Half man. Half amazing. Fully invincible.
The first time I saw Vince Carter was in Indianapolis. It was 2001, and I was ten years old. The Raptors were visiting the Pacers, and I didn’t wear my purple No. 15 jersey with the dinosaur logo. I was sitting next to the visitor’s tunnel with my dad, and as the final buzzer sounded, Vince took off his game shoes and handed them to a kid three rows behind me; a kid who was wearing that No. 15 jersey.
The second time I saw Vince Carter was in Cleveland in 2004. I was 13 then. The Nets were visiting the Cavs, and Cleveland had just drafted a guy named LeBron James. It was dumb luck that we happened to stay in the Nets’ team hotel. We bumped into Bill Russell in the lobby, and just as my cousin and I were posing for a picture with a 7-foot legend, Vince and Jason Kidd walked out of the elevator. We chased them to the Nets bus, but it was too late.
I’ve been lucky to snag interviews and moments with several pro athletes in my career, but slippery Vince Carter is the fleeting face of my childhood. I’ve seen him five times since those two occasions, and all five times I’ve failed to close.
But now, I have another chance. We all do.
The future Hall of Famer announced his return yesterday on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption:
“I think I could stretch it out one more year,” Carter said with a smile
And with those words, a generation of basketball fans, like me, were overjoyed. Tweets and tears rained down like a storm on social media, culminating in a nostalgic episode of Vince Carter highlights.
The man known by many nicknames will turn 43 next season, and his 22nd year in the NBA will make him the longest-tenured basketball player in the history of the game. He’s a generational hero for fans who fell in love with his highlights, like the time he dunked over 7-foot-2 Fredrick Weiss with Team USA. Or the time he stuck his arm in the rim before the world’s first between-the-legs 360. Or when he beat the Raptors with a game-winner in his first return to Toronto. Or that other time when…
You get the idea.
He’s played for eight different teams – the Raptors, Nets, Magic, Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Kings, and Hawks – across four different decades – 90s, 00s, 10s, and 2020 next season.
At the end of this storied career, Carter has earned the respect of every player, coach, and executive in the league, partially because they looked up to him when they were younger, but mostly because he’s done everything the right way. He didn’t chase money, form super teams, or create drama. He balled out, and he did it with flair.
Vince isn't seen an underdog story in terms of overcoming adversity, but he is. An underdog inspires, unifies, and celebrates their sport in the purest of ways regardless of result. After 21 seasons and no rings, or even Finals appearances, Carter’s love of the game is unmatched. A kid from Daytona traveled to North Carolina, to Canada, to more than a quarter of the Association and into the record books with the longest basketball career ever known. I’m glad I’ll get one more chance to witness the legend of Vinsanity in next year's farewell tour.