After 22 years in the NBA, Vince Carter, at 43 years old, officially announced his retirement in June. Carter walks away as one of five players in NBA history to record 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists, and 500 made 3-pointers, joining Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and LeBron James
In 1998, Carter arrived as a rookie phenom in Toronto and propelled the Raptors into must-see television. After his iconic 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance and a jaw-dropping dunk over Frederic Weis at the Summer Olympics that same year, there was no denying who the most exciting player in the league was at the time.
From Toronto, he went to New Jersey and Orlando and played an integral role on both teams. In the latter part of his career, Carter transitioned from the high-flyer that earned him nicknames like Air Canada and Half Man, Half Amazing to one of the most well-respected veterans in the league, playing for Phoenix, Dallas, Memphis, Sacramento, and Atlanta. In 2016, as a member of the Grizzlies, Carter won the Twyman-Stokes NBA Teammate of the Year award for his selfless play and leadership on and off the court.
By the time he checked into what would be his final NBA game in March against the New York Knicks, as the season was suspended due to the coronavirus that same evening, Carter stood next to RJ Barrett, a 20-year-old from Toronto. Carter had been around the game of basketball for so long he used to play pick-up ball with Barrett’s dad Rowan.
Carter’s impact on basketball in Canada and this current generation of NBA players is immense, and will have a lasting impact for years to come. To remember his career, we spoke to his teammates, coaches, broadcasters and journalists for their favorite memories, anecdotes and stories about Vince Carter, from his rookie season to the final shot of his career.
Jack Armstrong made his debut as a color commentator for the Raptors during the 1998-99 season, the same year Carter joined the NBA. To this day, he still remembers Carter’s dunk over Dikembe Mutombo during his rookie season.
“When you watched Vince Carter, you were like, ‘Whoa, wow.’ There were things that he did that just jumped off the page with you. You know this kid had it. He just had remarkable potential and a feel for the game. The dunk over Dikembe, I remember thinking, ‘He’s not going to do that! He can’t do that! Oh my god, he did it!’ Dikembe is a tremendous rim protector and an intimidating force. For Vince to go in there with such force and confidence, it spoke volumes about how well he thought his chances were. He was just fearless. Vince wasn’t intimidated by anybody.
“I also remember the 2001 playoff run. Even though the Raptors lost to the Sixers, it was an epic series between Allen Iverson and Vince Carter. There was just incredible jubilation and joy at the Air Canada Centre. You have to remember, basketball was a new thing in Canada, it was only year six of the NBA in Toronto. I remember after the Raptors won Game 6 at home to force a deciding game in Philadelphia. I walked out on Bay Street in downtown Toronto and you just saw people honking horns and waving flags and the series wasn’t even over yet. It was one of those moments where you thought: this thing’s got a chance here. It spoke to the impact Vince made on basketball in Canada.”
Chuck Swirsky also joined the Raptors during the 1998-99 season as their play-by-play voice, and remembers a regular-season game in 2000 when Carter had an all-time alley-oop late in the fourth quarter and later hit the game winning three against the Clippers at the buzzer.
“My radio call on the alley-oop was, ‘He’s soaring through the heavens in the City of Angels.’ I never took Vince for granted. You could count three times a game where he was doing a variety of slams, whether it was windmills, tomahawks, two-handed reverse dunks, it was just unbelievable. When he hit that shot against the Clippers at Staples Center, there was just a scrum on the floor and everyone was mobbing Vince. It was wild. I remember we had Bill Walton on our postgame radio show. He was doing television with Ralph Lawler at the time for the Clippers. We had Bill on. We had Vince on. I kept the postgame show very long that night. It was just an unbelievable game. We were on the West Coast and it was the wee hours of the morning back in Toronto, but as somebody who had just called the game, I would be doing a disservice to Raptors fans if I didn’t cover every single angle of that game. Mats Sundin was the star of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Carlos Delgado was the star of the Toronto Blue Jays. But Vince Carter was [bigger than] any athlete playing in Toronto.”
Alvin Williams played alongside Carter for six seasons in Toronto. He remembers how opponents would have trouble holding back their excitement at Carter’s in-game dunks, and also has fond memories of watching the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest with his dad.
