Article by: Harrison Weaver
Everybody loves a good retirement tour. They bring out some of the most nostalgic, powerful sporting moments you will ever see. Remember back in 2016 when Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points against the Jazz in the final game of his career? In a jam-packed Staples Center, Kobe brought the Lakers back from a late 8-point deficit with some of his magical Kobe shots to win the game, just like we used to see in his prime. Last season, we got to witness the Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki send-off tours. In a truly special final game at American Airlines Arena for Dwayne Wade, he managed to blow the game wide open with a trio of back to back to back three-point shots as he finished with one last 30-point game. In Dirk’s final game, we got to witness a few of his trademark fade-away shots to send him riding off into the sunset. The former all-time leader in three-pointers made, Reggie Miller, had an incredible but less joyous final game as his final game was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in which his Pacers lost to the Pistons despite Miller scoring 27 points with 4 three-pointers. There’s nothing like that standing crowd ovation as a retiring superstar is substituted for a final time out of the game. Whether they’re a home or away player, receiving that appreciation for everything they have provided the league with over the span of their career is something else.
This year, we will be getting another extra-special retirement tour. The 2019-2020 NBA season will be Vinsanity’s turn. The timeless wonder, 42-year-old Vince Carter is set to play his final season as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. In case you were wondering how effective he can still be for this young Hawks team, let me fill you in on some of his numbers for last season, his 21st. He averaged 7.4 points per game on almost 39% shooting from deep. He played in 76 games and started 9 of them while averaging 17.5 minutes in those games. Oh, and he threw down 15 dunks last season too. That’s all at 41 years old, sometimes playing against competition literally HALF his age. It’s a true testament to the graceful shapeshifting career that Vince Carter has led.
Coming into the league out of the University of North Carolina, Carter was a vicious attacker of the rim. He would charge into the paint and destroy anyone in his way, producing some of the most jaw-dropping dunks the league has ever seen. Upon being drafted by the Golden State Warriors and then being traded to the Toronto Raptors, he went on to win Rookie of the Year in 1999 and then won the crown of Slam Dunk Champion in 2000 with his memorable between the legs high-flying windmill jam and a whole handful of other superhuman slams. He continued on this superstar path all the way through his prime, consistently putting up PPG in the mid-20’s with his killer mix of his rim-attacking ferocity and three-point shooting. After 7 and a half years of mildly successful seasons with the Raptors, Vinsanity was traded to the New Jersey Nets to be paired with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson.
His tenure with the Nets marked the beginning of Vince Carter’s playoff misfortune. In his first season in New Jersey, Jason Kidd was returning from surgery and Richard Jefferson had to get a season-ending surgery, which ultimately led to a playoff sweep at the hands of the Heat. That Nets team would never be the same again, but that doesn’t mean Carter stopped balling out. On December 12th, 2005, he tied his career high scoring performance with 51 points against the rival Heat, who the Nets would eventually lose to again in the playoffs the same season. The unraveling would only get worse for the Nets, and Vince would be traded to the Orlando Magic on draft night after the 2008-2009 season in which the Magic lost to the LA Lakers in the Finals.
Of course, this would once again highlight the missed timing with Vince Carter and playoff success. Missing out on the Nets back to back Finals appearances, and again missing out on the Magic’s Finals appearance. By this point VC was 33 years old and no longer the same rim-attacker he used to be. However, he transformed himself into a new brand of player, just as he has in every phase of his career. He focused on really honing in his perimeter game and used it as a tool to preserve his status as an elite player. It’s something Vince has done so elegantly and is such a big part of why he is still in the league today at 42 years old. In February of 2010, his first season with the Magic, he dropped 48 points against the Hornets to prove that he still had the ability to flip the switch when need be. The Magic made it the whole way back to the Conference Finals, Vince Carter’s first, with a chance to earn another spot in the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, they were matched up against the Big 3 from Boston and fell short in six games. The very next season, the Magic got off to a slow 12-9 start and traded Carter the Phoenix Suns, which also did not pan out despite the presence of Steve Nash as the Suns missed out on the playoffs. Take a wild guess what happened the season before? The previous season, the Suns still had Amar’e Stoudemire and made the Western Conference Finals.
It was time for another new scene for Vinsanity, so he took his talents to the Dallas Mavericks on a 3-year deal to join an aging core, but a team that was still a playoff threat. By this point, Carter was 35 years old and no longer much of a rim-attacker. Instead, he was now deadly from behind the arc and had really mastered his savvy perimeter game. His first year in Dallas featured a first-round elimination at the hands of OKC, and it was the 2012 lockout season. It was his third season in Dallas in which VC was able to conjure up a little magic. The Mavs won 49 games, enough for an 8-seed in the West. They then faced the San Antonio Spurs dynasty. The Mavericks were able to send the series back to Dallas tied up 1-1, which was relatively unexpected. Game 3 was a nail-biter. With the Mavs down 108-106 with 1.7 seconds left, inbounding from their own wing, guess who came sneaking out of an inbound set to flash himself open in the corner? Vince Freaking Carter. He pulled up the shot from the corner with Manu Ginobili right in his face and fading away he absolutely splashed the three to win the game 109-108 and send the crowd into a frenzy. Instead of a game-winning drive to the paint, or electrifying dunk, this time it was a finely aged Vince Carter flexing his perimeter game to give the NBA another jaw-dropping, memorable Vince Carter moment. The Mavs would go on to lose the series in 7 games, but it was yet another spectacle provided by Vinsanity.
At 38 years old, VC signed with the Grit N’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies on the back end of the run with the core of Conley, Gasol, and Randolph. Still able to average about 16 minutes per game, Vince was able to provide a high-IQ veteran presence to add to the excellent Memphis chemistry. No longer much of a scoring threat, Carter was still able to conjure up some clutch shots and hit three’s where need be. In his first year with Memphis, the Grizzlies made it to the second round where they forced the eventual NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to 6 games and lost after a hard effort. The following season, the Grizzlies went 42-40 and got swept in the first round by the Spurs. The following season at 40 years old, Carter averaged 24.6 minutes and 8 PPG for the Grizzlies, an extremely impressive load for a player of that age. He even provided for 10 dunks that season. Truly defying age, Carter continued to find ways to contribute on the floor.
Fast forward two seasons, one season in Sacramento and one season in Atlanta, VC will be returning for a 22nd season, the only player to ever do that. The Hawks offered to have him back, and he has taken that offer. He will turn 43 in January, which will make him the 3rd oldest player in modern NBA history behind Kevin Willis, who played until he was 44 years and 224 days old and Robert Parish who played until he was 43 years and 254 days old. It’s unlikely that Vinsanity will be much of a scoring threat this season for the Hawks, but he has proven throughout the course of his career that no matter what his age is, he deserves a spot on the floor. His ability to transform his game to the condition of his body, his basketball IQ, his team-first attitude, are all qualities that have preserved him as a valuable player. Especially on a young Hawks roster with a lot of talented players who could use the knowledge, teaching, and veteran presence Vince brings to an organization.
However, don’t be surprised if VC gets up and slams down a few dunks this year. Don’t be surprised if he hits a buzzer beater three, in fact don’t be surprised by anything. He may be the oldest player in the league, and his body may limit him, but he still has that magic. It’s in his basketball DNA. This will be one of the most fun retirement tours we have seen in the NBA. After all, he is Vinsanity. Expect the unexpected.