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Vince Carter Reinventing His Legacy In Fight Against Father Time

Once upon a time, Vince Carter was the most electrifying player in the NBA, like the great Kobe Bryant, Carter drew comparisons to Michael Jordan. Vince earned himself the moniker, “Half-Man, Half-Amazing”. With his high-flying dunks and clutch scoring performances in his early years in Toronto, he became one of the most popular players in the NBA. He sold jerseys, sold sneakers, was on magazine covers, was in TV commercials, Carter was the perfect clean-cut superstar the NBA is known to love; VC became a household name across the world.

Carter single-handedly put the Toronto Raptors and Canadian basketball for that matter on the map. He threw down some of the most amazing dunks we have ever seen, he put on the greatest dunk contest performance in NBA history, that same year during the 2000 Olympics, Carter literally jumped over 7 footer Kevin Weis and threw down a dunk.

Carter’s game was so raw. If you guarded him close, he would blow by you and throw down a vicious dunk that would blow the roof off the ACC, even on the road, Carter’s incredible dunks would get the home-team fans off their seats. If you gave him space, he would hit that shot, and if he hit that shot, he would get hot, if he got hot, opposing teams were in for a tough night. He was clutch (still is), he was feisty, and he played with a passion. The Vince Carter-show in the early 2000’s was one of the most entertaining things the NBA had ever seen.

Vince Carter was a gifted, talented, athletic-freak that was destined for greatness. Or at least that’s what we thought.

After a promising start to his career, Carter’s status in the NBA began taking a big hit. The Raptors were losing, Carter was constantly injured, he was growing frustrated with the Raptors front office at the time and missing the playoffs didn’t help either. Basketball analysts, disgruntled fans and critics began seeing Vince’s flaws more than ever.

By the time he forced his way out of Toronto, Carter had earned a reputation as a loser, whiner, and quitter, a heartless, prima donna, who had no passion or respect for the game of basketball. His popularity fell off, as the league transitioned into a new chapter with the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade’s, Carmelo Anthony’s and Dwight Howard’s coming in, it was almost like nobody really cared about Vince anymore. His star had faded and his play had declined.

Carter had clearly lost the fire, passion and hunger fans fell in love with when he first came into the league. He was one of the most celebrated players in the NBA before he even played a playoff game, and it clearly got to his head. His confidence and cockiness, at times, began coming across as disrespect and arrogance.

A trade to the New Jersey Nets in 2004 rejuvenated Carter, in a fresh start with the Nets, Carter averaged 25.4 points through his three seasons in NJ, he was an All-Star all three years. In a new environment, with a new roster and a team with a winning culture, Carter showed the world that he still had it. We began seeing those dunks again, he was the go-to-guy for the Nets and he was getting it done.

Through four seasons in New Jersey, Carter only missed 12 regular season games.

However, Carter was 30 years old, and he hadn’t quite lived up to the expectations fans had for him when he arrived in the league eight years earlier. Carter’s cousin Tracy McGrady went onto become a two-time scoring champion and was at one point considered the best player in the world. The other guy that was getting compared to MJ early in his career had won three NBA titles for the Lakers and was the best player in the world at this point.

The ending in Toronto for Carter was so sour that his image never really recovered from it. The city that Carter once lit up, now hated his guts. He had earned nasty labels that can stick with an athlete for his entire career: Washed-up, a has-been, a cry-baby, a chucker (referring to Carter’s tendency to fall in love with the 3-ball), a lazy-jerk, and worst of all, a waste of talent. Carter’s reputation was tarnished, he had lost a lot of respect among fans, and even though he was still one of the best wing players in the NBA, his critics were quick to shut him down, and they would count him out for the rest of his career.

Carter’s legacy had taken an enormous hit.

A lot of the criticism and hate Carter was receiving was very unfair. Fans wanted him to be the human-highlight reel he was early in his career for the rest of his career. With his incredible athletic displays early on in his career, Carter became a global superstar and a household name. But he would later learn that all that amazing stuff he did in his youth, was a gift and a curse.

