Vince Carter: the human highlight reel, eight-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA Team, twenty-one-year NBA veteran, and widely is known around the world as the greatest dunker of all time. Carter is one of the most important athletes to grace the hardwood; from his international ties and putting Canada basketball on the map, to his bombastic 2000 Slam Dunk Contest victory. Even now as a grizzled veteran who’s returning to the Atlanta Hawks, “Vincanity” is still an electrifying player who’s career has aged like fine wine.
As one of the players who was part of the early expansion of the NBA from across the American borders to go to Canada, how do you feel when you see the current expansion of the NBA to regions such as Africa over the years and seeing these young players showing so much talent, just like you once?
VINCE CARTER: I think first and foremost, you have to give credit to some of the players that have become stars in the league. You have to also give credit to the NBA, which has gone global and has given young men and women an opportunity to watch basketball at any time of the day whenever they want. You can watch basketball and you get to see your favorite stars and you get to see your local hero. And I think what it has done is it’s made every kid — I don’t care where you’re from or what your background is — believe that you have an opportunity to at least get a chance to play in the NBA. I think it’s been great.
I remember coming in, I didn’t realize the impact that I could possibly have on not even the young kid in my city but the young kid in Toronto, Canada, or around Canada itself. I didn’t understand or realize the impact at that time. This is pre-social media, so it doesn’t hit as hard as it does now. It’s a great opportunity to grow the game and to view the game anywhere at any time, which I think develops the love in a young boy, young girl faster than it did 20 years ago.
Q. I know you’ve done studio work and called games before. When you do transition to TV, have you thought about which option you want to pursue?
VINCE CARTER: I think I want to do both, honestly. I’ve gotten the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. I feel comfortable doing both. I think it breaks up the monotony of always doing games, always calling games or always being in the studio. I’ve grown to feel comfortable and love both and understand the grind that each one carries. They’re a little different, but I enjoy them both. I don’t foresee me kind of steering toward one direction. Now, if I have to pick, then it’s tough.
Q. Last year you met some of the Canadian players at this camp. What is that like and what do these kids remember about you and know about you, even though they might not have been alive when you played for Toronto?
VINCE CARTER: Obviously, I guess everyone talks about the Dunk Contest and the appreciation for that. I mean, half of these kids, if not all these kids, were not around, very knowledgeable of it. But the beauty of social media, the beauty of YouTube where you can watch it, the Dunk Contest every February, it’s always talked about. So I’ll never forget it because of it.
That’s what I think is a common theme of each young kid. It was just cool to meet them. Took pictures with them. Had conversations with the coaches who were around at the time. So it was just a pretty cool experience.
Q. Just thinking about when you were growing up, would you have liked to play in a tournament with kids from all over the world? What do you think these kids will take away from this experience both on the court and just in terms of their personal development?
VINCE CARTER: I hope you take this the right way when I say this: Because of social media, we had no idea what it was like to play international basketball until we got the opportunity to play international basketball. I’m thinking about the Dirk Nowitzkis of my time. Obviously, growing up until the social media boom — I think now the cool thing about it is you will hear about a kid from a different part of the world, and you would have seen him or you can Google him or YouTube their highlights now.
So I think for us, we didn’t understand how big this could be. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity. Our goal was just like, hey, hopefully I can play on the Junior Olympic team and we get the opportunity there. So not only now can you play on a Junior Olympic team, but you get to play in something like this with your own team and still kind of get the Junior Olympic feel. I think this is a great opportunity.
With all these great tournaments and the opportunities that come to these kids now, I think the older generation is now like, man, we didn’t have that. I wish we had this. It would have been great to see. It would have been great to see some of the great stars of today before — the European players that are dominating our league now or have dominated throughout my time. For us, we had to hear about it through a magazine, word of mouth or happening to be somewhere where somebody saw a kid play from the other side of the world. It’s not like that anymore.
So I just hope these kids don’t take for granted the opportunities they get to play this game. It kind of preps you. Some of these kids will be stars in the NBA, and this kind of preps them for the global game when they get to it.
Q. The NBA has gone global lately. The MVP is Greek, the Rookie of the Year is Slovenian, the Defensive Player of the Year is French. Do you think the USA-against-the-World format is still relevant for an event like the Jr. NBA Global Championship?
VINCE CARTER: Do I still think it’s relevant? I hope it’s a wake-up call to our young kids. The global game has grown, and I think what it does is give confidence to every young kid that is French, Greek, Slovenian or whatever, because they’re like, hey, I can be the Defensive Player of the Year, I can be the MVP, I can be the Rookie of the Year. And now I think the American kid, it’s a great wake-up call for us.
It definitely is relevant because now we have to step it up and play our game because the global game is not one-sided anymore. It used to be, typically you look at the Olympics and you’d say, oh, USA is going to win the gold for sure. Now with so many stars in the league, you can’t really say that anymore. And I think it’s great. It’s great for the game.
