Vince Carter, Faced with Sudden Retirement, Had Help from Kobe Bryant

Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant in 2016

Getty Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant in 2016

Vince Carter has been in the NBA for 22 years. He was the first superstar to play in Canada where he rose to prominence with the Raptors and became one of the league’s biggest names after his performance in the Slam Dunk Contest at the 2000 All-Star game when he earned the nickname “Half Man, Half Amazing.”

He was part of a major draft-day trade between the Warriors and Raptors in 1996, then part of a blockbuster that sent him to the Nets in 2004, He was dealt again, to the Magic, five years later and again to Phoenix the following year. He played for eight teams, scored 25,278 points. At 43, Carter is the fourth-oldest player to play in the league, behind only Nat Hickey, Kevin Willis and Robert Parish.

He’s seen a lot. But in a long NBA career, what Vince Carter saw Wednesday was bizarre, as the league suspended play because of fears over the spreading coronavirus outbreak. In doing so, the NBA may have brought an early end to the career of Carter, who was expected to retire after this season.

If the league does not resume play, Carter will have played his final game against the Knicks on Wednesday.

“It’s a way weird to say I’m calling it a career,” Carter said on Wednesday. “It really is. You’re used to, you don’t have any more games left. I technically still have what I will consider eligibility, I have 15 games left. If not, I am one with it. It’s just weird.”

Kobe Bryant Helped Carter Talk About Retiring

Weird, indeed. Carter had struggled with the decision of going through another year with the Hawks at the beginning of the season. But he decided to play again—the struggled with the concept of retirement and openly discussing the subject. He didn’t play great, averaging 5.0 points on 35.2 percent shooting, but Carter appeared in 60 games.

It was Kobe Bryant who helped Carter adjust to the idea of accepting and dealing with retirement. The two had conversations about it earlier this season, Carter said in January.

“I said ‘How is it?’ ” Carter said then. “He said he was the happiest he’s been, getting the opportunity to see his girls grow up. Helping his daughter figure out the game and understand it the way he understood it. You could see that in her game. The next time, he asked me if I was ready to handle it.

“He said ‘You’ll enjoy it. It’s peaceful.’ He said that’s when he was his happiest.  He said we’ll connect soon and we’ll talk about it, the steps he went through to be at his happiest and comfortable with retiring.”

Carter, of course, did not get to discuss it with Bryant again. He and his daughter, Gianna, died with seven others in a helicopter crash in late January. Carter called Bryant’s death, “crushing,” to him. On Wednesday, he recalled the help Bryant gave him even as his retirement became more of a sudden reality in the face of the coronavirus spread.

“It ended like that,” Carter said. “Probably tonight I’ll reflect and I’ll say, ‘Golly, it ended like that.’ I went from the hesitation of starting the season and going through the season to not really saying the word, ‘retirement,’ to having a conversation with Kobe who gave me the confidence and comfort to talk about retirement. To this point, where the season’s over.”

Carter was not quite ready to let go, though. There’s still a chance that the NBA will reconvene and finish the year, though he acknowledged that chance was slight.

“In my mind, I know there’s 15 games left, but we’re not sure yet,” Carter said. “So, it’s cool, though. Basketball has been good to me. I’ve enjoyed each and every moment of it, good and bad.”

Carter OK with Missing on NBA Finals

Carter was an odd case in that he chose to spend his final seasons playing for mostly lottery teams. He played for Sacramento in 2017-18 and spent the last two years with Atlanta. He was never part of a team that reached the NBA Finals and only made the conference finals once, in Orlando in 2009.

He had the opportunity to sign on with contenders in the last few years of his career, where he could have played little but enjoyed the fruits of deep playoff runs. That was never Carter’s wish, though. If he was going to be in uniform, he wanted to play.

“Sitting on the end of the bench not being able to be a part of this, that would kill me more than anything,” Carter said. “I would be a bitter old man then for real.”

Carter much more enjoyed getting playing time against fresh new players, many of whom were young enough to be his own sons. Being able to hold his own against players like that was worth more to Carter than suiting up and playing little for a contender.

“I worked so hard to be in shape and play this game, to compete against young guys half my age,” Carter said. “I wanted to go out playing the game, where you say, ‘How old is he again? He looks like he could still play.’ That’s the feeling, that’s like a championship. Each and every night, when you’re playing against another young guy, people say, ‘Man, I don’t know how you’re doing it, you look like you could play another couple of years.’ That’s like winning a championship in my mind. Some people probably don’t see it that way.”

Doesn’t matter much now. Carter was at peace on Wednesday, no matter what happens with the league’s schedule. He was happy, he pointed out, that he made his final shot, a 3-pointer. And he was happy in general.

“It’s been a great ride,” Carter said.

READ MORE: Pistons Coach Dwane Casey on Coronavirus: ‘We’re Just Like Everyone Else’

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