For the rest of Carter’s career, whenever fans saw him, they thought about the 2000 dunk contest, the 360’s, the windmills, the reverse’s, the alley-oops, the legendary dunk from the Olympics. Carter would never be able to top that. His flashiness was so fun to watch, it was so memorable for fans, Carter could have scored 30 points a game for the rest of his career and we would probably still remember him for his athletic greatness from the early 00’s. It was a curse.

By the 07-08 NBA season Carter had played close to 700 career games, 26,325 minutes and was 31 years old. The fact that fans were still expecting him to throw down windmills every time he touched the ball was ridiculous. Jumping is what Vince was most popular for, but Carter was still a very good basketball player, a great scorer and a team player that came through when it mattered most. Fans could just not accept that, and it hurt Carter. Jumping around like Vince did back in his youth requires a lot of energy, explosiveness, power and speed, all of those things slowly decline every year after the age of 30, especially when players begin lifting weights seriously and putting on more size, building more strength instead of relying on their natural ability so they can be more effective in basketball games, which is what Carter was doing.

A regular season in the NBA can take a big toll on a player’s body, and the way Vince was playing during his prime; you’d have to bet all that jumping took a toll on his. The craziest thing of all was, Vince STILL threw down incredible dunks , he was still one of the premier wing players in the NBA, and he was playing better team basketball than ever.

With his All-Star years behind him, and his reputation as a waste of talent following him wherever he went, Carter was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 after spending four ½ seasons with the Nets. The Magic were coming off a loss to the Lakers in the NBA Finals, in that series they missed that go-to-guy on the perimeter, they traded for Carter hoping he would get them over that hump and propel them to an NBA Championship.

Entering his 11th season in the NBA, Carter, 33, started in 74 out of 75 games for the Magic. Although he averaged a career low 16.3 points per game, he was still a very effective player, and still one of the premier wing players in the NBA. It was at this point in his career that Vince reached OG status in the NBA, he was a seasoned veteran and fans and critics were finally starting to accept the fact that “Vinsanity’s” best days were behind him, and he wouldn’t be throwing down 360 dunks every night, not just because he didn’t have the ability or energy to, but because he didn’t have to.

That season a more focused and healthier looking Carter showed flashes of his old brilliance, he would have 25, 30 points games here and there, he would even get up and throw down a vintage dunk, although he wouldn’t get as high as before, it would still be something that’d make the highlight reels. The athleticism was still very much there. Carter’s best moment of the season came when he exploded for a 48-point performance against the New Orleans Hornets on February 8, 2010.

Vince was in shape, he was taking care of his body, which meant he was training in the off-season, and he was eating healthy. Carter was very quietly making adjustments to his game.

At the age of 33, father time was creeping up on Carter, but it looked as if the thought of hitting a wall or “losing it” didn’t really affect him. After all, fans were saying Carter hit father time in his final years in Toronto when he was just 28 years old, he had developed thick skin, after all the scrutiny he went through during his prime years, Carter had become a soldier, and he was still going strong.

Was he the best player on his team? Some nights he was. Was he an All-Star? No. Was he as athletic as he once was? Of course not, did he fulfill all his potential? Probably not. But, Carter was still a very good NBA player.

The 09-10 NBA season was Carter’s last season as a “go-to-guy” on the perimeter. The Orlando Magic went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing in 6 games to the Boston Celtics, Carter did not perform well in the series.

The league was getting younger every year and Carter knew this. But he stayed in shape; just because he couldn’t be the man anymore, didn’t mean his career had to come to an end.

On December, 18, 2010, Carter was traded to the Phoenix Suns. This is when it felt like the end. At times some people would forget that Carter was still in the NBA. He was on his third team in three years, the fourth team of his career. It felt as if this was the season Carter would fade out and ride into the sunset.

The Suns were going nowhere; through 51 games with the Suns, Carter averaged a career-low 13.5 points per game, a career-low 1.6 assists, a career-low 3.6 rebounds per game and played a career-low 27.2 minutes per game. There was speculation that Carter could even retire that off-season. He didn’t.