Q. One of the best moments of your career has been in Sydney, the Olympics 2000. “The Dunk” was one of the most unforgettable moments ever. What do you think about so many U.S. stars just skipping the World Championship in China right now and just focusing on the next NBA season?VINCE CARTER: I think it’s preference. You have to kind of look at the background of the player as far as injuries. Some of these guys feel like they’ve played a lot of games in a lot of months, have been dedicated to playing the game, and they don’t really get the same amount of time off as some of the guys who maybe didn’t play deep into the playoffs or are not getting that call to play on an Olympic team of some sort. Some of these stars feel like their bread is buttered in the NBA, and they have to make sure they’re ready to play.
Now, it’s an honor to play, and I think sometimes they’re worried about when the actual Olympics comes around instead of the qualifying. A lot of these guys are just trying to stay injury-free or are just fatigued in general. Maybe they want to play; I don’t know. I can’t speak for them.
I recall back in my time playing in the Olympics, the gold medal game, our training camp had already started. Obviously, they’ve adjusted that. But a lot of these guys are now playing so many games in the NBA season, playing all the preseason, playing all of the regular season and of course some like the Steph Currys of the world are playing into the Finals or even playing in the Conference Finals. That’s a lot of basketball that these guys are playing. To ask them to do that, it’s a tough decision, I’m sure, because of the loyalty to your team. You have a job to do as the star player to make sure they’re ready to go at the beginning of the year.
It’s important to leverage yourself, as we’ve seen. Houston was trying their best to leverage themselves at getting the most wins as soon as possible in the beginning of the year to hopefully avoid injury and have a great seed later on. That’s what a lot of these teams are trying to do. It’s just about trying to position yourself for the big picture, which is winning a championship. It’s a tough decision for these young athletes to make.
Q. You had the opportunity to watch the World Championship last year. Were you shocked at all by the skill level of some of these 13- and 14-year- old girls and boys?
VINCE CARTER: Absolutely. I talked about it from day one: I was thoroughly impressed with the skill level. One thing you see when you talk about 13-, 14-year- olds is body control. Some of these kids hit the growth spurt usually that freshman year of high school or eighth grade to freshman year of high school. When they hit the growth spurt, they can’t control their body. It usually takes a second.
But just seeing how some of these girls and boys have developed, and seeing how they’re one with their game and their body and, like I said, all of the opportunity that is in front of these young kids now to train, to better themselves, to get better, it just has done wonders for the preparation for these young kids now. The way these kids play now is just amazing.
Q. Before you start this broadcasting career full time, you mentioned you want to play one more year in the NBA. Where does that stand?
VINCE CARTER: That’s the same. Just waiting for the right opportunity. Nothing has changed as far as that goal and that dream of mine to still play. It’s just a patience thing. I get it. I’m older. Teams are going younger, the whole thing like that. You kind of have to be patient and hopefully within the coming days we’ll have something figured out.
Q. How impressed are you with the training of the players in the Jr. NBA Global Championship?
VINCE CARTER: These young kids now, like I said, they have access to a lot of things. I’m seeing high school kids working with professional trainers and getting court work from professional trainers now. The game has grown. The access for these young kids is just second to none. It’s benefiting a lot of young athletes to get the opportunity to prepare and train as a professional player, with pros now putting their work out on social media or just playing ball and being filmed and going on social media where all these young kids get to see it and emulate it. And if they’re anything like me, I lived off of VHS tape. I would just play it back and forth, trying to figure out why a player did a particular move or jump or dunk or whatever. Now these guys have endless hours of basketball and training videos and tutorials in front of them, documentaries where they can hear the stories from these players at their beck and call. It’s just done wonders for these kids. For that kid who is thirsty and hungry for new ideas, they’re in front of them. All they have to do is just click a link and everything opens up for them.
It’s been amazing to kind of see the growth. And like I say, seeing these kids play last year, I was just thoroughly impressed because they’re so advanced and far beyond where I was personally as a 13-, 14- year-old. People would say that I was pretty advanced for my age at the time, but it’s just a different ball game now.
Q. You mentioned the breakout of the European players and across the NBA. I think basketball is hugely popular here in Ireland as a sport. So many Irish international basketball teams are beating their European counterparts and Irish youngsters are getting offered U.S. college scholarships. Do you think we’ll see Irish players in the NBA in the near future?
VINCE CARTER: For sure, I think they have a great opportunity. You’re seeing a boom and influx of European players, and we’re seeing some Asian players. I think you’re just going to see opportunities all over the world with the success of the young guys now that are making their mark.
I was able to have some success in Toronto, in Canada. It created opportunity and a love for the game for young players at that point. What these players are doing now is going to create a boom, and you’re going to see more players get the opportunity in the NBA sooner than later.
