It’s been 20 years since Kings veteran Vince Carter entered the League, so it can be hard to remember how it all began.
An exciting, highly ranked prospect out of North Carolina, Carter was selected by the Warriors with the No. 5 pick in the 1998 draft and immediately traded to the Toronto Raptors. The move came as a shock to Vince, who wasn’t made aware of it until after he had put on the Golden State hat.
Antawn Jamison, the No. 4 pick and other player involved in the swap, was apparently trying to alert Vince of the deal while he was still on stage shaking hands with commissioner David Stern. But overcome with emotion, Carter wasn’t concentrated enough to make out what Jamison was mouthing.
20 seasons, seven teams, one Rookie of the Year award, eight All-Star appearances, and countless highlights later, Vinsanity is still going strong. Half-Man. Half-Amazing.
We caught up with VC recently on behalf of Verizon to discuss draft day memories, favorite dunks, his transition to the L, and more:
SLAM: Can you talk about your memories of draft day and what that whole experience was like for you?
VC: My memory of draft day was kind of up and down. I mean, you’re always thinking about, where am I gonna go? I hear what they’re saying, but I was a realist. I was like, I don’t want to hear the speculation. I don’t want to hear none of this. I just want to know. Then you start thinking about, OK, did I have a good workout? Who are the top 5 teams? Did I have a good workout in Denver? OK they’re at three. Because I knew I wasn’t going 1 or 2. It was either Mike Bibby or [Michael] Olowokandi. So it was like, Did I have a good workout in Denver? Yeah, I had a good workout there. Toronto? Eh, there was a lot going on. I don’t know if I played well enough. Come to find out I had a great workout for them, I just didn’t think I did. And then the fifth pick — Golden State — I had a good workout there, and down the line, in Dallas, I had one of my best workouts there where they cut it short. There and Sacramento, they cut the workout short because I had such a good workout and they were like, Oh you won’t be available [when we pick]. You leave those workouts like, OK, I feel good about some of them. And some of them you don’t.
And then you get to the day, the actual day. Now, it’s reality. Your dream is hours away and some of these guys have the fortune of knowing, I’m gonna be the number one pick. I’m gonna be the seventh pick. And some of the guys are just like, I don’t know. I’m on a sliding scale. Like myself, I knew I could go from 3, as high as 3, or as low as 8. I just didn’t know, and I think that’s the kind of nerve-wrecking thing about the draft, and once you hear your name called, it’s like, Yes, finally [smiles].
SLAM: What was the range of emotions for you specifically, because you get drafted and then instantly find out about the trade?
VC: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say next. So it was like, Yes, finally it’s here. And you walk up, and you see it on TV all the time. You see the guys walking up the steps. You adjust your hat. You practice it all the time and then all of a sudden, David Stern says, ‘uh, yeah there’s about to be a trade.’ But you don’t know it’s going to be yourself so…
SLAM: Oh, so you had no idea? When he announced it that was the first time you heard about it?
VC: Yeah. So walking up, Antawn was at the bottom of the steps. He was trying to tell me, come to find out, he was trying to mouth it to me but I was on stage. There’s like cameras. David Stern has his hand out trying to shake my hand as I’m walking up and he’s talking to me. I was like [to Antawn], What, what? Never mind. Once I got [to him] to take pictures, he was like ‘Yo wait a second, he’s about to announce a trade.’ I was like, Damn, somebody getting traded [laughs]. So there you go.
SLAM: What was the biggest surprise for you, either on or off the court, when you made the jump to the NBA?
VC: You’re on your own, obviously off the court. You have to learn how to prepare and do all that. But the biggest jump I think is you’re not playing against college kids. You’re not a junior or senior, and playing against freshmen, with a kid whose body is trying to develop or what not, or you’re playing against a senior who, he’s older but, he’s still not developed. You’re playing against grown men who’ve been around and the game is faster. Your position is a little different now, so you’re playing against a guy who might be two, three, sometimes four inches taller than you that weighs 30, 40 pounds more than you, and they have speed. They have, you know, mentioning LeBron is just a different beast but I’m talking about like, I remember coming in playing shooting guard, small forward sometimes. I’m playing against Scottie Pippen who’s 6-9. A 6-9 guy in college was a power forward, you know what I’m saying? So that was an adjustment.
