Hall of Fame conversations are, to be quite honest, pointless. They’re often circular in nature, saying well, if Player A is a Hall of Famer and Player B is better than Player A, then Player B is obviously a Hall of Famer too. The problem with that is, of course, that if you dig deep enough, you’ll always find someone worse than the player you’re championing, especially when viewed through the prism of eras. It’s nearly always the same. Hall of Fame conversations are boring.
Vince Carter, on the other hand, is not boring. Rather than numbers, his career is best summed up by the calls of awed announcers, calls which would not be out of place as blurbs on movie posters:
“It’s over!”—Kenny Smith
“He jumped over his head!”—Doug Collins
Carter’s “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” nickname may have been inaccurate in the sense that—at his peak—he was far more than half amazing. He was the most devastating in-game dunker since the days of Dominique Wilkins and a young Michael Jordan, able to create in the open court and destroy the most intimidating shotblockers with equal aplomb. He ended Frederic Weis’s NBA career before it even started. If fear was a Hall of Fame measure, there would be no debate around Carter’s qualifications.
Here, however, are some things Vince Carter has never done: He’s never been named first-team All-NBA, never played in an NBA Finals, never led the league in a major statistical category. He never finished higher than 10th in MVP voting. At no point, according to the usual metrics, was Vince Carter the best two-guard in the NBA. Had his career ended at, say, 35, maybe he’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But it didn’t. At 34, Carter signed with the Dallas Mavericks and, for the first time in his career, became a bench player. He thrived in his new role, providing scoring punch off the bench and mentoring young players—who, at that point, was basically everybody. And as the tail end of his career stretched out, first in Dallas and then in Memphis, his career numbers continued to pile up. Health willing, he’ll score his 25,000th career point next year, something only 20 other players in NBA history have ever done. As Hall of Fame credentials go, that’s an automatic.
McGrady was selected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer this past summer, and Carter will be too, whenever he becomes eligible. He’ll likely be the third, and final, Hall of Famer from the Draft class of ‘98, behind Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.
It’s also past time to reconsider Carter’s time in Toronto, which was marred by injury and later by accusations of malingering. Raptors fans took it out on Carter for years, despite the fact that it was Carter’s stardom that cemented NBA basketball in Toronto for good even as the Vancouver Grizzlies abandoned the Pacific Northwest for the brighter lights of Beale Street. Tracy McGrady left Toronto of his own accord after just three seasons as a Raptor, before even becoming an All-Star, but was never treated with anywhere near the disrespect Carter was. Carter was seen as a traitor not just to Toronto, but to the game, a reputation that would dog him for years.
Still, time heals all wounds, and Carter has had more time than most. Carter heads into one of the unlikeliest 20th seasons in NBA history having already played more regular-season games than Kobe Bryant, more than Paul Pierce or Gary Payton or Shaquille O’Neal. For a while, Carter made every injury look like a career-ender, now his career may never end.
McGrady was selected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer this past summer, and Carter will be too, whenever he becomes eligible. He’ll likely be the third, and final, Hall of Famer from the Draft class of ‘98, behind Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. Carter didn’t lead teams to NBA championships like Pierce and Dirk did, but he did win Olympic gold during a three-year run where he was the most electrifying player in the game. There’s still the actual balloting to come, but Kenny Smith already said it: It’s over.