Vince Carter worthy of considerable tribute

Mike Conti
June 25, 2020 - 9:42 am

Vince Carter’s impact on the NBA goes far beyond a dunk contest in 2000.  In fact, his impact on the NBA may be among the most significant of anyone in the last two decades.

Related: Vince Carter Announces Retirement

Stay with me here.

As we have all recently celebrated the playing career of Michael Jordan, I think a lot of fans have forgotten about what happened to the league in the immediate aftermath of Jordan’s retirement.  There was a damaging lockout that dramatically truncated the 1998-99 season.  The league’s biggest star in Jordan retired.  Teams languished in some of the league’s largest and most important markets, like Boston and Chicago.

The NBA was not in great shape.  And I think one could argue that Vince Carter helped the league bridge the Jordan-era to the Kobe-era.  It wasn’t a long bridge, but it was a bridge.

Carter’s Rookie of the Year season in 1999, and subsequent performance at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest were certainly the launching points for him to become one of the “faces” of the NBA at the turn of the century.  Leaping over a seven-foot-tall French guy at the Olympics added to it. As did a second-team All NBA season in 2001 that made the Toronto Raptors relevant and seeded the growth of the game in Canada.

Suddenly, it was Vince Carter, not Jordan, becoming the focal point of this iconic Nike commercial.

That’s why it was so unfortunate to see Carter’s career end so abruptly, on a Wednesday night in March when the sports world was collapsing around us due to the outbreak of Covid-19.  The Hawks had planned an elaborate tribute for his farewell game on April 15.  Now it won’t happen, with the Hawks season officially ended by an NBA Board of Governors vote on Thursday.

Carter officially announced his retirement Thursday on the "Winging It" podcast.

Nobody could have seen the sudden cancellation of the season coming, but Vince deserved more. 

The book on Carter’s career will list his on-the-court achievements: Rookie of the Year, eight All-Star games, the only NBA player to play in four different decades, an almost certain trip to Springfield as a Hall of Famer. 

But I think I’ll remember Vince mostly for his off-the-court demeanor, something that I got to see up close this year traveling with the Atlanta Hawks.

On road trips, there’s an unwritten rule for people like me: “limit your interactions with the players as much as possible.”  Which is why I was nervous on December 30 when I found Vince and his father approaching me as I watched the Hawks participate in a pregame shoot-around at their Orlando home.

“You’re a guest in my home,” Carter said to me.  “I want you to be more comfortable.”

In a surreal moment, a player I had idolized as a college-aged NBA fan, a player that was as influential as any in the league for a short time in the early part of the 2000’s, a player that hurdled a giant in Sydney was now giving me a tour of his home, handing me a bottle of water, and showing me to a comfortable recliner overlooking his home gym.

For someone that tries very hard to give players their privacy on the road, having Vince Carter explain to me how a signed mural of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players was his most prized possession was a small but very special moment.

Vince Carter’s legacy with the Hawks will not necessary be measured by what he did on the floor.  It will be measured by that kind moment at his home.  Or how he stopped a game in Chicago on December 11 so Steve Holman could have his busted nose attended to (a ball got kicked in to our broadcast position).  Or how he volunteered to assist Lloyd Pierce in any way possible with coaching because he was so grateful to be signed by the Hawks.

The NBA is finishing out its season in Orlando, where Vince keeps a home.  I hope they’ll find a way to give him the send-off he deserves.​