In his 12th season in the NBA, Carter became just the 37th player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points.

Vince Carter stayed in shape, he kept working hard during the off-season, it looked as if he had let go of his cookie eating habit as well. The funniest part of this was that Carter STILL threw down a vintage dunk here and there.

The Suns, in a rebuilding phase at the time, waived Carter in the final year of his contract on December 9, 2011. Three days later, the Dallas Mavericks, who were the defending NBA Champions at the time, signed the eight-time All-Star to a three-year deal.

Carter was re-united with his former Nets teammate Jason Kidd. The former superstar re-invented his game, transitioning into a role player for the Mavs, a move that would extend Carter’s career and has re-shaped his legacy in a positive way.

Vince embraced his role with the Mavericks, he replaced Jason Terry as the sixth-man in Dallas, and he thrived. Carter played team basketball, made the right play, showed great leadership skills, he was a mentor to the young guys on the team, and he could still score, and STILL dunk here and there.

However, with his athleticism no longer his main weapon, Carter became a shooting threat from beyond the arc. He shot 36% from 3-point range in 2011-12, a near career-high 40.6% in 2012-13 and 39.4% this past season. Carter was a spark off the bench for the Mavs, he made other players better, he hit big shots, he closed games, and he was a true professional and a leader for Rick Carlisle’s Mavs these past three seasons.

In a span of five years Carter went from being referred to as a washed-up, waste of talent to a great teammate who was still going strong. Fans and critics were showing their respect to Vince, every time he went back to Toronto the boos wouldn’t be as loud anymore, you could see the old Vince Carter jerseys in the crowd. We were witnessing a legend, a player we loved in the early 00’s still going strong and putting on for a generation that was slowly fading away.

Canada’s leading sports network Sportsnet even created a cool documentary called the “Re-Imagination of VC”. It seemed as if some fans, and people involved with the Raptors organization were ready to heal old wounds and move on from Carter’s ugly ending in Toronto.

Carter played his 16th season in the NBA with the Mavs this past season, and he has pretty much made Father Time seem irrelevant. He does not get enough credit for his longevity. We’ve spoke to numerous people in the NBA this past season and a lot of them say Vince has privately done a great job of taking care of his body, letting the junk-food go, conditioning himself in the off-season. Carter told ESPN two years ago how important it was for him to stay in shape.

Carter understands that conditioning is more important for him than ever at his advanced age, even in a limited role as a reserve.

“Being the oldest guy, that’s one of the things I try to pride myself on, being in the best shape or as good of shape as possible,” Carter said. “I want to lead by example, and that’s one of the biggest things, being in shape and being able to keep the motor going at this age. It’s a great feeling.

“I feel good. I’m able to go through camp and I don’t feel bad. … Normally, I’d be sitting on the side about to die over there. I put my time in. I did a lot of running, a lot of sprints and a lot of lifting. It means a lot.”

This past year for the Mavs, Carter averaged 11.9 points per game in 24.4 minutes per game off the bench. He has climbed up to 25th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list with 23,190 career points, he is 7th all-time in 3-pointers made with 1809. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Tim Duncan are the active players ahead of Carter on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, all are future first ballot Hall of Famers. Two other greats from Carter’s generation that are ahead of him on the scoring list, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson are currently reaching their eligibly to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, both first ballot Hall of Famers.

At the pace Vince is going, he could climb up to top 15 all-time on the NBA’s scoring list and 6th all-time in 3-pointers made. This would put Carter in a very special class.

The three-year run Vince had with the Mavericks was a significant chapter in his career. He reinvented his game; he proved that if you take care of your body, respect the game, know your role and play team basketball, you can work around, and in some cases even beat father time.

Carter’s final couple games with the Mavericks were special. In the opening round of the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs against the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, Carter averaged 12.6 points per game, shot 46% from the field and 48% from 3-point range. He hit one of the biggest shots in Mavericks playoff history in game 3 against the Spurs. That shot was a reminder that VC can still be the man on some nights, or some possessions, especially in the closing moments.

