With less than 20 seconds left in the OT game between the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks last March 12, 2020, Vince Carter checked into the game. He took a hand off from Trae Young and drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key.
After that the buzzer sounded, both for that game and for the on-going season.
With the NBA season in limbo, that might have been VC’s last game in the league. Or, he could be back, dunking like he always has been, when the season resumes.
Either way, it feels like a good time to celebrate a full career from Half-Man, Half-Amazing.
It can be said that for athletes growing up, there can never be no greater of a dream than to represent their hometown, whether it’s in the Olympics, the local pro team or something as simple as the school’s varsity squad. There’s nothing like the love and support of a community that became a significant part of their lives growing up.
In the NBA, there are a handful of those that were able to play for their hometown squads. Ohio’s proud son LeBron James took his talents to the Cleveland Cavaliers and delivered an NBA title in the process. The same does with Clyde Drexler and the late Wilt Chamberlain, who led their respective home teams, the Houston Rockets and the Philadelphia 76ers, to respective championships.
There’s also Chicago’s Derrick Rose, who made history by becoming the youngest MVP awardee in the League while balling for the Bulls. And there’s Tracy McGrady of Florida, who etched his mark in NBA lore as a certified scoring machine while donning the Orlando Magic royal blue and white.
Curiously, there are also those that suited up for their home squads but got hidden in obscurity given that they had are more associated with their successes elsewhere. These include Dwyane Wade, who played in his native Chicago for a season, and Andrew Bynum, who was briefly a member of his hometown 76ers after his career with the LA Lakers.
And then there’s Vince Carter. Although he didn’t have the same impact as his cousin T-Mac during his stop in Orlando, he still made the most of his time back home.
Fresh off the franchise’s second Finals stint which saw them fall to the LA Lakers, the Magic looked to augment the core of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson. With the impending loss of Hedo Turkoglu — who was arguably the Magic’s best perimeter player during the Finals — to free agency, it was clear that the team needed to shore up their wing spots in order to maintain their status as a competitor in the East.
While Carter has already logged 11 seasons prior to his homecoming with Orlando, he was still considered as one of the premiere swingmen during that time. He was still averaging robust numbers with 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game with the New Jersey Nets during the 2008-09 season.
Those numbers would eventually dip to 15.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists over the course of 97 games throughout the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, as he served as third fiddle to Howard and Lewis. He was also hit with a rash of injuries that limited his time on the court.
Still, when Carter would take the floor in the Magic’s signature pinstripes, the local crowd at Amway Arena would be in for a treat. It was like being transported back in time when he was still a young stud displaying his unbelievable athleticism for Mainland HS in Daytona Beach, an hour’s drive from Orlando.
Carter also had one of his career’s shining moments while playing for his home team.
In a regular season game against the New Orleans Hornets in February 2010, he reverted back to Toronto and New Jersey VC, firing for 48 points on 19 out of 27 shooting, including 6 triples.
He did all that to lead his squad to a comeback win after being down by as high as 17 points in the second half. It was in the final two quarters where Carter showcased his own magic, dropping 34 of his total to anchor Orlando to a 123-117 victory.
Interestingly, for a man who’s been associated with high-flying, death-defying drives to the hoop, most of Carter’s points in that game came from his veteran moves. He killed the Hornets with a myriad of pull-up jumpers, post-ups and smooth forays to the rack, but not necessarily the rim-rattling ones that defined his career in the NBA.
That first season with the Magic would see Carter becoming an integral part of the team’s playoff run, the very reason that he was brought in to the team in the first place.
Sweeping both the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks with ease during the opening and semifinal rounds, where Carter had multiple 20-plus scoring outings, the Magic booked a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals against a stacked Boston Celtics team.
That also served as the first, and only appearance of VC in an NBA Conference Finals series. However, unlike in the first two series Carter’s performance would falter in this one. After scoring 23 in Game 1, he was able to only average 11.8 points in the next 5 games, as the Magic fell to the Celtics in six games.
Having Carter around would’ve served as a solid foundation for the Magic in the years ahead. Yet 22 games into the following season, he was shipped to the Phoenix Suns in a six-player trade, abruptly ending his stay with his hometown squad.
In retrospect, Carter’s homecoming, although brief, served as an important chapter of his storied career. Not only was he was able to return to a familiar place where his basketball journey started, but he also delivered on the expectations that were put on him when he was brought in. While he donned the pinstripes, the Magic remained a competitive force in the East. Carter’s time in Orlando may not have ended with a ring like some, but it further solidified his status as a legend of the game.