League Pass Favorites: Vince Carter

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 19: Vince Carter
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 19: Vince Carter /

I know, I know…it seems weird but believe me, my League Pass Favorite is a geriatric former superstar playing out the strings of his career on a putrid Sacramento Kings team. No, it’s not a joke.

Whenever I’m searching for a game on league pass, the game that’s going to help me get through the doldrums of a boring night, I inevitably land on the Kings. Often they are losing, about to lose or desperately attempting to lose. What gives me hope is I might see a relic of the past. I hope I get a few sightings of Vince Carter.

Carter plays less than 20 minutes per game and picks up DNPs regularly so it’s not easy to find him. Even when he does play, his meager 5.5 points per game doesn’t inspire a ton of intrigue. When he’s in the game Carter feels more like an accessory than anything worth going out of your way for — he shoots less than five field goals per game.

Yet, there I am, desperately watching a rudderless ship of a team I have no rooting interest in to see Carter.

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Why? Vince Carter was my favorite player growing up.

He was quickly superseded by Dirk Nowitzki but I always had an attachment to Carter as being “my guy.” I was born in the city of Chicago in February 1987. I grew up watching championship-level basketball and had a front-seat on my parent’s beige carpet to the one of the greatest careers not only in basketball, but in sports history. I saw all of Michael Jordan’s triumphs, but he never felt like…mine. He felt inherited. Jordan was for my parents, Jordan was for my friend’s older siblings.

When Jordan and the Bulls were at the top of the game I appreciated basketball but I didn’t know anything about it. It was just a sport I’d watch because the Bulls were going to win the championship. I proudly wore a Dennis Rodman jersey while grabbing rebounds with veracity for the Downers Grove Park District, I played NBA Jam, I watched Shawn Kemp dominate Rock n Jock Basketball, I consumed basketball but it never quite felt like mine. I never found someone I could sink my teeth into and rally behind.

When Jordan retired and the Bulls fell into a pit of Kornel David-related despair, I stopped watching basketball. Why bother anymore? The Bulls stink, I never fully invested in another team or player and it was easier just to move on.

The 1998-99 season was a blur to me. I’m convinced I didn’t watch a single game that entire season, something I probably hadn’t done since I was old enough to remember. I just didn’t care. My apathy continued into the year 2000. More engulfed now in the world of pro wrestling and the upstart Chicago White Sox, I didn’t need basketball anymore. That was my past. I had no desire to go back.

Then I saw a highlight.

I saw a highlight of a player the likes of which I had never seen before.

A Phoenix rising from the ashes of the post-Jordan NBA. A man doing things I thought impossible. I saw Vince Carter on a fast break grab an alley-oop lob with one hand and dunk with such force it seemed to shake the entire arena. Opposing players couldn’t help but stare in admiration. The  arena rattled with cheers as fans couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.

And it wasn’t even Carter’s home floor. Instead, the Clippers “faithful” at Staples Center erupted when Carter took off for the alley-oop and were in a state of shock when he threw down arguably the greatest alley-oop in history.

This alley-oop changed my life.

The highlight hit me on a level I never previously felt. I needed to know more, I needed to watch more, I had to have this in my life as much as possible. The switch had been flipped and my NBA fandom not only returned, it went into another stratosphere.

I found a schedule for the Raptors upcoming national television games and made sure I watched every single one. I would stay up well past my bedtime in hopes SportsCenter would show a highlight from the most recent Raptors game so I can see what “Air Canada” did that night. For Christmas I asked for only one gift — a Vince Carter jersey.

I was a madman, consuming basketball at a level far beyond what I had done previously. Finally, I had a player I could call mine. When my dad asked about Carter, I had to explain who he was. I had to give him the background, where he went to college, how many points he had scored and the blow-by-blow of his most recent spectacular dunk. Unlike Jordan before him, I owned Carter. He was my favorite player and I was in on the ground floor. I could follow Carter through the rest of his career, I could follow the path towards greatness.

The road was bumpier than expected but I’ll never forget that moment.

Unbelievably, 18 years after that highlight, I still have the opportunity to see the man who yanked me back in to the sport. He’s a shell of his former self but every so often “Vinsanity” cocks one back and reminds you, he’s still got it.

He even puts together performances like his 24-point outburst against Cleveland in late December. Yeah, those are few and far between but as Carter winds down and the sun sets on his Hall of Fame career, I have to cherish these moments.

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Once Carter retires (and closely behind him Nowitzki), I will have lost the players who attracted me back to the NBA. I’ll lose the final connections to my childhood. I watch more basketball than ever but I do so much differently than I did in the moments immediately following that alley-oop.

I’ll never be able to return to that moment or that specific feeling, but every time I see Carter step onto the floor in the familiar purple, I get damn close.