Q. What advice would you give to those Irish youngsters, those 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls? Never give up on the dream, is it?
VINCE CARTER: Well, for sure. That’s first and foremost. I’d tell them never to give up on the dream. But with that being said, you have to be willing to put the work in. You have to be willing to fail, because it’s not going to be easy. Every kid who has that dream is not guaranteed an opportunity to play in the NBA. We see guys like myself who get to play 20 years. It’s not guaranteed. The average is four years or so for an NBA player. It could be higher or lower, but somewhere in there.
So we just see a group of 300, 400 players that are getting that chance to live a dream. We see them year after year after year. Sometimes that door closes on young players like that. But now that these kids are getting the opportunity to play in the States with a college scholarship, that’s a start. That’s what you want to do, just get your foot in the door.
And I tell these kids, regardless of if you don’t make the NBA, you get that chance to play in the G League, you get that chance to play semi-pro or somewhere where you’re a professional. That’s a step in the right direction to kind of get that opportunity.
Q. My question is about an ESPN report that came out about a month ago, and it’s about basically kids getting injured at a much younger age. There was a stat saying that in the NBA the four highest tallies of games missed by young players in their first two seasons has occurred in the last four seasons. They’re saying that because parents are having to take kids to all these camps and showcase them all the time, they’re almost outjumping their ability to land. So I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on that.
VINCE CARTER: There are a lot of camps, which bring a lot of opportunity. There are a lot of summer leagues — let’s say pro-ams. There’s a lot of basketball that can be played throughout the summer. I think these kids are getting the opportunity to play a lot of basketball. It’s not any different than Vince Carter at 13, 14, 17, 18. If there’s a basketball game I can play in, I’m trying to play. But these kids are having more opportunity to do that.
I think when that’s done, parents have to take the initiative — along with everybody else, coaches — to teach these kids how to train and protect themselves and take care of their body. With a lot of basketball being played, that means some rest, some stretching, the proper training to prepare your body for that grind.
We had a grind. We played a lot of basketball. We didn’t get the opportunity to play as much as what was done now. So with that being said, you put a lot of miles on your body now at a younger age. But sometimes kids, in my opinion, they don’t feel weight training is as important. Now, there are a lot of kids who are doing so. But then it’s tough to get the kid to, hey, go home and stretch now. Hey, go lay down and put your feet up and ice your knees and ice your ankles or whatever. Kids are like, that’s not the popular thing to do. But we have to teach these things because that’s important. When those go, now you start to see those injuries somewhere else because you start to compensate. It’s like a trickle-down effect a better opportunity of landing these players. I don’t care where you are.
Players, like you said, that have the power to say I want to go here, there, everywhere, that’s one of the things I think we’re looking for. If I’m a free agent, I want to go to a team where I can help take them to the next level and still be myself. That’s what they’re looking for.
I don’t personally see why more teams don’t kind of go with that approach. Like, yeah, we’re not going to be good, but we’re going to play damned hard and we’re going to go out there where teams feel like, they’re a good team, they’re just a star away. There are a lot of teams you could say over the past years, man, they’re a star away from being good, because they play hard and they play the right way.
Q. Do you think that the fact that Kawhi chose to leave Toronto the summer after them winning a title kind of makes any kind of a dent in that argument, given that it seemed like the Raptors did everything they could have possibly done to convince him to stay? Or is that just a specific example that’s kind of a one-off?
VINCE CARTER: I didn’t hear the entire speech, but the one thing I took from him is that he wanted to play at home. That’s why I say like Kyrie is from the area, so that was killing two birds with one stone really, going to play with a team that plays hard and they’re from your hometown.
The same thing can be said with the Clippers. The Clippers were a very good basketball team, and now they’ve become a great team. I’m sure Kawhi wanting to go home, yes, is one. But I’m going home to play for a Clippers team that is pretty darn good already without him, and he just makes them a great basketball team.
I think that falls right into what I was just saying. I know Toronto tried everything. But he did say, I told them from the beginning, I wasn’t going to be there and I wanted to play in L.A. So there you have it.
Q. This was a crazy summer in movement of stars. What was your reaction to seeing so many stars change teams?
VINCE CARTER: I don’t think there was anything like that. I think it was like 206 players that were free agents, 40 percent player movement. That’s insane. I think what it’s done, I think they’re going to gain more fans. Well, I think they’re going to gain more viewers because of the parity. You won’t sit at the beginning of the year and say, there’s no sense in watching. I think let’s just use Golden State, for example. Golden State is going to win it, so what’s the point in watching it?
You can’t say that now. You’re not sure who’s going to win it. I think now they’re going to gain more viewers because of it. You have to kind of watch and see how this plays out. I think it’s just great for the NBA. It’s just great to see.