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Q&A: Vince Carter on battling Allen Iverson, his biggest “what ifs” and what he told Zion

NBA legend reflects on his career during the outset of his final season

With his NBA-record 22nd season underway, Vince Carter sat down with to reflect on key moments from his career, his favorite players to battle over the years and why he decided not to ring chase during his final seasons.

(Editor’s Note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited).

* * * Have Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant given you any advice for this farewell tour?

Vince Carter: Nah, not yet. I plan on talking to some of my guys when I see them. But honestly, I’m just approaching it as another year. It’s still my job. I can probably honestly say whenever it’s over I’ll be like, “Dang, I wish I valued or cherished it more,” but at the same time I am valuing it and cherishing it because I’m doing what I love in the moment. That’s what I love doing. It’s kind of easy to approach it that way just because that’s what I enjoy.

Which games are you most looking forward to during this final season?

All of my former stops. [Playing] my former teams is going to be fun and exciting. It’ll be more emotions than nerves. I had great memories in every stop that I’ve played at so I think I’ll have appreciation.

With all your 1998 draft classmates retired, who are some current players that you have a close relationship with?

Kyle Lowry is one of them. Kent Bazemore. Jae Crowder. I know I’m going to forget some people, but those are some of the guys that I talk to the most that are current players. And there’s probably more, I’m gonna hate myself later on. But those are the ones I talk to the most right now where I can think of in the last two, three weeks I’ve spoken to those guys.

Speaking of that Draft, take me through that night when you found out you were being traded for your college teammate Antawn Jamison.

Literally, [former NBA commissioner David Stern] shook my hand. We took the picture. And he said, “Just stay right here, there’s about to be a trade.” So I’m back there like, damn somebody’s about to get traded. Antawn was sitting at the bottom of the steps. He was trying to tell me that we’re about to get traded, but I was like, “What, what, what?” It was so much going on because I was on stage. So when [Stern] said, “The Toronto Raptors have traded the rights …” I was like, damn that’s what he was saying.

In just one word, how would you describe your legendary dunk in the 2000 Olympics over Frederic Weis?

Clueless. I didn’t know I had dunked over him the entire game so I was clueless.

What was it like going head-to-head against Allen Iverson in that legendary 2001 playoff series?

Going against him brought the best out of me. As far as that playoff series, it was probably one of the best in my career. I remember Game 1 just having to be sharp. I knew I had to bring it after obviously playing him in the season. I think he lit us up for 50 a couple times. So I knew what to expect. I didn’t have to be out of character, but I had to play well. I was the center of attention for [the Raptors] as he was for the Sixers. I knew I had to score, and that didn’t mean going shot for shot, point for point. Couldn’t do that. Allen Iverson is Allen Iverson.

So if he scored 55, 56, I just needed to be solid to where we could win. I think I had 42 the first game, a good night. When he scored 54 going into Game 2, my response was that we couldn’t get too far behind on this team. [Both teams] felt like the winner of that series could go to The Finals. No disrespect to Milwaukee. (Editor’s note: Carter scored 35 in Game 1, but responded to Iverson’s 54 points in Game 2 with a 50-point game in Game 3.)

Take me through your emotions the day of Game 7. I’d say it was bittersweet, but it seemed more like sweetbitter. You go to your college graduation that morning and happily earn your degree, but ended it with missing the game-winner and losing the series.

It was a great day. It was a lot going on. I wouldn’t change it. I would do it the same way again. It was one of those days where I was able to accomplish a goal — a life-long goal, a family goal, a goal that any college student and educator would look forward to. And I wanted to cap it off by having the ultimate day. Not many people can say they hit a game-winning shot in Game 7 against the 76ers on the biggest stage.

Yeah, it’s crazy how one shot can completely change a narrative.

Yeah, and it was sad and a shame to hear and read some people say “it’s just a degree” or “you could buy that degree” or “what’s the big deal in walking [across the stage]?” That just doesn’t make sense. I walk through my front door and see my diploma every day, and that’s something that I’m proud of. Because when [basketball] is over, I still got this. I come from a family of educators. All of my family [members] are teachers of some sort in the education system.

Who was your favorite athlete to battle over your career?

T-Mac. Kobe. I played together with these guys. Kobe and I played AAU ball. T-Mac and I were obviously family, so it’s nothing like going against your superstar cousin. You can’t beat that.

Take me through your decision to give up your starting spot to Michael Jordan in the 2003 All-Star Game in his last season.

We got to All-Star weekend and I had a brief conversation with David Stern and we kind of talked about it, but I felt there was nothing to talk about. That’s just a no-brainer for me to let MJ [start]. I said the problem is going to be you guys convincing him. I just had a feeling he wouldn’t go for it. I kind of briefly mentioned it to him and said, “Hey man, you’re starting.” He said, “No, you earned that.”

So right before the lineups I said, “MJ, you are starting. Point blank period. You’re starting.” And I told him I was going to walk to the back so he couldn’t make me start because I wasn’t going to be there. We went back and forth. He goes out there. I felt like once they called his name he had to go.

