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Vince Carter Diary

Vince Carter: ‘It’s still an honor to be in the league at 41’

The oldest player in the NBA celebrates another birthday

Twenty years ago, the NBA welcomed a high-flying young man who created a phenomenon known as “Vinsanity.” Nearly 25,000 points later, Vince Carter is a member of the rebuilding Sacramento Kings. He’s still in love with the game.

Carter agreed to give The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears an exclusive look into his 20th NBA season on and off the court in a bimonthly diary. This is the fifth edition.

Chapter 20. Part 5. Carter, the oldest player in the NBA, turns 41 years old on Jan. 26.

There is nothing planned for the 41st birthday. I’m going to practice [Friday]. If I can go on the golf course a little bit, I will do that. Otherwise, I am low-key. No big plans. It’s simple. But I’ll tell you, it’s still an honor to be in the league at 41. I see guys coming into the league at 19 and 20 now. … I didn’t do it big for my 40th. Not when I was 39 or 38 either. Well, let me say, I didn’t do it. There was a nice little surprise for me during the season last year. The team and my family surprised me and got me good. I am just very thankful to be healthy and still playing in the NBA. It’s something I enjoy doing now.

The goal I have with these young guys when I step on the court is to compete and keep up. I know how to play the game. I know I’m capable still. I like seeing the work I put in the summer come to fruition when I step on the court. I am still able to play. And to hear young guys come up to me after the game and say, ‘Yo, you still got it.’

It shows that your hard work is paying off, even at this age. People ask, ‘Why are you still doing it?’ I can compete, for one. For two, I love this game still. I love competing. I love what the game has to offer. I say all the time that when I’m not willing to put the work in, and don’t enjoy coming to work to play the games and don’t enjoy the highs and lows of it, that is when I walk away.

Often, I hear [NBA players] say, ‘I was a fan of yours when I was younger.’ It’s weird because it’s different ages. I’m talking about guys who have years in the league that say, ‘Yeah, when I was younger …’ It’s even with some of my teammates and some of the veterans on my team. George Hill, for instance. He said, ‘Man, I used to have your poster in my room.’ It’s like, now I am playing with him. For me, it’s a good feeling. At first I didn’t know how to handle it. It was new. But now I hear guys say, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for the league and what you are still doing. You really motivate me to strive to play as long as possible.’ It’s a great feeling. Everybody is not able to play as many years.

But for me, it was a goal. If I can still love this game and I can still put the work in, I am going to do so. And while doing so, that is the reward, when a guy comes up to you after the game and says, ‘Hey, man, you still got it, man. You can still play another three or four years …’ They can easily say, ‘Hey, man, appreciate what you’ve done. You might want to let it go.’ They can say that, too. It’s a compliment.”

NBA All-Stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the leading vote-getters in their respective conferences, picked the All-Star teams on Thursday from the pool of the remaining 22 players. It was the first time the NBA has formed the teams this way. Carter is an eight-time All-Star.

“I was an NBA All-Star leading vote-getter a couple of years. It was cool. This gives an interesting twist to All-Star Weekend now. You see your favorite players from East Coast teams or West Coast teams playing on the same team. The NBA fans want the game to be competitive. They want guys to go out there and play hard. It will be interesting for guys to go out there and play with another guy from a different conference and go out there and have fun. You’ll get your true feelings out of it after you see it for the first time and see how you feel about it. I know at one point they were talking about the winner of the NBA All-Star Game gets the advantage with home court in the Finals, which I didn’t like that idea. It was talked about, but it didn’t happen.

They want the All-Star Game to be competitive and they want guys to play hard. They want to reward the winning team. At the same time, it’s still an All-Star Game and rewarding a different team … Let’s say that Golden State has the best record in the NBA, but since the East won [the All-Star Game], the East team in the Finals gets home-court advantage. I didn’t like that. They’re trying to just keep it fresh. Keep it new.

This was an interesting road trip for me. We went to Memphis, where I played last season. Then we went to Charlotte, where I played in college at North Carolina two hours away in Chapel Hill. It’s always fun going back there. Now I have a Kings teammate from Carolina in Justin Jackson. The fans always come out to support in Charlotte. It’s great. It feels like home there because of the support from the Tar Heel family. Then, Orlando was next. It’s always great to come back home. The majority of my family lives here in Miami. It’s been a great trip for me.

I wanted to give Justin a shout-out. He talked about being honored in Chapel Hill. The brotherhood of the Tar Heel family has been well documented and understood for a long time. … For many years, when we play against another player, for instance when we play Charlotte, [former Tar Heel] Marvin [Williams] is there. We show love. It’s understood. Justin had his jersey honored in Chapel Hill [Jan. 20]. He claimed he told me about it. I want to be clear to tell my side. He did not. He asked me if I was going to go to the game. I said, ‘Yeah, we have practice, so I can’t go.’ But if he would have said he was going to be honored, I would have missed practice and had been willing to take that fine just to support him.

That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done. I remember seeing my jersey in the rafters many, many years ago. And it’s a special feeling. As a supporter of the Tar Heels and someone particularly on your team, I would have supported him. It was just a great honor for him. It took me back to that time with coach Dean Smith and coach [Bill] Guthridge standing there. I still have the pictures somewhere. Just seeing that jersey in the rafters, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the front row of the jerseys or not. It’s an honor being up there. It’s great for him to see it go up there.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.