Vince Carter made his retirement official on Thursday, announcing on his podcast that his 22-year NBA career has come to an end.
The announcement was largely a formality because the 43-year-old Carter had said many times over the course of this season that this would be his last in the NBA. His 22 seasons are the most in league history, and he became the first NBA player to appear in four different decades.
“Vince Carter has made an indelible impact on the NBA with his remarkable skill and enduring commitment,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who lauded Carter as “a true ambassador of the game.”
Carter appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league's all-time list. He started his career with the Toronto Raptors, then played for New Jersey, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas, Memphis, Sacramento and spent his final two seasons with Atlanta. He earned US$184.351 million in salary over his career, according to website HoopsHype.com.
Carter was acquired by Toronto shortly after he was selected fifth overall by Golden State at the 1998 NBA draft. He played just over six seasons for the Raptors before they traded the eight-time all-star to New Jersey.
He was Public Enemy No. 1 in Toronto for a long time after he left, but fans have since warmed up to the man who is seen as a huge reason why Canada is now rich in young basketball talent.
“Inspired so many Canadian kids,” two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, who is from Victoria, said on social media. “Pre VC a couple Canadians in the NBA and this year up to 20 were on NBA rosters. Thank you VC!”
Carter won the NBA rookie of the year award in 1999, and the dunk contest in 2000 while with Toronto.
The Raptors paid tribute to their former star on Twitter.
“Thank you for inspiring a nation to believe. Thank you for laying the foundation of basketball in Canada. Thank you for letting us fly with you. Thank you for a lifetime of memories. Love, Canada,” the team posted Thursday.
Carter's first season was the 1998-99 campaign, which was shortened to 50 games because of labour strife. His final season was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Hawks will not be part of the 22 teams headed to the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida, next month for the planned resumption of NBA play.
“It's kind of a cool situation for me because I came into the league on a shortened season and I walk away from the league on a shortened season,” Carter said on the “Winging It” podcast. “So for me, it's just kind of a unique situation.”
Carter scored 25,728 points in his career, 19th-most in NBA history. He had 9,420 with Toronto, the fourth-highest total in franchise history behind DeMar DeRozan (13,296), Chris Bosh (10,275) and Kyle Lowry (9,649). He averaged 23.4 points per game over his time with Toronto.
He received a standing ovation during a video tribute in Atlanta's 130-114 loss at Toronto on Jan. 28. That would end up being his last NBA game north of the border, as a an April 10 meeting at Scotiabank Arena was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hawks quickly lauded Carter for what he's done, not just in two years with Atlanta but over the totality of his career.
“Throughout his historic 22-year journey covering an unprecedented four different decades, his evolving career arc was perhaps like none other in league history - from Top 5 Draft Pick to Rookie of the Year to Slam Dunk Champion to superstar and eight-time All-Star to Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year and valuable role player,” the Hawks said on their website.
Carter's last game was March 11, a contest the Hawks lost at home in overtime to New York. By the time that game was winding down, the NBA already had announced that it was suspending the season at the conclusion of that night's play after Utah centre Rudy Gobert became the first player in the league known to test positive for the coronavirus.
The moment was not lost on Atlanta fans, who chanted “We want Vince!” repeatedly with 19.5 seconds left in overtime and with the Knicks' victory clearly decided. Carter checked back into the game at that point, inbounded the ball to Trae Young, then trailed the play as the Hawks headed downcourt.
Young flipped the ball back to Carter, who took an uncontested three-pointer. The shot went in, Carter threw his arms skyward, and the clock ran out on the game a few seconds later.
What many suspected would be the case that night became reality: The clock had run out on Carter's career, too.
“There were times, probably in April, I was like, 'Man, I wish this didn't happen like that,”' Carter said. “And then, after a while, I was kind of like, 'It is what it is.' Once I was able to kind of put that aside and say: 'Retire, Vince. You can go and golf now,' it's been easier.”
Carter helped USA Basketball win gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics - highlighted by his dunk over seven-foot-two French centre Frederic Weis - and the 2003 FIBA Americas tournament.
He played college basketball for three years at North Carolina, starting his career there under Dean Smith, and Carter's retirement means there are no more Smith-coached players left in the NBA.
“Half Man, Half Amazing, ALL class!” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce wrote on Twitter in a message to Carter. “It's been an honour and a privilege for me to work with you.”
Carter said he will still play the game of basketball - for fun. It has long been expected that television networks will pursue him as an analyst, something he's dabbled in at NBA Summer League in recent years.
“I'm officially done playing basketball professionally,” Carter said. “I'll play at home.”
- With files from The Canadian Press