At first, Vince Carter didn’t want to hear it.
With the news breaking late in the fourth quarter that the NBA had suspended its season after Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, many fans had already trickled out of State Farm Arena on Wednesday night. But that didn’t stop those remaining from booming chants of “We want Vince” until Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce turned and looked over at Carter on the bench.
In the final seconds of an overtime loss to the Knicks, Carter checked in. Defenders gave him space, Trae Young passed him the ball, and Carter swished a 3-pointer in what could potentially be the final game of his NBA-record 22-year career. The crowd cheered, and Young gave him a hug.
“I was like, ‘Just let me go back to the locker room,’” Carter, not one for pageantry, said after the game. “‘I still have more games to play.’ But you never know. Coach was like, he gave me that look. And I was like ‘What the heck, let’s go do it.’ I’m glad I did. It was fun.”
As the league further assesses how to handle coronavirus and hopefully limit its spread, it’s unclear if the Hawks’ 15 remaining games will be postponed or canceled entirely. If those games aren’t played, though, then Carter’s historic career has come to a quiet, and sudden, end.
If it’s over — with minimal fanfare, planning or hype — Carter is content with it.
“I’m not one for the whole thing anyway,” said Carter, who at 43, is the same age as Pierce. “You ask a lot of people around me and they’ll tell you that… I’m appreciative, but I do my time and just walk out the door, and it’s OK with me, believe it or not. It’s cool. Believe me, it’s cool.”
With the extenuating circumstances, Carter is also the first one to exercise caution and prioritize safety, agreeing with the league’s decision to suspend play.
“I think even worrying about ‘Aw man, I didn’t get to play my last 15 games,’ that’s selfish, because safety and everybody’s health is more important for me,” Carter said. “… I understand what’s the big picture, which is safety. Not even for us as players, but moving forward for parents and grandparents, getting around.”
Carter was named Rookie of the Year in 1999 and won the NBA’s slam-dunk contest in 2000. He became the first player in NBA history to play in four decades, after checking into a game in 五福彩821ccapp. He was an eight-time All-Star, but an NBA title eluded him.
Entering this season, he mentioned he didn’t want the spotlight, didn’t want to make it about him, didn’t want to be a distraction. This year, more playing time has gone to younger players such as rookie De’Andre Hunter, who is under contract and one of the pieces the Hawks are rebuilding around for the future.
But when you’re as famous and beloved as Carter, you’re still going to attract attention, especially when people know it’s their last chance to see Half-Man, Half-Amazing play in person. Nearly every time Carter checked into a game, the crowd cheered, no matter which arena the Hawks were playing in. On the road, Carter received standing ovations and was often honored by the 五福彩821ccapp team. You could hear sighs of disappointment from the opposing team’s fans, if he missed a shot -- they clearly wanted one more bucket for Vinsanity.
Carter spent this last season (which he confirmed is indeed his last, as he plans to transition into a broadcasting career) mentoring many players on an exceptionally young Hawks team, even if he couldn’t contribute on the court anymore like he could in his prime. He helped both John Collins and rookie Cam Reddish work on their shot, and helped Young adjust to the spotlight.
He spoke to teammates during timeouts, passing along any advice he could think of before the huddle.
“To be honest, I can’t put it into words in a short sentence or a short quote for you, the type of impact he’s given me and all the young players for our team,” Young said. “Him being here has helped me tremendously, especially with him knowing how to handle the spotlight, the bright lights and things like that. I honestly want to play a lot of years in this league, so just trying to mimic a lot of the things he does, from the day-to-day, just being around him. He’s a great person first, and I think that’s why he’s had so much success in the league.”
Along with passing down his knowledge and helping out younger players, Carter’s longevity was a point of pride to him. It was one of the things players and teammates asked him about most, and a driving force that kept him going when competing against players half (or less than half) his age.
If the Hawks don’t play those last 15 games, if this is truly the end for Carter, then that’s good enough for him.
“I wanted to go out, playing the game, and when you say ‘How old is he, again? Wow, he looks like he can still play,’” Carter said. “That’s the feeling, that’s like a championship.”
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