The Mavs proved to be the biggest challenge for the Spurs during the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs taking them all the way to a game 7, and Carter was a huge reason for that.

This off-season the Memphis Grizzlies inked Vince Carter to a three-year, $12 million deal. Carter will be entering his 17th season in the NBA this October. Barring a career ending injury, Carter, 37, could play till the age of 40 with his latest contract expiring in 2017.

Who would have thought seven years ago that Vince Carter would go onto play 17 seasons in that NBA, possibly even more than that? Carter has continued to stay lean and strong, numerous sources have told us that he remains in top-shape, is lifting throughout the off-season and continues doing his on-court workouts every day.

Vince may just be the most athletic 37 year old in NBA history, anyone who watched the Mavericks last season could tell that Carter was moving well laterally, he was light on his feet, stronger than ever and could still jump, the energy was there all year.

The former dunk champion is proving that the “wear and tear” the media loves to write about as soon as someone averages a couple points less than their career averages can be dealt with through recovery, training and rest.

It seems as if Carter re-discovered his passion and love for the game sometime in the past three years. Maybe the pressure of being the man every night was just too much for Vince, especially as a 33, 34 year old, maybe he stopped caring about what people said and just played basketball. The media wrote him off so much mid-way through his career that it became easy to just play with nothing to lose. Whatever it was, Vince made it work.

Although we were hoping that Vince finish his career back home in Toronto, it didn’t end up happening.  But, there will be a day when the Raptors retire his jersey, it is going to be a special night in Toronto when that does happen. The Grizzlies are still a great fit for Carter. With the departure of Mike Miller, the Grizz were in need of a veteran shooter off the bench, Carter provides that. He may even end up starting for the Grizzlies. VC is still chasing records and this will be a big year for him as far as individual milestones go.

In his fight against father time, Vince Carter has held his own. In these past three years, Carter reminded us how effective a naturally-talented player can be in the game of basketball if he accepts his role, works hard in the off-season and plays team basketball. He has finally shaken off some of those nasty labels he earned early in his career, the ones that usually stick with an athlete for his entire career.

Carter has outlasted some of the biggest names from his generation: His cousin Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming. Carter is still going strong entering his 17th season, he is playing at a higher-level than former MVP’s Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett, who are both on their last legs, likely entering the final season of their careers. There is no telling how Kobe Bryant will be when he returns after nearly missing an entire season. Ray Allen hasn’t signed with a team as of this writing, which would mean Carter, Nowitzki, Pierce, Bryant and Duncan would be the last big names left of their generation.

That’s longevity, and it needs to be appreciated, because the rigours of an NBA season, let alone 16 seasons, are well documented. Take away the dunks, the All-Star appearances, the scoring performances, game-winners and everything else Vince did, to be entering your 17th year in the league is a huge accomplishment on its own, you had to have been doing something right and a couple things really well to be able to get as far as Carter has in his career.

Sure, Carter may not have lived up to his potential as a player, but so many of the things expected of him were unfair to begin with. Vince Carter wasn’t Michael Jordan, he wasn’t LeBron James, and he wasn’t Kobe Bryant. He’s Vince Carter. A great basketball player.

An 8 time NBA All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist, 2 time All-NBA team member, the most exciting player of his generation, one of the most electrifying athletes of his time, the greatest dunker the game has ever seen. A guy who’s played 16 seasons in the NBA, posting career averages of 20.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He is without a doubt, one of the top 100 players in NBA history.

After watching him these past three seasons it is safe to say that Vince Carter’s legacy is intact. He belongs in the Hall of Fame when it is all said and done, and he will eventually be there.

But it isn’t all said and done just yet. Carter is still going strong, still fighting off father time and still having a lot of fun doing it.

A few days ago YouTube user Max Frishberg released an amazing mixtape on Carter’s 2013-14 season with the Mavericks titled “Legends Never Die”. It is a great watch.

Legends Never Die. When you see Vince continuing to go strong this coming season, just remember that.

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