I have to admit that coming into contact with Vince Carter for the first time was one of the few moments in my life in which I was some level of starstruck. This is a figure who has been playing in the NBA for as long as I have been alive and Carter is one of the first players I ever took a real interest in as a young basketball fan.
Now that he plays for the local team, and could be in his last season of his career, you can bet that you’ll get more than a fair amount of coverage of Carter’s movements, both here and otherwise, throughout the season. Carter is a basketball icon and, during his opening press conference in Atlanta, it was clear he had done this sort of thing many times before.
Carter casually took his seat in front of the 20 media members with microphones in his face, looked straight into the camera and said “fire away.” The first question was fairly straightforward and could’ve been answered with just a simple response of “good” or “bad,” but, as you will come to find out soon, the future Hall of Fame swingman rarely gives one word (or even one sentence) answers to questions.
His first question was “How does it feel to officially be an Atlanta Hawk?” to which he replied;
“It’s always great to have a job plain and simple. I am very thankful and fortunate for the opportunity to yet again be a part of a team and try to help the organization as best as I can. (I want to) help develop young guys and just be an extension of the coaching staff and their philosophies.”
Now as you may have already heard, Carter has a significant interest in becoming a commentator in his post-NBA career and he wasn’t shy about confirming that when we talked to him either.
Carter elicited a giggle from the small crowd of reporters after being asked a question about the Summer League and “what he learned”. “A lot”, he was quick to say before catching himself as he realized the question wasn’t about broadcasting. “Oh, about the Hawks you mean?” as the reporter gave him a nod.
The veteran was also very complimentary of the young Summer Hawks team for their togetherness.
“(Atlanta) was a high-energy club from what I remember. Together, yeah they were a very together group and close knit and that is something, when you’ve only been together for a couple weeks, you tend not to see in Summer League. You see guys having fun and enjoying each other’s company in an early start like that it’s just good to see.”
When asked if he’d talked with or met any of the young guys Atlanta has, Carter explained that he hadn’t met many of his new teammates after just arriving, but that he was ready to meet everyone very soon.
He was asked more specifically about John Collins and if he saw any relation to a “young Vince Carter” in the way of dunks and highlight reel plays. Carter seemingly widened his eyes as if realizing the possibility of relating with the skill set of Collins and replied;
“Well you know, I’m going to make my rounds to everybody, but I mean, definitely just want to give him some ideas to think about how best to use his athletic ability. I definitely got to watch him a bunch in Summer League and could see him in the NBA Africa game. I was watching a little bit, but the first couple of weeks for me is just learning guys and letting them get to understand me, and let them see how annoying I can be, but in a good way. I am going to stay in their ear and just at least they’ll know that any time of the year in practices, games or anything else that they’ll have me to fall back on.”
You may have noticed by now that Carter has somewhat of a coaches’ perspective and mentality, although he expressed later in the presser that he has “no desire to become a coach whatsoever.”
Later on, he was asked a question that seems to be a major hot-button topic in the NBA today about why he didn’t go ring chasing now at the end of his career. Carter didn’t get angry with the question as some wily veterans may have, but simply explained;
“To sit on the end of the bench? I just can’t do that. It is just not who I am. I guess I’ve been around long enough to know what’s ingrained in me and instilled in me, it just isn’t my thing. My opportunity here was to play and to help young guys steer in the right direction and off the court things for me that I am interested in.”
As he went on about his reasoning for joining the Hawks, his passion for broadcasting was brought up again.
“Obviously broadcasting for me is something I am extremely interested in and I have done some work with Turner before, but it is just an opportunity for more practice than anything. It (Atlanta) is close to home for me and my family as I enter the twilight of my basketball career. Those are things that are more important to me than what people feel should be important for me (if you will). I still enjoy the game, I still enjoy playing the game. Not being a part of it (the game), then I don’t feel like I can contribute. I feel like I still have something I can contribute and (if I’m sitting) then I will wilt away mentally. Yes, it can be a limited role, I mean it is what it is, but being on the court and being able to lead by example is something I enjoy doing.”
As the frenzy of questions wound down, one emerged that, in some ways, was perplexing. For as confident and straightforward as Carter was for the entire conference, it seemed as though he was unsure about one thing in particular.
The question was, “As you look at the number of guys that have played up into their forties, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be at least thinking about Robert Parrish and Kareem type of guys? Maybe, then again, this is the last season?”
Carter looked almost like he was choosing his words carefully before his answer came.
“I try not to (think about those guys). I mean, it’s all by feel every year. I kind of gauge it off of how I feel at the end of the year and the problem is that I feel really good at the end of every year. I think it’s because I put so much work into playing this game. The media and fans can be cruel saying you’re old and playing against guys half your age, you shouldn’t be out here, but then for me that is my goal to prove that I am able to do that.”
Then came the uncertainty referenced earlier, almost as if this were the one thing Carter is struggling to find clarity on.
“Mentally I still love the game and I guess 21 years isn’t long enough. I continue to work and I am able to put the work in and I enjoy coming to work and helping these guys and I just can’t imagine doing it (retiring) right now. I think that is the type of situation I deal with every single day. I think this is going to be it and then I think “No, for what? I can still play” and then some days I’m like “Yeah, right”. The biggest challenge I think, for me, in these last few years is just the offseason.”
Then, he paused almost as if coming back to a previous thought before smiling at us all and saying;
“Now, it is getting close. We have a love/hate relationship [basketball and Carter]. It is getting closer.”
For all of the uncertainty that surrounds Carter’s probability of playing past this season, there was one last question that he was absolutely certain of the answer to.
Carter was asked about the different phases of his career with “Vinsanity” and then a slight lull... and that is where he quickly jumped in and stated;
“It is still Vinsantiy. I am still the same person. My approach is still the same. My ability to play the game is still the same. It is limited, so you don’t get to see it as much, but I am still the same guy.”
With that statement, it was plain to see that the fire is still there for him and that the drive to play is still within him even at nearly the same age as his head coach.
As the press conference came to a close, Carter made sure to come around to each reporter and shook everyone’s hand before he headed off court to finish the pleasantries of more paperwork I can only presume.
The one major thing I took away from encountering Vince Carter for the first time was that the guy knows how to handle himself, and with an impressionable, young locker room in Atlanta right now, a good example to have around is worth its weight in gold.
Stay tuned for more this season on the migration of “Vinsanity” to Atlanta.