A grayer, wiser and gravity-bound Vince Carter is still alive and kicking from his hammock underneath the cool shade of the Sacramento Kings bench. If you’re surprised about this revelation, don’t be.
The former Human Highlight Reel is now averaging 2.6 points in 12 minutes per game. When he’s not aggressively icing his knees and ankles, he’s getting more philosophic and nostalgic than Drake discussing an ex. Carter reminisced about his bygone glory days as the Toronto Raptors’ basketball savior in a bi-monthly diary for ESPN’s The Undefeated:
Of course, I’d like for [the Raptors] to retire my jersey. You’d always like your jersey retired. That is where it’s started. There have been talks about it. People talk about it, and I’m very thankful for it. But for me, I try my best not to think about it because I am still of service in this league. At the end of the day, every player’s end result is to see their jersey hanging in the rafters somewhere. That is where it started. Hopefully I will get that opportunity.
Carter’s jersey being retired by the Raptors once felt like fait accompli, but there are factors that complicated matters. Chiefly, his departure from Toronto left a sour taste in the mouths of the Raptors organization. His cleared-for-takeoff dunks and proclivity for getting buckets elevated them into relevancy and spread Vin-sanity around the league, but what went up cratered once it came down.
He took heat from Toronto fans for attending his graduation from The University of North Carolina on the same day as an eventual Game 7 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 Eastern Conference finals. After he missed a shot that would have propelled the Raptors to the conference finals, everything snowballed from there.
A subsequent knee surgery and lower leg injuries transformed him into a finesse scorer who avoided contact and relied less on those infamous drives into the paint. It didn’t help matters that his cousin and former teammate, Tracy McGrady, who’d left Toronto to escape Carter’s shadow, had evolved into an MVP-caliber swingman on the Orlando Magic.
By the time he was traded to the New Jersey Nets early in the 2004-05 season, Carter’s stock had tanked. That season, he averaged a then-career-low 15.7 points per game on 41 percent shooting for the Raptors, and then poured in 27.5 points a night on 46.5 percent shooting in 57 games for the Nets.
Upon his return to Toronto, the Raptors booed him into oblivion, and he always saved his best for the Raptors. From scoring 39 in his return to his former home to depositing the final 12 points in another win and his classic fadeaway buzzer-beating 3-pointer along with a game-winning reverse alley-oop dunk in the same 2008 game, Carter seemed to enjoy sticking it to Toronto a little too much.
However, time heals all wounds. In 2014, a decade after the trade, the Raptors aired a video tribute to Carter. Now, the 40-year-old veteran is widely acknowledged for his role in siring a generation of fervent Canadian basketball fans. Though the Raptors have never retired a jersey, Carter gave the Raptors seven years of memories. If anyone has earned that honor, it’s him.