Vince Carter. The freakishly athletic, next-MJ, millionaire, liar, quitter, manipulator, superstar, beloved veteran and longest-tenured player in the history of the NBA holds a net worth of $100 Million according to Playerswiki.com. At 42 years old and recently signed for his record-breaking 22nd year in the NBA, Vince Carter is putting the finishing touches on a legacy and money-earning career rarely seen in professional sports.
22 years and a final net worth north of $100,000,000. You can count on a single hand the number of times a professional basketball player has played 21 seasons or more (you won’t even need one to count how many titles Carter won). It’s two whole decades. Unless Carter gets sucked into the Sarlacc pit prior to January 1st, Vince will be the first player to appear in an NBA game in four separate decades: ’90s, ’00s, ’10s and ’20s. Let’s take a look at Carter in each decade as Vinsanity closes the book on the twilight of his career.
The fan-contrived (and much, much worse) Michael Jordan 2.0 arrived in North Carolina in the fall of 1995 and could jump with the Jumpman, dunk with ruthless authority, rile crowds with voracious athletic feats, hit mid-range and three-point jumpers, and wore a cockiness sweater-vest-wearing 58-year-old UNC alums loved unconditionally. The Tarheel was as close a physical and athletic clone to basketball’s GOAT as you’ll find: both stood 6-foot-6 with long arms, pogo-stick athleticism, and a mean snarl. Give Michael just a handful of hair follicles, take away everything that made him the greatest to ever play the sport (alpha-assertiveness, sense of the moment, clutch performances, anything resembling defense, toughness, fortitude–mental and testicular, and that undying hunger for winning) and walla! You have Vince Carter, an uber-athletic orb of raw basketball excitement oozing more potential than Orson Welles after Citizen Kane.
At UNC, Carter was fine on paper, peaking at 15.6 points-per-game. The aforementioned physical godliness (from a basketball perspective) and Welles potential propelled him to the fifth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Warriors and immediately traded to the Toronto Raptors. In 1999, Carter’s bombastic style of play and exceptional first-year stat-line earned him Rookie of the Year honors.
Vince erupted in year two, 2000, posting a per-game scoring average above 25, making his inaugural All-Star appearance (the first of eight) and was selected for the United States Olympic team, which won Gold. Perhaps Vince’s most spectacular moment of his entire career came during the Olympic run when he cleared 7’2 former Knicks bust French dude named Frederic Weis for a life-altering slam dunk (Weis’ name elicits nothing but Carter-induced shame on google searches). Considering Carter reacted more joyously to that dunk than he did after winning entire playoff series, I’d say he too agrees this was the pinnacle of his career.
That’s the conversation you have to have about Vince Carter the basketball player: the selfishness in his prime.
Starting in 2001, Carter led Toronto to the playoffs and dueled in the second round with Allen Iverson and the 76ers after dismantling the Knicks. The two supposed “next generational guards” notched 50 points in separate games and battled to a game seven in Philadelphia. Carter chose to attend his graduation back in Chapel Hill on the day of the game rather than preparing for the most important basketball game of his career and the city of Toronto. I’ll spoil the ending for you: Toronto lost on a missed three at the buzzer by Carter, capping off his 6-18 shooting and look of intense exhaustion throughout. Maybe you shouldn’t go through an hours-long graduation ceremony and fly back to Philadelphia on the day of a game seven? Maybe your team deserves better than that?
As the years dragged on in Toronto and Carter’s lucrative and fully-guaranteed contract extension kicked in, his play and demeanor declined. He openly campaigned for Softest Player in the League status by milking trivial injuries, refusing to play with discomfort, and taking ten minutes to get up off the ground after minor knockdowns. His glistening bald head started appearing on my TV screen in 2005 as he wiggled around the ground and croaked “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” during soap opera commercial breaks.
And 2005 is where Toronto reached Okonkwo status with Vince Carter. Like the protagonist in Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart. Carter’s defense ceased to exist (as if it held any substance to begin with), he began a jumper-only diet, and he played with less urgency than a hungover college student getting out of bed. Paying Carter a superstar price, Toronto realized it was chugging toxic waste and traded the perennial All-Star to the Nets. All of a sudden, Vince re-activated his love for the game, spiked his scoring totals above 27 per-game and completely rejuvenated the way he played basketball next to Jason Kidd. Vinsanity was an All-NBA talent once again!
If it seems like Vince intentionally gave up on Toronto and tanked his way into a trade just to quench his own selfish thirsts on and off the court, you are correct! And he admitted it! After being asked whether he pushed himself hard enough over the past few seasons in Toronto, Carter replied, “In years past, no.” Oh, so Vince openly sabotaged his situation in Toronto by morphing into the Marlon Brando of injury-faking and flat out not even trying. That act sparked panic by Toronto and they traded him for pennies on the dollar to New Jersey, a trade which screwed their franchise over for years! That’s exactly what Vince wanted. Repulsive. His legacy should start with his selfishness on the court and end with the athletic freak/former superstar discussion. And honestly, Carter’s career isn’t particularly notable aside from the dunk over Weis and a string of early playoff exits.
Vince, a has-been star with a checkered past retools his game with a role player arsenal and phases into the impossible not to love Former Superstar Turned Rotation Piece. If there’s one lesson to learn about the last acts of a superstar’s career, it’s that despite any baggage, players who once wooed audiences with feats of superhuman basketball ability always gain appreciation as they slide into a lesser, older, and almost sad role. Find me a superstar in his late thirties or forties who went out facing harsh criticism. There really isn’t one. Retirement is like death in the NBA. You can’t talk bad about a star who retires, just like you wouldn’t badmouth someone at their funeral.
Carter fell into the fairy tale Old Wise Man role perfectly in the NBA. But his career at large lacks teeth, it lacks a certifiable moment or performance or game that confirms Vince as a Hall Of Fame athlete, someone who should definitely be cherished by the basketball community, someone who wore the hallmark traits of team sport: competitiveness, unselfishness, toughness. Vince gave up on an entire city and fans across the world didn’t give up on him. It’s my theory: once-elite basketball players are always loved…eventually.
Vince is entering what he claims is his final year. It should be. He’ll 43 years old by the end of the 2020 season. His post-prime tours with Dallas, Phoenix, Sacramento, Memphis and Atlanta reshaped his image and delivered him with a lovely end to his career, all things considered. After he retires this Spring, Vince Carter will have songs sung about him. Hopefully, they lead off with “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins–because in Toronto it was all “a pack of lies.”