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.
Back in the early 2000s, everyone wanted to be like just three players: Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter. Each of these guys had their own flair and a unique game exclusive to them.
For Carter though, it was his high-flying, gravity-defying dunks that put him above the rest of the pack. Whether it were the dunks in the iconic 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, or his in-game artistry which he showcased nearly every single night he played for the Raptors, VC made his mark through those dunks.
At the time, Carter had that certain vibe around him that screamed “franchise star”. He was that rare pro who could have spent his entire career with just one team. Like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, and Bill Russell.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Five seasons into his career Carter was disappointed and requested for a trade. He was shipped to the Nets in December 2004. Looking back at it now, that trade may have been the turning point he needed to last as long as he has in the NBA.
His effect on the New Jersey Nets was as instant as a pack of noodles right from the get go. He put en exclamation mark on that effect with his new team on November 7, 2005.
On a slow Monday night in the NBA, Vinsanity would rock the rim of American Airlines Arena with one of the nastiest in-game dunks the league has ever seen.
Early in the third quarter of that game, Richard Jeffersin tried to score and draw a foul on the 6’10” Alonzo Mourning. There was a no-call on that play rendering the ball loose. The ball slipped past the grasp of the two-time NBA blocks leader, toward the sideline, right in front of the Nets bench. Heat guard Jason Williams tried his best to chase the ball and get to it first, only for Carter to beat him to it.
In one smooth motion, Carter scooped the ball with one hand and transitioned immediately into a smooth behind the back dribble. He then took two strong dribbles toward the rim, as the Miami defense suddenly parted giving him an opening to the hoop (which included teammate Jason Collins who wisely got out of the way). Carter elevated and Mourning tried to elevate with him. But Carter just kept rising. He drove the left side of his upper body towards Mourning’s right side. He hung in the air, for what seemed like an eternity, before cocking the ball back and flushing it down hard on the head of one of the best shot-blocking centers of all-time.
The whole Nets bench lost it. They erupted out of their seat, celebrating the unbelievable hammer as Mourning took a few steps away from the scene of the crime. Richard Jefferson roared. The cameras in the area fired off their flashes, capturing one of the most vicious poster dunks, worthy of a spot in the walls of millions of fans.
Carter himself admitted over a decade later on NBA TV that Zo never had any chance at blocking his dunk: “For the shot blockers out there, if you know a guy can dunk and you don’t jump before him, you have no chance.”
His team may have lost that game by just a single point, but it was that dunk that reminded everyone that Carter may have changed uniforms but Vinsanity was here to stay. Despite all the injuries, issues, and rumors that hounded him up to that point in his career, in that moment Carter proved that nothing can ever truly stand in his way to the best dunker in the world. Not even one of the best shot blockers in the league.
Carter’s stint in the meadowlands was the second longest of his career, next only to Toronto. It was where he proved that he was in no way a fluke, that he was not just another veteran player after his Raptors stint. He also proved that he was more than dunks, no matter how amazing those were.
It was during his stay with the Netst when everybody kind of took a step-back and said: “Maybe he’ll actually last in this league for a long, long time.”
As he hit what could have been his final three-pointer for the Atlanta Hawks just before the NBA suspended the season – after 22 seasons with eight different ballclubs – he proved to everyone that he was actually able to stay in the league for quite a remarkable career.
Not all players can say he played against fathers and sons, or babies born later than the day he was drafted, or that he played professionally in the best league in the world for four different decades.
As of now, the list of players who can lay claim to all those feats contains only one and one name only: Vince Carter.