Are you hoping to be an honorary All-Star this season?

No, no. If I earn it, give it to me. But that’s just me. Don’t take this the wrong way when I say it like that. That’s just who I am. I’m very appreciative of earning my All-Star spots, being a leading vote-getter, so I don’t know. I just have a hard time with it. We’ll see if later down the line my view changes.

You ranked your dunk over Alonzo Mourning as your favorite dunk of all-time. Take me through that moment.

I remember just going up. I felt since he was under the rim if I could get up in the air before him, I had a chance because even if he knocked me back my momentum could still take me towards the rim. But when he hit me, he hit me upward, which put me up higher by the rim. So I’m just looking at the rim in a different view, thinking I can’t miss. You see I tried to play it cool, but inside I was like a 7-year-old. I was just thinking how that’s Alonzo Mourning, one of the best shot blockers in the history of the game.

What are the biggest “what if” moments you have when you think about your career?

What if I did make that shot [against the Sixers]? What if I did? What happens next? I don’t know. What if T-Mac and I had a chance to play together longer? I got another one. What if we don’t lose to Boston in six back when I was in Orlando? Cause we had a chance. They ended up going to The Finals. That was my other opportunity so I wonder what if. I always wondered that.

Yeah, what were your thoughts when you found out you were leaving New Jersey to go back home and play in your hometown of Orlando?

I don’t think people know this story but the day I got traded to the Orlando Magic was the same day Michael Jackson died. June 25th, 2009. So, I was doing my basketball camp and my brother called me. He told me [about the trade] and we were excited. Then, me and a couple of my boys were at dinner and they’re saying, “Oh man, that’s crazy you’re coming back home.” So we’re excited and the lady at the restaurant was like, “How can you be excited?” Social media wasn’t around like that. We didn’t know. We’re just hype about the trade. So my boy’s like, “You heard the news too?” She goes, “How can you be excited about that? The world is grieving at this point.” He says, “What are you talking about? My man just got traded to the Magic.” That’s when she says, “Michael Jackson died.” And we were like, “What?!”

How do you connect with the younger generation these days? I read where NFL star Larry Fitzgerald said it’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago.

You have to listen and learn first and foremost. And we talk basketball so that’s how it organically branches out to things like styles of music. As an older guy, you kind of just adapt to new styles more so than [the younger players] adapting to me. We have to adapt. Larry and I, Tom Brady, we have to adapt to what’s around us.

How many young players have called you Mr. Carter?

A few. I’m like just call me Vince (laughs). It’s crazy.

What advice would you give to someone like Zion Williamson, who came into the league being labeled a dunker by some?

Be yourself. He’s two years removed from high school. Players get to the NBA and we expect them to be somebody that they need to develop themselves to be. I came in labeled as a dunker, and then some people would say, “Yeah I knew you could shoot a little bit, but I want to see you dunk.” Just like right now, when you see Zion, you don’t want to see him shoot a jump shot. You want to see him dunk unless he’s playing against your favorite team. And then you say what? “Make him shoot a jump shot.” But if you’re just a fan of his, what are you gonna say? “I want to see him dunk. I want to see him dunk on somebody.” That’s the natural reality of it. So just be yourself, play your game. [People] don’t even know that he’s got a decent handle. Not a bad passer.


Yeah he’s got all that. When we played [the Pelicans], I told him to be yourself and let all that other stuff take care of itself when it happens. Don’t try to come out and be someone you’re not. Then what happens? They’re gonna consider him a bust. I would just be me. Everything else is gonna take care of itself. I knew that people were going to see that I could shoot, score and pass the ball. I just had to be patient, but it’s not for everybody. Some people feel like they have to prove because of what’s being said on social media. I ain’t have that.

You’ve been fortunate to still get calls from teams at this point in your career. Why do you think Carmelo Anthony hasn’t gotten the same chance?

Situations are different. I think it’s just timing at this point. I definitely think he deserves to be in the NBA. He’s one of the most prolific scorers this league has seen at many levels. Pure scorer. I think in time a team will grab him, a playoff team who needs a scorer with his ability. If he’s willing to come off the bench, I think he’ll help a team with his starters mentality.

What kept you from ring chasing towards the end of your career like some guys do?

I can’t. I just can’t. I didn’t come into my career like that. Guys who see things now see things different. They’re exposed to things a little different. The way the game is played, showed and understood 20 years ago isn’t like now. So I just naturally adapt to that. So when Trae [Young] is in his 15th, 20th year, what’s he gonna know? He’s not gonna know what I knew and how it was. He and young guys coming in now are going to know this era. That’s just the way it is.

What does Vince Carter want to be remembered by?

I love to play. I love to play. People ask, “Why are you doing this, why are you doing that?” Because I love playing. If I didn’t love this anymore — stuff like drills and all that — then I wouldn’t do it. I just love to play. Obviously, you saw the smiles and me having fun as a young guy when I came into the league. At 42, nothing’s changed. Still love to play. Still love to be here. I’m playing with a young team that’s probably not going to win a championship this year, but I still love to play and compete. I enjoy it.

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