Few players in NBA history have been as fiercely debated as Vince Carter. From season to season, team to team and over his entire career arc, Carter has always invoked passionate opinions of both praise and severe criticism from all walks of basketball life.
As we all know, coming out of out college, Vince drew many comparisons to Michael Jordan, particularly the athleticism and the creative scoring ability. The million dollar question at the time was, as is with any potential Jordan clones, “would Vince and his Tar Heel blue roots, live up to the hype?” Many have tried, all have failed. My apologies for speaking like he’s already retired (let’s face it, he’s got one foot half way out the door already), but it’s begs an interesting question, did Vince do enough in his career to warrant a Hall of Fame entry?
Contributions to the game
Dunks, dunks and highlight-reel dunks. Sadly, years down the road this may be all we associate with the Vince Carter era. For the most part, that will be accurate. We certainly will not remember Vince for his defensive efforts, or his very obvious lack thereof.
Aside from the several hundred incredible in-game dunks Vince has on his enormous highlight portfolio, there are two moments that truly stand out when we think “Vince Carter.”
The 2000 All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest. To NBA fans, those words are practically enough. Carter put on the greatest Slam Dunk performance of all time. Yes, better than Spud Webb in ’86 and better than Jordan-Dominique in ’88. With cousin Tracy McGrady by his side, the degree of difficulty, the uniqueness and the ferocity in which Vince delivered those dunks will be etched in our basketball minds forever and will likely stand as the greatest set of dunks ever. This is partly due to the amazing, breakthrough show that was displayed (especially at that point in time) and partly because well, no one of significance enters the contest anymore. I mean, Nate Robinson is a three-time champion for crying out loud. But keep in mind, Kenny Smith’s “It’s ovaaaaaah!” phrase was coined in the process as well.
Although it was another dunk moment, the other Vince staple was the “le dunk de la mort” (the “dunk of death” as the French media referred to it) in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. There may be no greater basketball posterization than when Vince jumped OVER Frederic Weis’ head and threw down the most authoritative, symbolic dunk possibly of all time. Weis was promptly never heard from again. The vision of Vince with the USA on his chest and surrounded by an emphatic Kevin Garnett (who he almost punched out while celebrating) and Gary Payton (with a full head of hair I might add), is a moment we will all point to years from now as possibly the greatest dunk ever. Now that is contribution.
To his credit, and aside from the dunking, Vince did have several fantastic seasons in Toronto and New Jersey before moving on to his native Orlando, a brief stint in Phoenix and then eventually Dallas. He is an 8-time All-Star, won Rookie of the Year in 1999, an Olympic gold medalist and made two All-NBA teams (3rd team in 2000 and 2nd team in 2001). It’s impossible to say that Vince Carter wasn’t a household NBA star during the NBA’s rise in the 2000’s decade.
What the numbers say
His career totals are obviously impressive. Even as his minutes and offensive skills have dwindled the past two seasons, he still stands at 21.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.9 apg and 1.2 spg over an average of 35.7 mpg for his career. In terms of scoring, he averaged a career-high 27.6 ppg in only his third season in Toronto (2000-01) and later, 27.5 ppg in his first season in New Jersey in 2004-05. Just last season, he became only the 37th player in league history to score 20,000 points. His playoff averages are also impressive as he holds 23.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.2 apg averages in 60 playoff games.
For comparison sake, here is a quick random sampling of how Vince Carter’s statistics measure up to a couple of very recent Hall of Fame inductees that played similar positions:
Obviously this paints only a relatively small part of the career picture, but you can see, statistically speaking, Vince stacks up very well to these highly-regarded Hall of Fame veterans.
Here is where the argument turns sour for Vince. While his offensive talent is undeniable, he’s collected a tremendous amount of criticisms over the years about his disinterested tanking habits. Quite honestly, you could never really commit to saying that Vince Carter “gave you his all” every game, especially as a Raptor fan. At his peak, he certainly had his individual moments and when engaged fully, could go toe to toe with any star in the league. But when the smallest “nagging injuries” became more nags than injuries, the perception of Carter’s durability as a prime scorer and team leader took a punch in the gut.
Eventually (and like more frequently today), Carter essentially forced his way out of Toronto after he became complacent with upper management, Head Coach Sam Mitchell and their commitment to winning now.
Even though he was a New Jersey Net at this point, what especially did Carter in with the fans (especially the ones north of the border) was his answer to a question asked by TNT’s John Thompson in January 2005. Thompson asked if he always pushed himself as hard as he should, to which Carter replied, “In years past, no. I was just fortunate to have the talent in being able to… you know, you get spoiled when you’re able to do a lot of things and you see that, and you really don’t have to work at it. But now, with all the injuries and all the things that have gone on, I have to work a little harder and I’m a little hungrier. That’s why getting the opportunity to have a fresh start with New Jersey has made me want to attack the basket for a lot reasons.” Seems like a confession of quitting to me.
In the seasons after Toronto and New Jersey, Carter’s reputation of carrying a lackluster attitude continued to plague him, although not to the degree of his final days in Canada. His defensive effort was and has remained the butt of many jokes across the league’s fans. By the time his playing days in Phoenix were winding down, his contract (was owed $18 million, with only $4 million guaranteed) heavily outweighed his production. He was waived in December 2011.
The Championship factor
Look, it’s plain and simple… titles do matter in this league. The “did he win an NBA Championship?” sometimes makes or breaks the case for many borderline potential Hall of Fame candidates. Whether it was the inadequate cast of characters he had by his side or his inability to effectively lead his team, or a combination of both, Vince Carter never really sniffed an NBA title. He brought the Raptors to within one shot of making the Eastern Conference Finals and actually got there with the Magic later in his career, but overall his playoff shortcomings will loom large in a serious Hall of Fame discussion.
It’s not always fair, but it matters.
The final verdict
Unfortunately for Vince, despite his contributions to the world of NBA Video, the Hall of Fame wasn’t established on video highlights, but primarily on numbers, credentials and championships. While his (offensive) contributions to the game were significant, did he do enough outside of his dunking legacy? Personally, I think he did NOT. I think that his lack of playoff pedigree and sub-100% nightly efforts on the basketball court (especially on the defensive end) caused too must unrest among even his most loyal fans and likely plenty of his peers. This stuff does and should matter when attaining Hall of Fame status is so reachable.
I will point this out as well, to settle any questions of bias. While I reside in Toronto and am a close Raptors follower (even still bitter at times), I was never a Vince “hater” or left him for dead when he left the city. I’m actually a big Tar Heels fan too, so I have watched his entire career. I’ve always respected his offensive talent and the years he gave the Raptors, even if they didn’t all add up to 100%. Even when they were a joke in the Eastern Conference, he gave the team at least a set of shoulders to rest some on.
It’s really hard to imagine the Basketball Hall of Fame without Vincent Lamar Carter and all his death-defying Sportscenter highlights included. However, when you look at the body of a true Hall of Fame career, a certain standard of winning basketball games needs to be an absolute priority when casting that ballot. While it’s an incredible argument to be debated by many when the time arrives, I think Vince falls just short.
Thankfully, YouTube will always hold Vince’s legacy.