It’s not the jumping that’s hard, Vince Carter says. He can still jam reverse-360s, reminiscent of the guy who cleared a 7-foot-2 defender and shut down a dunk contest, the leaper who kept basketball alive in Toronto and inspired a generation of jammers. Actually, make that two generations.
No, it’s the returning to Earth that hurts, the 42-year-old explains. Carter’s had two right ankle surgeries. Other times it’s a knee or a hip that screams when he comes down. So he’s retiring, but not before an NBA-record 22nd season. After that, he’ll smoothly transition into a top broadcasting job.
For years, Carter has taken offseason time to sit in TNT’s Inside the NBA studio, join The Jump on ESPN, and call FOX’s Jr. NBA Global Championship. During the year, he hosts The Ringer’s Winging It podcast with Annie Finberg and Kent Bazemore, sometimes recording in the morning before practice; other times camping out at 11 p.m. to get an episode in.
Then there’s his unmatched experience spanning three decades, which will include encounters with everyone from Michael Jordan to Zion Williamson. Add to that Carter’s multigenerational global recognition. There’s a case to be made that he was basketball’s first YouTube sensation (his top 10 videos have amassed over 50 million combined views).
14-year-old Quinton Webb stole the Jr. NBA’s dunk exhibition show this month by leaping over three players, but he was speechless meeting Carter afterwards. “They said let’s take a picture, and I don’t even remember if I smiled,” Webb said. “I was going crazy like, I’m talking to Vince Carter—like, the Vince Carter.… He’s a legend. I don’t think anybody in history had as much bounce as he did.”
Soon it will be media executives fawning over Carter. “As frenzied as the NBA offseason was—where’s Anthony Davis going and Kawhi—that’s going to be the TV offseason for him next year,” Fox Sports senior coordinating producer Bardia Shah-Rais said, later comparing Carter’s potential to that of Tony Romo. “He’ll have his pick of the litter and he deserves it. He’s worked his ass off doing it.... The fact that this guy has put in the work as if he was a 12th man on a bench to get to here speaks to his character.”
ESPN—the NBA Finals’ home—could offer a chance to reconnect with former teammates Mark Jackson and Tracy McGrady. And given the network’s recent studio shake-ups, Carter could quickly become one of its most prominent basketball voices.
“I’ve known for so long that Vince would be good at this,” ESPN host Rachel Nichols said. “As soon as we started The Jump four years ago, I immediately was like, We’ve got to get Vince Carter on…. I wanted to get him to come in and be involved during times of the year when he wasn’t playing. I saw how good he was so early and I have said to him, Ok, we will keep your seat for you.”
TNT, meanwhile, employs Carter’s frequent golfing partner (and kind-of boss) Grant Hill. It has the best basketball studio track record and could potentially offer Carter an NCAA tournament role through its yearly partnership with CBS. TNT also obviously has the dunk contest.
Scooter Vertino is now Turner Sports’ senior vice president for programming and production, but 20 years ago, he was courtside at the Oakland Arena for Carter’s rebuke of physics, working as Craig Sager’s floor producer and watching in awe. “He’s a guy we’ve been fans of for quite some time,” Vertino says now, putting it mildly.
Carter isn’t worried about picking his next home. “Down the line, we’ll just see what works—it could be a scheduling thing,” he said. “At this point I do it in the summer but once September comes, I shut that world off. I don’t want to have to make that tough decision now when I need to worry about my current job.” Either way, at the end of a career filled with fittingly vertiginous ups and downs, Vinsanity seems poised to stick the landing.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
SI: How are you feeling about your upcoming farewell tour?
Vince Carter: It’s going to be an emotional roller coaster—it really is. I know each day is going to be the last of something. Honestly, it’s going to be awful. I don’t even think I’ll have fun. I just want to get into the season.
SI: When did 22 become a goal for you?
VC: I have no idea. For me, I always said, Oh yeah, in a year or two, in a year or two. Even when I said that this would be it, it's kind of still—I'm at peace with it—but it's still kind of hard to accept. I love to play and I think I could still play, but when it's time it's time.
SI: Might we see one more dunk contest?
VC: Yeah, if you pull it up on YouTube. The 2000 Dunk Contest, that’s about it. I leave perfection where it is. I just don’t want to tarnish that.
SI: You were a free agent this summer. Did you have any interest in a return to Toronto or the Nets?
VC: It was just about whoever was interested. I tried to stay away from—I’m not really one for the hype like that. I wanted to be on a team that wanted me. I’m thankful for the fact that I can still get phone calls from 10-12 teams showing interest in me at 42 and 43 years old.
SI: During your career, were you ever recruited by another star, like seems to happen so much now?
VC: No. The only time I can recall is I tried to get Shaq to Toronto. I felt like it was close. It was tough at the time, just because … a lot of guys were like, What’s Canada about? It was tough to convince players that it’s a great place until they’re actually there. Even me, when I worked out for them, I didn’t really know what they had to offer until I was actually there.
SI: What’s it like going against Steph Curry after being a teammate of his father’s in Toronto?
VC: For a while it was kind of strange to look in the stands and see Dell and Sonya [Curry]. I remember when we all used to hang out.
Steph and I used to play one-on-one before every home game in Toronto. He was always sitting on the side, dribbling, dribbling, going You ready? You ready!? I’d finish my pregame workout and we’d play.
I look at Tim Hardaway Jr. the same way. Trey Mourning. I look at Antonio Davis; his daughter Kaela is playing in Dallas. It’s mind blowing.
