The eight-time All Star’s patented dunks and longevity are extraordinary
By Andrew Zerman | Staff Writer
Almost 600 NBA players were drafted in the 1990s. Entering the 2015 season, just nine remained on NBA rosters, and by 2018, there were only two.
With the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, Vince Carter became the last active NBA player who was drafted in the 1990s.
Carter, now 42, will be entering an NBA record 22nd season after signing a one-year contract with the Atlanta Hawks.
Carter is regarded by many as a pioneer in dunking. He won the 2000 slam dunk contest that featured his windmill dunk and his “cookie jar” dunk, the latter of which involved him putting half of his arm inside the rim of the hoop.
He had 15 dunks last season, and if he slams one home at all this season, he will be the second-oldest player to record a dunk in a game. Currently, he only trails Hall of Famer Robert Parish in that category.
His influence on professional basketball expands well beyond rising above the rim, though. He altered the landscape of the game through his high-flying acrobatics, but his longevity might be what sticks in most people’s minds.
Carter was originally drafted out of the University of North Carolina as the fifth overall selection by the Golden State Warriors in the 1998 draft.
He never played a game with the Warriors, however, because he was traded to the Toronto Raptors shortly after.
His presence resonated with fans, who quickly dubbed him “Air Canada.”
During his rookie campaign, the future eight-time NBA All-Star averaged 18 points per game.
By his second season, he helped lead the Raptors to their first playoff appearance, and the 1999-2000 season began his streak of 10 consecutive seasons averaging 20 points per game.
During the middle of the 2004-05 season, Carter was acquired by the New Jersey Nets to team up with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson.
The Nets, having made the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, were looking to add a third All-Star.
This core group reached the second round of the playoffs a few times, and Carter left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.
Carter, who was 32 at the time, saw his production start to taper off with teams where he played more of a reserve role.
As Carter has aged, he has taken on a bench role while most of the superstars of his era retired when they reached the same point in their careers.
In 2018, Carter told ESPN that he has continued his career for the love of the game, not necessarily for the big bucks.
“You see guys play the game for the love of it, not for the money,” he said. “If you love the game, you are willing to do whatever it is to still be here and compete.”
The 2019-20 season is speculated to be Carter’s last, and when he plays once the calendar flips to 2020, he will be the first player to have played in parts of four decades.
Carter doesn’t necessarily hold the same megastar status of players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, but he’s left his mark on basketball in a way that should not be overlooked.