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The End of an Era

On flying vicariously with one of the greatest Tar Heels

Vince Carter Getty

I have never, nor will I ever, dunk a basketball. There are things I’m built for; remembering word-for-word lyrics of songs that topped the charts somewhere around September of 2005, for example, or skipping stones, or ping-pong. I was never meant to breathe the air around the rim, and I accepted that pretty early on in my life. When Vince Carter took flight, though, I’d swear I was floating up there with him. I whole-heartedly believe that watching the dude they called “Half Man, Half Amazing” punish the rim is the closest an entire generation of kids like me will ever get.

Some folks are just built differently. Watching a young Vince Carter explode towards the rim was like watching a lit match fall ever-so-slowly towards a puddle of what just might be gasoline; a primal anticipation, an uncontrollable upwelling of energy, that unspoken knowledge that something big was coming. And just like with that match tumbling through the air towards the accelerant, anyone too close to the action—and certainly anyone who tried to stop it—stood a good chance of being hurt. The unstoppable force that was Vince Carter with a head of steam and a path to the basket never met its opposing immovable object—not a seven-foot frenchman; not Alonzo Mourning; even Father Time had trouble catching up with Vinsanity.

The Rookie of the Year turned two-decade NBA veteran Carter’s career appears to have come to an official close, with the pandemic-shortened NBA season set to restart sometime in the coming months with his Atlanta Hawks watching from home. For 22 years, he defied the odds; first by defying the laws of gravity, then later by rising above the laws of nature, adapting his game and continuing to find ways to contribute long after his physical abilities had dwindled back into the realm of us mere mortals. His final shot attempt was a three in an overtime loss to the New York Knicks, and it’s fitting that it found the bottom of the net with ease. It always did look easier than it was.

As Vince Carter rides flies off into the sunset, we can look back on how fortunate we are. Fortunate that folks like me could live vicariously through him. Fortunate that he played in an era with recorded video, so that when future generations don’t believe the stories we tell about him, we can simply pull up the evidence and let them see for themselves. Fortunate that there are videos, in particular, of the 2000 slam dunk contest. Fortunate that we got to cheer for him for three years in the blue and white before having to share him with the world. Fortunate that Vince Carter decided to come to Chapel Hill to play for Dean Smith, and fortunate to have gotten to watch him play at all.

Now, speaking of the 2000 slam dunk contest, there’s a YouTube tab still pulled up in my browser (for “research”) that’s calling my name. As for the illustrious career of Vince Carter? Well, I’ll just let him tell it: