In 2003 Michael Jordan was about to appear in his final All-Star game. The only problem was, that for the first time in his NBA career MJ would be coming off the bench. It sounds funny, and All-Star voting was a bit different, but Vince Carter was a huge star in 2003 so he got more fan votes at the SG position. Carter was one of the many "next Jordans", his 2002 biography was titled "The Air Apparent" and playing the same position with stunning athleticism made him a fan favorite. Not that MJ was bad.
"I played against Washington Michael, so I don't know if that counts. He still gave me 30!"
From the moment the All-Star teams were announced to the actual game, people were talking about Jordan not starting. Was this the way we want to send off the GOAT? It got down to Vince Carter giving up his starting spot for MJ. But, Vince didn't feel like that would be fair. Carter got the third-highest number of fan votes, 1,300,895, behind Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. He was one of the NBA's rising superstars and said he didn't want to let down all the fans that voted for him.
Yet, everyone wanted Carter to relinquish his place for MJ. They were both listed at shooting guard, both were North Carolina alums and Carter didn't have an impressive season so far that year. He had been sidelined with an injury and had modest averages of 18.8/3.5/2.5. Charles Barkley went as far as to say that Carter didn't "deserve to be in the game." When it became clear Carter has no intention of doing so, his cousin Tracy McGrady offered to give up his spot to Jordan. Allen Iverson did the same. The community decided to get MJ in as a starter but Carter wouldn't budge. He started his All-Star press conference by making that clear.
"To clear the air on this Michael Jordan thing before any questions are asked. I feel he’s a legend, the greatest player to ever play the game. That made the decision tough. I respect who he is and what he’s about.”
Vince Carter before the 2003 All-Star Game
Carter said he didn't leave his hotel room for anything but the mandatory All-Star appearances. While all this was happening, MJ made it clear he didn't want Carter's or anybody else's spot. He felt like other players earned it over him and he didn't need any gifts on the basketball court. Competitive as always, MJ didn't want handouts. The teams were in the pregame huddle when Carter grabbed MJ and whispered in his ear.
"I told him, ‘You’re taking this spot,’ I told him he wasn’t getting me blackballed from the league. … He kept saying, ‘No, no, no. You earned it.’ I said, ‘Yeah … but this is your last one. So you’re gonna take the spot.’ If he didn’t, I was gonna walk back into the tunnel and into the locker room so he wouldn’t have had a choice.”
Vince Carter via The Undefeated
Carter was still announced as the started, something team coach Isiah Thomas felt was necessary for Vince to get the recognition of being voted in by the fans. But, he was announced with: "This next All-Star has just asked to be replaced in the starting lineup by Michael Jordan." MJ started and we got one of the best "wired" moments in NBA history. Michael and Kobe trash talking and going head to head in one of the most legendary All-Star games.
Kobe vs. Michael might have been the main event, but what Vince Carter did to honor MJ made it all possible. If he hadn't it would've always been a "what if" moment. Vince is in his last NBA season and we hope that the young stars do something similar for him in this year's All-Star game.