“The dunk over Dikembe his rookie season, I was on the court, and I remember him taking off on the baseline. A lot of times when you saw that Vince would sometimes just do a 360 and lay it up. With this one, you knew he was going to take it to Dikembe. I remember Steve Smith, who was on the Atlanta Hawks, just yelling out ‘woooooooooooooooo’ when the dunk happened. It was unbelievable. It was always funny to see the other team’s reactions when Vince dunked. They would talk to me about the dunks. It happened all the time.
“I watched the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest on television with my dad. I had never seen any of those dunks he did in practice. I remember him and Tracy [McGrady] would pull off some dunks when we were in the lay-up line before games. He and Tracy used to take the ball and just jump really high and put it in, they would put the ball in the rim with their whole arm. At the Dunk Contest, Vince added the hanging on the rim with his elbow part. There was a lot of hype going in, and for him to actually perform and fulfill those expectations. I mean he exceeded all expectations. He stepped onto the biggest stage and didn’t disappoint at all. My dad’s commentary that night was the best. He was a huge Vince Carter fan, and he lost it when Vince stuck his arm on the rim. My dad was stuttering like, did he just stick his arm in the rim?? He had no idea what was happening. Nobody had ever seen that before.”
Jalen Rose played with Carter in Toronto, but his favorite memory of Vince came from watching Vince dunk on one of his Pacers teammates.
“Vince Carter was the Michael Jordan of Toronto. That’s why they called him Air Canada. It was legit. He should have a statue in front of that arena. It’s going to happen. When you unlock Canadian basketball to the rest of the world, when you see so many Canadian basketball players in the NBA, that’s Vince Carter’s legacy in Toronto
“My favorite Vince Carter moment was when I was on the other team. I was still with the Pacers during the 1998-99 season when Vince went baseline on Chris Mullin and pulled off a double-pump reverse dunk on Rik Smits. I remember not seeing anything like that ever before. That was the only thing I could talk about at halftime. I had never seen anybody, maybe other than Dominique Wilkins, do a double-pump dunk so effortlessly in a game like that before.
“It’s hard to not react when you see a play like that, even though he’s on the other team. It’s like when you go to a car wash, you pull up with your car, and somebody pulls up with theirs, and it looks clean, you give them a nod, like, you’re looking good, I like them rims, I like them colors, I like them seats. It’s just professional courtesy. It’s game recognizing game.
“This is blasphemy coming from me, I gotta come from the diaphragm for this time, and this is the first time I’ve said this into the atmosphere, and it hurts me a little bit to say it, like when I finally put LeBron [James] ahead of Larry [Bird] on my list, but when you combine his in-game dunks and the dunk contest, Vince is the most spectacular dunker the NBA has ever seen.”
"Jason Kidd and so many of the Team USA participants who were at floor-level said what Vince did was the greatest dunk of all-time. Listen to them, not me." — Marc Stein
Shaun Powell currently writes for NBA.com, and was at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia to witness Vince Carter’s dunk over Frederic Weis in person.
“Even when Vince got the ball, I was like, this is probably going to be something nice, but we’ve probably seen it before, because we had seen his dunks at North Carolina and in Toronto. But then I saw Vince pick up his dribble, and I thought he did it prematurely, because usually guys aren’t going to pick up their dribble until maybe they’re like five feet from the basket to dunk it. I was like, he’s still awfully far away from the basket, and he still had a defender in front of him, and then everything just happened so fast. I almost wasn’t sure what I had just saw. Initially, I thought Vince had jumped to the side, I wasn’t even sure I believed what I saw, that he actually jumped over somebody. When you’re watching there in person, you don’t have the benefits of replay, so when it happens, you’re just paralyzed. Once I was done picking my jaw off the floor, I understood exactly what had happened. I had been watching basketball long enough to think I had seen every dunk possible, but I guess if you stay in this game long enough, you’ll still see things that you’ve never seen before.”
Marc Stein, currently an NBA reporter for The New York Times, was also in Sydney, Australia and believes it was the greatest dunk of all-time.
“Media seating at the Olympics, in what they call the press tribune, is typically not as good as we have it back home, especially 20 year ago, so I’m not sure we got the most ideal view of it. The dunk was so audacious that you simply didn’t believe it based on real-time viewing. You pretty much had to see a replay to totally believe it. When I do vividly remember afterward was Jason Kidd proclaiming it to be the greatest dunk of all time—something, Kidd noted, we had never seen from Michael Jordan. When Kidd says something like that—not only a fellow star but someone who is not prone to that sort of hyperbole—it sticks with you.
