The billboards are scattered throughout the Garden State, roadside reminders to potential ticket buyers that the New Jersey Nets have plenty of good seats available for the 2006-07 season. The presentation is simple but effective: an action shot of a prominent Nets player accompanied by a short, attention-grabbing statement. Vince Carter’s billboard features him airborne, cocked and loaded, frozen in time a half-second away from another highlight.
The message? “See It Live. Pray You Taped It.” Never mind that nobody “tapes” anything anymore; the point is clear enough. And the point, obviously, is that Vince remains one of those rare NBA players capable of posterizing sucker MCs (mediocre centers) on a nightly basis. The point is that, on a good night, Vince alone is worth the price of admission. And the point, of which the Nets marketing guys are thoughtful enough to remind us, is that you’d be smart to set the DVR before you leave for the arena. You never know when Vincent Lamar Carter might do something worth watching over and over again.
Which brings us to The Vince Tape.
Long before we actually saw one of these billboards somewhere off the New Jersey Turnpike a few months back, the idea of watching and re-watching classic Vince Carter highlights is something we at SLAM were excessively familiar with. I’ll spare the details here (you can check my editor’s letter for those), but thanks to a friend in the TV industry, we have for years been in possession of what must be the coolest five-minute compilation of VC highlights ever assembled. Essentially, it’s a greatest-hits package of his first two NBA seasons, 38 of the dunks that led us, a few years back, to name him the Greatest Dunker of All Time, running concurrently for a little less than 300 seconds, and it is truly, relentlessly, dope.
Before last season, for whatever reason, it hadn’t occurred to us to mention The Vince Tape to Vince himself. When we finally did, he was intrigued; apparently, he was almost as in awe of that mind-blowing, unprecedented run of unceasing highlights as we were. So we playfully struck a deal: Make time for a cover shoot, and we’ll sit down and watch it together. He was with it, and a few months later, there we were.
And here we are. Vince Carter has been accused of being moody, and our experiences with him over the years haven’t necessarily disproved that allegation. Maybe a better way to put it is that, sometimes, with the media at least, Vince just needs time to get warmed up. Early signs upon our arrival at the Nets practice facility on this Monday afternoon are that this could be one of those days.
It’s just a week into preseason camp, and as SLAM arrives at the gym, the Nets are still finishing their midday session. There’s Vince on the court, comfortably throwing up 30-footers and cracking jokes with his teammates. This bodes well. Then practice ends, and after disappearing in the locker room for about 20 minutes, he emerges in the team’s new alternate red uniform and makes his way back across the court. I say what’s up, get a quick nod in return and walk with Vince toward where our photog is set up. I’m hoping to find him in a good mood.
“Hey, I’m not gonna do a lot of jumping around or anything,” he announces without prompting. “My fuckin’ ribs are killing me.” Yeah, this bodes well.
As it turns out, Vince does indeed have bruised ribs, which have been bothering him throughout the first week of training camp and will keep him out of the Nets’ preseason opener a few days later. But then, as hoped, he does start to warm up, half-shimmying to the hip-hop and R&B mix bumping out of our photographer’s stereo. Hearing the Timbaland beat behind Justin Timberlake’s single, I test his mood by suggesting a cover line: “Vince Carter—Bringing Sexy Back.”
He glares. “Hell no.” But then, finally, a grin. And it’s all good.
The photo shoot rolls on, first through a few minutes of portrait shots, and then, about 30 minutes later, out onto the practice court for some half-speed take-offs and landings, including the shot you see on our cover. In between, we grab a couple of chairs in front of the computer monitor, a freshly dubbed DVD spinning in the Mac at our side. There are some of the usual questions we’d ask any perennial All-Star in an interview like this. Mostly, though, we watch and reminisce. For his part, Vince needs little prompting as he offers the play-by-play. “I remember ’em all,” he says.
Vince Carter is not quite 30 years old. This, his ninth NBA season, is also an option year in his contract. Given that, and his health (he played 79 games last season, the second highest total of his career) and his ’05-06 averages of 24.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 4.3 apg, this season has the potential to be one of his best ever. He rounds out one of the flyest (literally and figuratively) trios in the League, and with a supporting cast that should be stronger than last year, the Nets have a shot at going even further than last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals. There’s a lot to look forward to. But, with Vince, we still can’t help dwelling on the past. So, here it is. Come fly with VC.
Raptors v. Sixers—Scramble at the free-throw line. Vince comes up with it, moving hard toward the basket before anyone else seems to know he’s even got the rock. Theo Ratliff stands under the rim like a statue, and he might as well be. Vince elevates in a blur, two-footed…two-handed. Theo doesn’t even have time to jump. (Slamadamonth, SLAM 40)
SLAM: That was on Theo, right?
