It wasn’t quite the way Vince Carter envisioned his NBA career would end, but with the National Basketball Association suspending its season on March 11th because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a real possibility the 43-year-old has played his last game.
“It’s a weird way to call it a career. Technically, I have eligibility. I have 15 games left. But if not, I’m one with it,” said the former North Carolina Tar Heel with a smile.
While there are reports that the NBA is looking to complete the remaining regular-season games without fans in attendance, there has been no confirmation from league officials if that option is feasible at this point.
Vince Carter Looks Back on 22 Year NBA Career
Starting Up and Finishing Off on Shortened Seasons
Carter entered the league in the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season. And after averaging 18.3 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Toronto Raptors, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
As the eight-time All-Star reflected on his 22 year NBA career, he acknowledged the irony in starting off during a shortened season, and now, potentially finishing up on a shortened season.
“I’ came into the league on half a season in the lockout and I walk away from the game with unfinished business – which is okay,” acknowledged Carter, who will enter the history books as the only NBA player to compete in four different decades.
Competing Against the Best of the Best
One of those was competing against the late great Kobe Bryant – who Carter referred to as one of the best ever. The two athletic 6′ 6″ shooting guards were familiar which each other. They were often compared to each other during their childhood days.
“I wanted to play my best against M.J.,” said Carter about his mindset while competing against a 38-year-old Jordan for the first time back in 2001 – acknowledging that it was natural to want to step up his game against the greatest of all time.
In that December 2001 matchup, Carter recorded 21 points in the first half against Jordan and his Washington Wizards teammates. However, Jordan and his squad would get the last laugh as they held Carter scoreless in the second half. The Wizards and would go on to beat the Raptors 93-88.
Highs and Lows in Toronto
During his time in Toronto, the player nicknamed Air Canada, would experience highs, but also lows. The low points came at the start of the 2004-2005 season – as he requested a trade from the Raptors. On December 17, 2004, Carter was dealt to the New Jersey Nets. On his subsequent visits to Toronto, the Raptors’ fans would shower him with relentless boos.
However, there is a saying that time heals all wounds. For Raptors’ fans, they have forgiven and forgotten over the years.
“We have a record number of players in the NBA and the vast majority credit V.C. as their role model. He probably had the greatest impact on the sport from a player development perspective in this country,” said Badner.
“This is undeniable.”
Disappointment and Missed Opportunity From Suspended NBA Season
It’s been more than 15 years since Carter was traded from Toronto. Since then, he’s had time to reflect on his time with the franchise.
“As a young guy just trying to establish myself as an NBA player, I wanted to be the best player I could possibly be. I learned a lot, I grew up there.” Carter recalled.
“I had all these veterans in my corner, I was playing the game that I loved and someone is giving me the opportunity to go for it.”
The Atlanta Hawks had two games scheduled against the reigning NBA champs in Toronto this season – January 28 and April 10.
“That last game played in Toronto was fun. It went from all the boos to the cheers. It was heartwarming,” said Carter about the January 28th game.
Understandably, there’s a disappointment on Carter’s part that he won’t have the opportunity to play that April 10th game in Toronto. It was set to be a send-off from the organization and the fans.
“I can’t imagine what the last time would have been,” he said.
“It’d be like a practice day. When playing the Raptors (in Toronto), you look up there, and see nobody but friends and family.”
The Bigger Picture
Despite his disappointment, Carter recognizes the immediate need to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even worrying about if I’m going to play my last 15 games is like selfish because safety and everyone’s health is more important,” said the thoughtful 43-year-old.
“It feels weird, but I’m okay with it because I understand what’s the bigger picture.”
Staying Involved in the Game
Carter has no clear plans on exactly what he wants to do following his retirement. The future Hall of Famer knows that he wants to stay closely connected to the sport.
“Broadcasting is something that I want to do. Maybe down the line, if I can be part of an organization – maybe be involved in player development. I enjoy that kind of stuff. Maybe part ownership one of these days,” he said.
However, he does know one thing he wants for his future.
“I just want to be around the game.”
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