammates soaked up his advice and went nuts every time he did see game action and made a play.
Carter’s career was not perfect by any stretch. You could say that based on his talent level, he probably underachieved. We should’ve seen him fly for an alley-oop in the Finals at least once, and maybe could’ve snagged a ring during the NBA’s diluted talent era (Name me a single memorable moment from any Finals between 2003 and 2007. Miami’s thousand free throws in ’06 don’t count). It didn’t happen, and in the end, that’s okay.
Carter’s final numbers are still noteworthy. He’s one of 25 members of the 25K point club, third all-time in games played (1541 – one healthy season from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish for most ever), 17th in minutes and 27th in VORP. The craziest stat of all? Carter is the only player in history to play in four different decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s). You don’t luck your way into that. You have to earn it and keep your body in proper shape. Finally, Carter became a true leader on and off the court, and beloved by almost everyone in basketball. That’s probably what counts the most.
March was not the last time we are going to see Vince Carter on television. He already has a podcast with The Ringer and is all but certain to be called into the ESPN or TNT booths for games/shows. He’s well-spoken, knows the game and doesn’t have an ego when it comes to voicing his opinion on subjects. I’ll be tuned in to whatever station he’s on.
Here’s each dunk from Vince Carter in the 2000s dunk contest to give you goosebumps one last time. Salute to Vinsanity.
Feature image courtesy of Slam.
All stats/notes from ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.
VORP – Volume Over Replacement Player