Vince Carter: Yeah. Loose ball, the ball comes out, and I just took one or two dribbles and took off.
SLAM: It that instinctive?
VC: Yeah, just, attack the rim—to hell with waitin’ on people.
Raptors v. Spurs—Chucky Brown’s got Vince one-on-one, 18 feet from the basket. And then Chucky gets got. A quick ball fake gets Brown moving, followed by a nasty left-to-right crossover that leaves him helpless. David Robinson steps in, a half-step too late.
SLAM: When you’re going up against a shot-blocker of this caliber—
VC: Well, I know DRob was over there, but I figured if I take Chucky one way and just go for it—if he blocks me, he blocks me, if not…I think what caught him off guard is that, by the time I crossed over, I didn’t take another dribble—just go and jump. He couldn’t get there in time.
SLAM: It reminds me of the one you had on Zo last season. Going up against guys who are known as shot blockers, seeing them in that split second or so, does that give you a little adrenaline burst, a little something extra?
VC: It’s not really a game plan, but you have to know how you can attack different guys. For instance, Tim Duncan, he’ll meet you at the rim. Zo comes to you.
SLAM: That’s what was crazy about the one on Zo—he usually overpowers guys.
VC: Yeah, I had to hit him first—and of course jump high enough to where if he hits me, my arms are long enough that I can still get there.
SLAM: That one ranks up there with the most memorable you’ve had?
VC: Oh, that was probably the best one ever for me, just ’cause of who he is. He’s erased a lot of people’s dunks.
SLAM: Is he the kind of guy where you can bring that up after the game?
VC: [Laughs] I don’t know if you want to bring that one up with Zo.
Raptors v. Kings—Charles Oakley drives and leaves a nice little bounce pass for Vince, who finishes his baseline run with a pull-back two-hander high above Vlade Divac.
SLAM: Vlade knew to get out of the way.
VC: Yeah, definitely.
SLAM: Are there certain guys who you know are not gonna try and challenge you?
VC: Yeah, some guys you know. Then there’s some guys where you know you gotta attack the rim because they’re gonna try and block it regardless. I attack, just in case.
SLAM: Have you ever been blocked by a guy you didn’t think could block you?
VC: Actually, Stackhouse has blocked my dunk a couple times.
SLAM: Really? You should’ve known, that’s a Carolina guy.
VC: Every now and then he’ll just surprise you. Sometimes guys just time it right. And then a lot of times they time it wrong.
SLAM: And those are the guys who end up on posters.
Raptors v. Heat—Jackie Christie’s husband leads a four-on-one break, with Vince and Tracy McGrady running side-by-side on the wing. Doug floats a lob, which T-Mac briefly thinks is for him until Vince soars above and hammers it, essentially dunking all over his cousin and grinning as he comes off the rim.
SLAM: The look on your face is classic. How often have you dunked on teammates?
VC: Nah, not many…but whenever you have somebody like Tracy, RJ, guys who get down the floor, we’re all running to get lobs. He just didn’t know I was there.
Raptors v. Celtics—Theoretically, at least, Walter McCarty is guarding Vince on the left wing. A quick shoulder fake ends that charade, and one dribble and two steps later, Wal-tuh is left reaching as Vince bangs over a retreating Raef LaFrentz. And one.
SLAM: Walter’s still checking his ankles.
Raptors v. Cavs—A one-on-none break. Vince catches a lead pass in stride, takes off two-footed about 10 feet out, and does a full rotation—spinning the wrong way—before sticking the one-handed jam.
VC: That’s the first time that I did that 360.
VC: Yeah. That was my first time ever doing it, right there.
Raptors v. Rockets—It’s 98-all, :04.4 on the clock. Vince is iso’d on Shandon Anderson at the left elbow extended. Hakeem Olajuwon is under the basket, just in case. Three seconds and a two-handed bang later, it’s 100-98.
SLAM: Game-winner, right?
VC: Yep. I was talking to Charles Oakley, who was sitting right here [Points to where Oak is standing at the corner of the Raptors’ bench, where Vince could see him from across the court as the play developed]. I was telling him to tell me when the clock was running down, when I should go. Shandon thought I was asking for a screen, so he thought I was going right. He jumped right and I went baseline. Dream didn’t have a shot.
SLAM: Not at this point in his career.
VC: He was still blocking shots, believe me. But he didn’t have a shot here.
