Vince Carter has played with or against 38% of all players who have ever played in the history of the NBA. Of the 4486 players who were a part of the Association, Carter has been a teammate or played against 1704 of them. He had the most teammates in NBA history with 261 and has played against 1668 players in his career. With the NBA on hiatus, there’s an increasing probability that a 43-year-old has played his last game on the NBA hardwoods and that seems like an unfair ending to a 22-year NBA career.
Being drafted in 1998 as a 5th pick by the Golden State Warriors and being a part of a draft-day deal that sent him to Tracy McGrady’s Toronto Raptors for Antwan Jamison marked the start of Carter’s NBA journey. Although his NBA campaign started with him winning the Rookie of the Year award, solidifying himself as Canada’s first NBA superstar, his time in Canada will always be labeled with the question “what could’ve been if he and T-Mac had stayed with the Raptors.”
In 2004, Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets, where he joined an all-time Point Guard Jason Kidd and athletic Small Forward Richard Jefferson but just couldn’t do any significant damage in the post-season. Vinsanity than got traded to the Magic, where he came furthest in the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Boston Celtics. He went on to play for five more NBA teams but was never a part of a contending one.
At 43, Carter is the fourth-oldest player to play in the league, behind Nat Hickey, Kevin Wills, and Robert Parish. When coming to the NBA, his mindset was to play in the league for at least 15 years and to have a longer career than some of the greatest of all-time. As 15 years passed, Carter was still feeling good and felt like he could still play in the league, ultimately prolonging his career to his 22nd season.
“At 15 years, I said, ‘Hey, I’ll just play two more.’ Because I felt good at the end of year 15, I was like, ‘Man; I feel great. I could still do this. So I’ll just try two more. See what two more looks like.’ And got to 17, and tried two more. And that’s kind of what I said. I’ve been saying that because it’s like, at that point, once I got to 17 years, I didn’t want to put a cap on what it was.”
Vince Carter, via SI
VC felt like his body was sending him signals that it’s time to say goodbye. However, he was uncertain about it. Carter wasn’t mentioning the word retirement until talking to Kobe Bryant, who helped him adjust to the idea of accepting and dealing with the fact that it is time to move on to other things.
“Kobe said to me, ‘You’re going to love it. Trust me. We’ll talk about it some more. I’ll tell you how I handle it. I took the steps into being the happiest I’ve ever been.’ And after that conversation, I was able to say retirement with confidence because of the conversation I briefly had with him on the court.”
Vince Carter, via SI
Unfortunately, the two never got to talk about it again, but it seems like Kobe helped Vince to find peace with the decision to end his NBA journey.
A lot of NBA players struggle with the fact that their careers as basketball players have an expiration date. Kobe is the one example of the smoothest transition from the life of an athlete. He found his passion for storytelling and gradually developed his skills while still playing basketball. After his historic farewell game and dropping 60, he got up in the morning and went to his office to begin his second act. Kobe made sure to find something he was just as passionate about as basketball. He then used the same drive and competitive spirit he had on the floor to improve as a storyteller. It all resulted in him winning an Oscar for his short animated film Dear Basketball and becoming a number one selling author.
This is also a part of the legacy Kobe left for NBA players. He was having them realize that there is so much more that they can do after they stop dribbling the ball. Bryant was emphasizing the importance of discovering your second passion on time, not having to deal with the process of finding it after retirement. Kobe left the blueprint on how to leave a mark in the NBA, but how to also do it after leaving the arena for the final time in your career. That’s why Kobe’s words helped Vince put his mind at ease. Seeing a guy who was once obsessed with basketball be happier than ever made him excited about his next chapter. A chapter that hopefully is half as good as his NBA career.