How Becoming a No. 2 Saved Vince Carter's Career: The Insanity of Vinsanity
I was there that day.
No one who was there will ever forget it.
My sister's then-boyfriend (now husband) had never seen a basketball game live before. He still considers it the single most incredible thing he's ever seen in his life.
I am, of course, referring to the legendary Dunk De La Mort, where Vince Carter posterised 7'2" French center Frederic Weis, and scared him off ever joining the NBA when he had been drafted the year before.
If you haven't seen it, watch the clip here.
To say the crowd went wild would be an understatement. But for an 11-year-old boy in the crowd, that dunk would be more than a mere moment of brilliance.
You see, that boy had grown up on tales of Michael Jordan from his older brothers and Magic, Larry, Isiah, and Dr. J from his uncles. But he had been too young to see any of them and as such was left without a true basketball hero.
Until the American No. 9 made that jump.
The boy left the Sydney Superdome that day thinking he had found his new hero.
Of course, it wasn't easy to be a Vince Carter fan. It was difficult when the boy learnt that Vince could have so easily been the star of his favourite team had a draft-day trade for Antawn Jamison never happened. (To this day, I still hate Jamison for it).
It was difficult for the boy to follow the career of an athlete separated by the Pacific Ocean and a large part of North America, especially in those pre-League Pass days when about one Toronto Raptors game was played a month.
But he persisted. He bought his jersey the first time he found one for sale, and made sure that he always returned home from America with a new Vince basketball card.
Unfortunately, Vince Carter—or Vinsanity, as he came to be known—never made it easy for the boy.
How many times did he see him, watching ESPN late at night without his parents' knowledge, miss a wide-open jump shot or settle for a J when he could so easily have driven to the hoop?
But still, he persisted.
When the New Jersey trade was announced, the boy couldn't have been happier. Playing with a Hall of Fame point guard like Jason Kidd could only be good for his career.
He would win several scoring titles, and the Nets would get the ring that they had just missed out on in 2002 and 2003. It was going to happen.
Unfortunately, after a couple of lackluster years he was forced to realise that his hero was not the Superman he believed he was. Indeed, he was a mere mortal, blessed with incredible basketball gifts but not with the heart required to take full advantage of them.
Then came the trade to Orlando.
The boy was now a man, and a man unsure what to make of the trade.
For most of his career, Vince had been the No. 1-scoring option. Now, he would have to play second fiddle to Dwight Howard and possibly even Rashard Lewis.
How would it work? Would he allow himself to not always be the star? Would he simply stop turning up in the way he did during those last years in Toronto?
After a couple of early-season Magic games where I witnessed Stan Van Gundy's spread offense, I wasn't hopeful.
Allowing Vince to basically stand behind the three-point line and jack up shots whenever Dwight Howard got double-teamed seemed like a recipe for disaster. The way he played in the early parts of the season confirmed as much.
Then a funny thing happened.
Ever since the New Year and especially the All Star break, Carter's been playing as well as I can ever remember him playing. He's shooting a lot of threes, but more importantly he's making them.
He seems to have willingly allowed himself to play the subordinate role and to be fitted into the Magic way of doing things.
But most importantly, he seems rejuvenated. For long periods in Toronto and Jersey, you could tell his heart wasn't in the game. Now, he seems to have gotten his fire back.
This then got me thinking.
Maybe some great players are just best in the sidekick role? Maybe no matter what their talents, they function best as players when the spotlight isn't always on them?
Maybe being the No. 2 on a contender was all Vince Carter ever wanted?
I don't know.
All I know is, welcome back, Vinsanity. That little boy missed you.
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