Raptors v. Lakers—Vince brings it across midcourt, with that long stride again, the ball floating in front of him. John Celestand waits, then, as VC reaches the arc, the Laker guard lunges. Bait. Vince pulls out a right-to-left, through-the-leg crossover, takes one more dribble and skies uncontested for a tomahawk. The legendary Chick Hearn calls it: “Slaaaaam dunk. Oh, one of the greats of the year.” His partner, Stu Lantz, chimes in, “Well, I knew he was gonna posterize somebody.”
VC: Oh, yeah. John Celestand.
Raptors v. Warriors—A halfcourt set. Eye-contact between Oakley and Carter, who’s being guarded by his man Antawn Jamison. Vince breaks toward the rim, Oak lobs and AJ gets it on the head. He can’t say he wasn’t warned.
VC: That was on Antawn. I felt bad. I told him not to jump. I said, Tawn, don’t jump. He was like, “What?” I said, Do not jump. I was going for the lob. And he jumped. Happened twice that game. Tracy threw me a lob from halfcourt on his head, too.
SLAM: So Tawn was fronting you both times?
VC: Nah, the other time was in transition.
SLAM: Not much you can do then, I guess.
VC: Just get out the way.
Raptors v. Wizards—Transition in traffic. Vince puts the ball around his back just as Rod Strickland reaches in, never breaking stride on the way to a one-handed stuff.
VC: That opened SportsCenter.
SLAM: I think most of these probably opened SportsCenter. How often did you pull that one out?
VC: Hmm…every now and then. Strick is one of those guys, he’s gonna go for the steal, of course he’s not gonna be able to block it. I was trying to beat him to the spot, and he tried to cut me off, so I just put him on my back instead of doing the spin move.
Raptors v. Hawks—“Guarded” on the wing by some dude who should be glad we can’t recognize him, Vince goes baseline, then goes up, hanging just long enough to shit all over Dikembe Mutombo’s head.
SLAM: That’s disgusting. Deke’s been dunked on by a lot of guys, but he’s also blocked a million shots.
VC: In that game, he had blocked a couple of my dunks, you know, doing all that crap [wags his finger]. So coming down, once I got baseline, I was like, You’re not gonna block every one. I’m gonna get one before the game is over. This is my rookie year, so I’m tryin’ to dunk on the best. Actually, I dunked on him twice this game.
Raptors v. Pacers—Beating yet another overmatched perimeter defender (a late-in-his-career Chris Mullin in this case), Vince gets into the paint with ease. Rik Smits is closing from the other side of the basket, while Dale Davis drifts in from the middle of the paint. The answer? A two-handed reverse double pump. Obscene. (Slamadamonth, SLAM 34)
VC: This is the one…
SLAM: This is silly. How many times had you done that one?
VC: I’ve never done that in my life.
SLAM: Not in practice or anything?
VC: Some dunks you don’t practice. It’s just instinct. Whatever happens, happens. Originally I was just gonna do a reverse layup, but I was up high enough where I could do it, so, hey, why not? I remember talking to Dale later, and he was like, “I never expected you to do that.” I was like, Me neither.
2000 All-Star Dunk Contest—The elbow. The two-footed 180-windmill from underneath the basket. The 360 windmill. The T-Mac-assisted, through-the-legs windmill. Kenny Smith is still hoarse. It’s ov-ah! It’s ov-ah! (Slamadamonth, SLAM 42)
VC: I made all these up except for the one from underneath the basket. I’d never done any of these before.
USA v. France—Yeah, that one. Gary Payton misses a layup in traffic, and the rebound falls to a French player standing near the free-throw line. Sensing a teammate on the break, he throws a blind, behind-the-back pass, hoping to hit a teammate in stride. It almost works. Lurking near halfcourt, Vince intercepts about 28 feet from the basket. Building up steam before he even has the ball, he takes three quick dribbles, plants, and explodes about 10 feet from the rim. Freddie Weis stands between him and the goal, arms down, knees bent slightly, ready to take a charge. This proves to be a bad idea. Doug Collins’ commentary is almost as good as the actual dunk. (Slamadamonth, SLAM 47)
SLAM: You knew what you did at the time, right?
VC: Oh, yeah.
SLAM: How long did it take to come down from that feeling? Did that high last you a week or something?
VC: A week? Man, months and months and months [laughs].
SLAM: I think we called that the greatest dunk of all time.
VC: The reason I think people get so excited about it, it’s something you don’t see in a game. You might see it in a dunk contest or something. When I stole the ball, I was thinking, “Attack the rim.” I wasn’t thinking, “Jump over a 7-foot-2 dude.”
Portraits by Pier Nicola D’Amico / Photos via Getty Images