By Pat Costello
The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has given basketball fans a chance to reflect on the greatness that number 24 has displayed over his 20-year career. Watching the aging superstar walk into the sunset is fun, but it has caused us to overlook the ongoing career of a player whose prime coincided with Bryant’s: Vince Carter.
Carter entered the league in 1998 with the Toronto Raptors and immediately made an impact by winning the Rookie of the Year award. He burned himself into everyone’s memory with his performance at the 2000 dunk contest, during which he pulled off a mind-boggling 360 Windmill, as well as his infamous elbow-in-the-rim dunk. He went on to make eight All-Star games and two All-NBA teams. His career was defined by his high-flying aerial acrobatics and frequent visits to the number one spot on SportsCenter’s Top Ten. But is that good enough to make him a Hall of Famer?
The initial reaction from most people would be no. He has never won an NBA Championship, an MVP or a scoring title. Hall of Fame players have to dominate their position, and on the surface, it does not appear that Carter fits the bill. However, the recent election of Yao Ming to the Naismith Hall of Fame throws in an interesting wrinkle.
Some believe that Ming’s election should not have happened, including Fab Five member and current co-host of ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby, Jalen Rose. Rose’s anger stemmed from Ming’s election by an international committee that votes solely to elect foreign players. This is important to the case for Carter, not because he is foreign, but because his numbers are so much better than Ming’s. He was a better player with better numbers in the best league in the world.
When you compare Carter to current Hall of Fame member Louie Dampier, the results are not quite what you’d expect. Dampier, who was one of the few players to play all nine ABA seasons, was a seven time All-Star who won a championship and made 4 All-NBA teams. This would lead you to believe that his numbers are similar to Carter’s, but Dampier only scored 15,279 points with 4,687 assists.
To date, Carter has scored just under 24,000 points and dished over 4,300 assists. The 39-year-old, who gained the nicknames “Vinsanity” and “Air Canada”, has been grounded in recent years due to injury, but has not slowed down. He completely retooled his game during his tenure in Dallas, becoming a reliable defender as well as an above average spot-up shooter, a trait that has helped him succeed in his current home of Memphis. This characteristic is one that all great players have. Michael Jordan was famous for his unbelievable dunks, but at age 40 he was still able to score at will thanks to the unstoppable fadeaway he developed over the course of his career. Carter followed suit, extending his career much longer than anyone thought.
Carter may retire at the end of this season, but his entrance into the Hall of Fame will be just like his entrance into the league: a slam dunk.