“I tend to romanticize things that happened in the 1980’s, when I was falling obsessively in love with this game, or things that happened before I started covering the league in 1994, because that’s when I was oozing pure fandom. So if you pressed me on this topic, I’m apt to go with Shawn Kemp’s Lister Blister. That dunk in 1992, among my circle of friends, was revolutionary. But again, Jason Kidd and so many of the Team USA participants who were at floor-level said what Vince did was the greatest dunk of all-time. Listen to them, not me.”
Ian Eagle had fond memories of covering Vince Carter’s run with the New Jersey Nets for YES Network, including his dunk over Alonzo Mourning in Miami.
“As a play-by-play guy, when Jason Kidd arrived in New Jersey, I quickly realized I had to be aware that at any moment in any game, he might do something that I had never seen before. So when Vince Carter arrived, I thought I was prepared, but honestly this was another level. Vince’s creativity forced me to open my bag of tricks a bit more. The vocabulary had to improve, the energy level had to match the moment. As a play-by-play announcer, the goal is to match the call with the highlight in front of you. Vince was an artist with a blank canvas and he forced me to go places I hadn’t gone before as an announcer. I felt a responsibility in many ways. You don’t get to re-do these moments. It’s one take.
“I give Alonzo Mourning a lot of credit. He could have easily stepped aside but he didn’t back down. This one just felt epic as it was happening. It was the combination of the run up, and then the crank, and the fact they met at the apex and Vince won the battle. I remember my broadcast partner Jim Spanarkel just giggling on air. That’s not something that normally happens on a basketball broadcast. As a play-by-play announcer, you’re always trying to stay in the moment, but that moment just took my breath away.”
Rick Carlisle is the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks. The three seasons Vince Carter spent with the organization from 2011 to 2014 still resonates with him today.
“The first year in Dallas, he started and was one of our leading scorers. After Jason Terry left, Vince came to me before the start of his second year here and asked if he could have the honor and privilege of being the sixth-man. He was just a high character team person. He was a giver. He was a dependable scorer, a playmaker, an underrated defender, a really good rebounder, and an absolute winner. He left such a strong, long-lasting positive impression on everybody in our organization.
“[In 2014, Carter hit a double-pump 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 3 of the first-round against the Spurs to give the Mavericks a 109-108 victory] We had one play set up coming out of the timeout, but the Spurs called timeout after taking a look before we inbounded, so we had to switch the play. I’ll never forget it. As we were coming out of the timeout, I said, ‘Vince, you’re going to be open and you’re going to make the shot.’ He just nodded and got into our formation. He made a little pump fake so Manu Ginobili would fly by, and with 1.5 seconds left, he had plenty of time to let that shot go and swish it. It was one of those beautiful sights, where the ball is in the air, the red square goes off, the ball switches and it was absolute bedlam. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard American Airlines Center.”
Ryan Anderson was a rookie with the New Jersey Nets when he first became Carter’s teammate. They were later traded together to Orlando.
“He’s the best veteran I’ve ever had. On bus rides and team flights, he would come over and just sit next to me, and that just doesn’t happen. You just don’t see that with stars of the team. I don’t know how to describe it in any other way other than I’ve been around a lot of other superstars that tried to act like superstars. They try to get respect in that way or they don’t speak to people or they don’t treat teammates like human beings. With Vince, it didn’t matter if you were Dwight Howard or if you were me, who at that point I was pretty low in the totem pole. He treated me the exact same.
“He took me under his wing. I remember I was hitting the rookie wall in my first season in New Jersey, and around the 50 game mark, he just told me to keep trekking through, and he told me that there’s going to be five games [for the rest of the regular season] where I’m just not going to have it. He told me to just accept it and to keep riding the train, to keep riding the wave. When you’re away from family and you’re young, having someone on the team encourage you like that really helps. When we got traded together to Orlando, that was his hometown, he showed me around and even let me borrow one of his cars. I messed up and spilled this huge drink in his car, stunk the whole thing up. He didn’t get mad about it. Like I said, he’s a real hospitable and understanding dude.”
