The NBA you knew and loved near death as Vince Carter enters his 40s

The NBA we know and love has changed. Former perennial playoff teams have turned into basement dwellers in their conferences. The league is now “positionless,” which is essentially the nicest way an extinction was ever described as traditional big men are an endangered species. Threes are taken from any point beyond half court, role players are getting gaudy contracts, and contenders’ depth charts look more like Olympic rosters. Above all, the saddest change we’ve seen across the league is the departure of the stars that ruled a generation. Vince Carter is the last one standing. 

It’s safe to say the NBA is very different than it was years ago. The stars who gave us memory after memory and paved an entire era of basketball are mostly gone. We’ve seen them all retire. Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Steve Francis, and Steve Nash have all hung em up. Even Paul Pierce recently joined the ranks of the washed up.

No more Kobe fade aways. Never again will we see Shaq tear down a rim. The only time we’ll see Tim Duncan make the bank shot look attractive is on YouTube and ESPN Classics. We’ve seen them all retire. Everyone but Vince Carter. Carter doesn’t just represent the last player around from that time period. He represents the death of what basketball was, and what it meant to play back then.

 

The Vince Carter now is clearly not the same one that put the Toronto Raptors on the map over two decades ago. It wasn’t a time where shooters reigned supreme across the NBA. If you were towards the top of the league, it meant you were one of the better athletes in the league. It meant you could essentially score at will in a variety of different ways. Carter was that, and more. It is almost criminal that people will view the artist formerly known as Vincesanity as a solid eighth man who played decent defense and could stretch the floor a little instead of public enemy No. 1 to rims everywhere.

When Carter was on national television, it was a must-watch game no matter who he played for. Back then, talent was different in multiple ways. It was dispersed more evenly across the league instead of seeing three or four Hall of Famers on a team at a time. Why, you ask? There simply wasn’t the same amount of talent in the league. We’re currently used to seeing 20 guys that can be considered the best player on a team, when there were only a handful of true superstars then.

Hero ball wasn’t a negative trait, it was a necessary trait back then. Carter, McGrady, Kobe, Pierce, Nash, Garnett and more all had to do it on their own at times. It was the kind of play that gave us unforgettable moments of superstars taking over, like Paul Pierce leading the greatest comeback in playoff history at the time.

Or when Tracy McGrady put the entire state of Texas on his shoulders and put up the most absurd performance ever when he scored 13 points in just 35 seconds.

Sure you see that with certain stars in this league, but it’s much rarer. With all the stars all over the place chipping away at leads together, you almost care less. It’s not the same “me against the entire planet” kind of play that these stars used to go through. What this kind of head-to-head style of play brought up was the one thing the NBA needed: hate.

If you went against another superstar, you hated them. It was that simple. Was there respect there? Sure. Players understood how good the opposition was, which is what made the hate even stronger. You can look at any matchup across this period of time (except when Carter played T-Mac considering they were cousins) and find videos similar like the one above. It wasn’t about rivalries with certain teams. It was about rivalries with any motherf–ker who thought they could stop you. Other than Russell Westbrook, nobody has this type of mentality.

That’s the incredible difference that sticks out with stars like Vince Carter. They lived in the Murderer Era. You went out, and would kill your opponent if it meant you walked away with a win, a playoff series victory, or a title. Now, players are all best friends. Sure, comradery in the NBA is cool and all and it’s great to see everyone act like it’s a game of kickball in your local school yard, but players don’t have that same edge. Instead of running through players, they’re running to join them. Instead of taking each other out, they’re teaming up. Instead of taking them out, they’re taking vacations together. Now it’s just banana boats and friendship. Carter is one of the last players around with that edge.

The reason why Carter stayed around for this long is because of his ability to adapt. While the other stars faded into nothingness, Carter changed his role. For years he’s proven he can be a pivotal role player for a few minutes a night. The only ones left are him and Dirk Nowitzki. Sadly, they don’t look like the world killers they once were. They look like this.

 


Anytime you see a praying mantis, you have to let it live. If you see an abandoned BlockBuster video, smile as you walk by and try to avoid the homeless people living inside of it. When you see Vince Carter, treat him like those things. Don’t cry because him and the rest of our generation’s NBA players are gone. Smile because they happened.