Understanding these guys’ wingspan, the timing from getting the ball and getting the shot off against good defenders. All of that stuff mattered, and you had to learn how to get your shot off a lot quicker. Wasted motion is kind of the biggest thing that these guys are gonna have to understand…Now you’re playing against the next-level guys who, the wasted motion is what you have to get rid of, and who can get rid of it fastest is probably the guys who have the most success early, and then some of the others kind of learn that years later. So that was the biggest thing. I was fortunate to have some guys in my corner to kind of learn that lesson immediately, plus having a lockout season so I got to play with some of the NBA guys more, work with some of the coaches from Carolina that could prepare me.
SLAM: Is there a memory or highlight from your rookie season that stands out?
VC: I think dunking on Dikembe [Mutombo]. The Indiana dunk under the baseline, and of course the number one was probably winning Rookie of the Year. I know Mike Bibby was probably the hands-on favorite. I just had a great second part of the season where it was just between Paul Pierce and Jason Williams.
On this date in 1999, Vince Carter was named Rookie of the Year.
Young VC averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game 💪 pic.twitter.com/wQKr2wQDXz
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) May 26, 2018
SLAM: What was the first thing you copped when you signed that NBA contract?
VC: The first thing I actually bought was, I started my foundation. That was the first thing I did before I even got a car. Part of my first year I still had the truck that I had in college, and then I got a Navigator which I still have today. I still drive it, a ’99 Lincoln Navigator silver. It’s still in my garage. I just drove it two days ago [laughs], and then my mom, [I got] my mom a car and a house. But the first thing was my foundation, which I still run right now.
SLAM: Last question, I gotta ask. Do you have a favorite dunk from your career, and could you walk me through it?
VC: I’ll just do the most talked about. Favorite for me? It’s just too tough. I’ll talk about the Alonzo Mourning dunk at Miami — that happened because in the first quarter I dunked on him and Richard Jefferson dunked on him. At halftime, we’re sitting in the locker room, waiting for coach to come in and we were just talking like, Man you dunked on him, and oh man you dunked on him [too]. I said, There’s no way we’ll be able to dunk on Alonzo again, unless we take the hit. We gotta take the hit because he’s gonna try to knock us out. Because back then, you could knock guys down and it wasn’t, Oh let’s go look at the monitor to eject him. It wasn’t any of that. So I said, you’d have to take the hit and hopefully you’re high enough and you’re still able to dunk the ball. And that’s actually what happened.
Go up there, and I remember turning my body because I was like, Ah man he’s gonna hit me. And I could feel like, the momentum — the way he hit me just bumped me up higher in the air, so I was like, Oh man, the rim is right here. I see him go flying and I dunked the ball and I go down and I just tried to keep a straight face, like inside I was just like, Woah, this is crazy. I mean obviously the dunk was great and the bench was going crazy but, we literally, that was the exact scenario that we talked about at halftime, and it came to fruition and it was unreal.
That and the dunk in Indiana. That’s the other one I always talk about just because, everybody was in awe of the dunk because I went under the basket and dunked it behind my head. But I did that out of fear that Dale Davis was gonna knock me out of the air. That’s why [I went to] the reverse, because I was going baseline and I’m going up and I see Dale take a step and, I don’t know that he’s gonna stop and let me dunk. I’m already in the air, so at that time I had already stopped and I’m looking at him. He’s coming so I was like, Oh shoot there’s the basket, and I dunked and just ran down the court. After the game he tells me, ‘Hey man, you know I could’ve…
SLAM: Knocked you out?
VC: Knocked you out was the clean version. But he said, ‘I like you man. You’re a good player, so I’ll let you live.‘ And all these years later we’re friends and we laugh about it.
Alex Squadron is an Associate News Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Photos via Getty Images.