Vince Carter may be the last star from the early 2000s that anyone expected to still be playing. His first few years in the league coincided with the end of Michael Jordan’s career, and the new high-flying, slick-scoring wing from UNC was billed as the heir apparent to His Airness. His production increased substantially during each of his first three seasons, culminating in 2000-01, when Carter averaged over 27 points per game and leading the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they forced a Game 7 against the eventual Eastern Conference champs, Allen Iverson’s 76ers. That game ended with Carter missing what would have been the game-winning shot.
By 2001 Carter had already cemented himself as one of the brightest young stars in the league. He was also one of the most exciting thanks to his knack for throwing down ridiculous dunks. He won the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, and in the 2000 Olympics completed what is most likely the most famous post-Jordan dunk, a one-handed slam in which he literally leapt over cowering 7’1” French center Frederic Weis. It looked like the sky was the limit for the man who was said to be Half Man, Half Amazing, and at times it felt like even the sky may not be enough to hold him.
Looking back, the Jordan comparisons weren’t as farfetched as they now seem. It wouldn’t have been hard to look at the numbers, to look at the style of play, and picture Carter carrying his teams to championships while averaging 30 points per game. Unfortunately, the 2000-01 season would end up being his high-water mark.
Numerous injuries marred the end of his tenure with the Raptors and eventually led to his leaving town on a sour note and heading to New Jersey. He starred with Jason Kidd on a few somewhat memorable teams there, but never got close to reaching what was once thought to be his ceiling. Carter remained something of a disappointment, never able to hit the game-winner, never able to carry a team, always battling some sort of injury. He was viewed as soft, and seen as yet another member of the set of early 2000s stars who just didn’t get it for one reason or another.
So he moved around from team to team in trades and free agency for a few years until he landed in Dallas. He was seen as a decent bench option at that point, capable of providing a little scoring where needed. He kept plugging away and plugging away, and at some point, when no one was paying too much attention, the fragile swingman became one of the oldest players in the league.
Other high-flyers have burned out, their faded athleticism robbing them of their ability to play at the highest level. What Carter has shown is that skill was always a major part of his game. For instance, it may seem that he became a notable threat as a long-range shooter as he aged, but aside from his rookie season he has always shot a lot of threes and made a decent percentage of them. In fact, two of his four best shooting seasons were his 2nd and 3rd in the league. His general scoring has leveled off at around a point every two minutes, a very good mark for any player, much less one who will turn 38 during the upcoming season.
Even his supposed lack of durability has always been overblown. He has played in at least 73 games in all but one of the last 11 seasons. The season where he didn’t hit that mark was the 66-game lockout shortened season. That season he played in 61 games.
The time he spent in Dallas offered him the chance to slip quietly into his new role: auxiliary scorer. He no longer had to deal with expectations of carrying his team with Dirk Nowitzki long ago cementing himself in that role. Instead Carter just picked his spots, made smart plays, and hit a few threes. This offseason he signed a deal to join the Memphis Grizzlies, where he’ll offer immediate help on the wings. His offensive prowess, and specifically his shooting, will be welcome on a team struggling to space the floor and create scoring opportunities on the perimeter.
Carter has put together a long and impressive resume, and should be accepted into the Hall of Fame (whatever the hell the criteria for that are these days). It may not be the most viscerally rewarding victory, but he has outlasted most of his contemporaries, and he is enjoying an exceptionally productive final chapter to his career. The “Half Man, Half Amazing” moniker doesn’t really apply anymore; all that’s left is a man. One who is still very, very good at the game of basketball.