JJ Redick was Carter’s teammate during the early part of his NBA career in Orlando and remembers how cool it was to learn the Magic was getting Carter.
“I remember being in my apartment in Orlando, this was right after we had made the NBA Finals, and I was getting ready to go to the pool and I went on ESPN and there was a headline that said we had traded for Vince. I remember Vince when I was 11-years-old and he was in the McDonald’s All-American game. I had been a fan and admirer of his for over half of my life. To get the opportunity to be his teammate was really special. I didn’t know what to expect but he was unbelievable. We did all of our pre-practice and post-practice shooting together. He helped me a lot. The leap I took from year three to year four was huge for my career, and he was a huge part of that. He’s the most down-to-earth superstar you can imagine.
“He’s also one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with. For him to play 22 years in the NBA, it’s one thing to say your body can handle it and that you’re still skilled enough to play, but it’s a whole other thing to say that you can mentally and emotionally handle the grind year after year. That’s the most impressive thing. He’s carved out a niche on every single team he’s been on and found joy in playing. That’s really admirable. When you get older, and for someone as accomplished like him, to still be here for the love of the game, and to be here to mentor younger guys, that’s really impressive.”
Garrett Temple played with Carter in Sacramento, and remembers learning how to be a veteran and leader on a young team.
“I remember one time, we were talking about the younger guys and he told me that everybody was different and that sometimes how you talk to one guy isn’t the way you talk to another guy in order to push them to be the best player they can be. That’s the one thing he reiterated to me, that everybody has different buttons. That has stayed with me. His professionalism and his humility are two things that stay with me the most.
“I remember in practice, he would still just throw down a one-handed reverse-360 dunk with ease. He still probably jumped the highest on our team, which is crazy, but it’s true. [I really admire him] for the fact he adapted. He’s probably the strongest 225-pound dude you’ll ever meet. Most guys who rely on their athleticism early on, it’s tough for them to adapt and play that long, but that just goes to show you how skilled Vince was but also his work ethic and the things he did during the summer to hone his game. A lot of guys can’t be cool with being the seventh or eight guy, with being the guy coming off the bench. He did that for a long time, it wasn’t just the last few years of his career. That’s tough for a lot of superstars, but he did it.”
Lloyd Pierce is the head coach of the Hawks, and remembers the whirlwind night in early March when the Hawks were playing their final game of the regular season on the same evening when the league announced they were suspending the regular season.
“First of all, it’s been really cool to have Vince Carter on our team. He and I are the same age, we’re like eight months apart, we grew up in the same era and our main conversations are about hip-hop. It’s funny because the younger guys listen to all the new stuff, and as you know, Vince is a big music guy, and that’s our joke, because him and myself and our coaching staff, we are allies in terms of our musical taste. We had a trip earlier this season to the Outkast mural in Atlanta, which was born out of a conversation Vince and I had, about our disapproval of how our younger guys weren’t recognizing the greatness of Outkast and how we needed to educate these guys on the history of Atlanta hip-hop.
“I remember [Vince’s final game], right before we broke our huddle to start the game, I said, ‘Hey, this could very well be our last game of the season, just so you guys understand.” And as soon as I said that, Dewayne Dedmon on cue says, “Shit, Vince, this is gonna be your last game.” It just hit everyone. It was one of those moments. Vince was like, “Wow.”
“So we come back to the locker room at halftime, and I’m getting hit up from our staff guys because Rudy Gobert had tested positive and they stopped the game in Oklahoma City, and I told the guys, this is probably our last game of the season. We were down at halftime, Trae [Young] goes off in the fourth quarter and we get it to overtime and at this point, I’m still trying to win a game. The Knicks make a run and the game gets away from us.
“Then you start hearing the Vince chants from the fans. I took a look and saw the players on the bench rallying around Vince. It wasn’t a thought of mine. I needed help. I was caught up in the game. I heard the fans, I pointed at Vince, he took his jersey off and checked into the game. We have a play called rugby. I told Trae to run rugby. Vince inbounds the ball to Trae, who pushes it up the floor, and he turns around and throws a rugby pass to Vince who drains the three.
“That was a great ending and thankfully we were able to do it. I’m really thankful for the fans for yelling at me to get Vince back in the game.”