I look at Brook Lopez now. That was my rookie. People look at him as old now. I had him as a rookie.... That's when I start feeling old.
SI: What do you do with your younger teammates like 20-year-old Trae Young?
VC: See, we taught Trae how to play cards. These kids didn’t know how to play tongits, bourré, like any of these things. But I forget these kids weren't in college with those nights, where you'd be bored, everybody meeting in the little room and playing cards. That's just what we did.
SI: Have they taught you to play Fortnite?
VC: Never ever. I’ve never even looked at it.
SI: What has it been like to go from being criticized for being too nice to now seeing how friendly superstars are with each other?
VC: Because Michael Jordan had a scowl on his face, I was supposed to have a scowl on my face. But I felt I could talk to you all I wanted, even during the course of the game, and I’m still trying to bust your ass.
At first the criticism bothered me and got under my skin. For a while it wasn’t fun and I worried about what people were saying—listening to them say I should be like this or that. I made it clear, I just wanted to be the next me. I didn’t want any part of being the next Michael Jordan. He’s the greatest player to play the NBA game. Let him be that. I’m OK being me.
Then later it turned into, He has a great smile and a positive attitude. So which one is it? This is just my style, how I am, and I’m still here.
SI: Is it true you didn’t let people measure your vertical leap?
VC: I get bashful. At the combine, I was jumping, just doing it with a couple people around. Then all the sudden I start feeling people gathering and I was like, I’m done. I’ve always been that way. I remember touching the top of the backboard in high school, and people were like Oh, do it again! I’m like, Eh, no.
SI: Is dunking an art form?
VC: I look at it as an art—it has an artistic side to it. Gliding through the air, contorting, and then the ending can become ferocious.
Back when I did the dunk contest, it was more guys trying to tear the rim down. It was the era of the bigs and that came with it. Now it’s more finesse and some guys want to go up there and just throw it through. John Collins and I have had a lot of conversations about the art of dunking. He has an old-school mentality; he more-so wants to dunk with power.
SI: Do you still like to dunk in private?
VC: Yeah. Catch me if I’m warm. I can still do a windmill, that’s easy, like a layup. A reverse 360. A few years before doing the reverse 360 in the dunk contest, being bored with dunking I wanted to try something different. So I taught myself how to jump that way. Everybody jumps the other way so it’s normal for them. Now a reverse 360 is normal for me. I can’t go the other way anymore. It’s difficult now to look for the rim the normal way. So the cat’s out of the bag on that one. I just wanted to be different.
SI: Speaking of art, I want to ask about your music. You have a studio—
VC: How’d you know that? Yeah, I do. I don’t promote my studio because when people hear about it, everybody’s like, Oh man, let me come record something, but I do fool around with music. I don’t really make beats. I’m more an executive producer because I have an ear for it. I’ve got that sixth sense when I hear a wrong note, like, Oh no.
I try to go to as many band shows as I can. It’s cool going with my cousin, who played in the FAMU band, because she can hear it too. I call her all the time saying I need some new marching band music. When I’m driving, I’m listening to marching band music. I still have all the old stuff—all the stuff from Drumline, even the ones that didn’t make the soundtrack. I listen to that stuff all the time. I wanted to be in Drumline 2 before it existed.
SI: Do you write music as well?
VC: I do—just for me, just for fun. I’ve been around music since sixth grade. My stepdad was a band director. Talk about the pressure of being good when your dad’s the band director. I had to be in the first two or three chairs. Obviously my goal was, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to be the best, so I was first or second chair always. I started at saxophone and taught myself how to play trumpet, baritone, tuba—which is in a different key, by the way. I could play french horn a little bit.
SI: Will you share something you wrote?
VC: Not a chance in the world. Not a chance in Hell. I make sure I don’t have any on me for that reason. There was one time though…
One of my buddies was a rapper or whatever, he was trying to do some music, and he talked bad about me, like, tested my manhood, whatever. And I actually did a song and I allowed him to put it out. It took me three weeks to write it and feel comfortable with it, record it, all that. I was like, Here you go. And that d**k decides he doesn’t want to rap anymore. He just stopped. So he never put it out. I was like, Mannnnn. I wish I had that; I would play that.
SI: What do you sound like?
VC: It’s definitely not no mumblerap. I come from a lyrical era. I guess people consider it more a northern style, but it’s a mix. I’m all about content. I was told I sounded a little like Slim Thug at the time.
Now I’m a little more aggressive. I’m not a laid back rapper at all. I watch a lot of battle rap. But I listen to R&B. It’s so random. I’m all over the place. Give me a slower beat to write some stuff to, that’s what I like.
SI: Do your teammates get to hear it?
VC: Every now and then. If people come to my house then they can hear it. But when they say, Send that to me, I tell them no. You’ll never be able to find a song on the internet.
SI: For a bashful guy, why the interest in media?
VC: I like coaching the game but I don’t want to coach. There’s no loyalty in my opinion to coaches. But I can be a coach on air, helping viewers understand what they’re seeing or how we see it as professional players.
SI: Why have you devoted so much energy to preparing for your TV career, calling Summer League and Jr. NBA games during your offseasons?
VC: Because of me sticking around on the basketball side, I understand the approach and what it takes. Doing it this way got me to 22 years in the NBA so why not take that approach and learn along the way, just like I did then. I didn’t know 30 years ago how to go about what I really wanted to accomplish. I studied, asked questions, and learned. I’m doing the same things now, mirroring that step-by-step approach.
I did Sportscaster U seven years ago. I wanted to see if I liked it—and I loved it. From there I did what I had to do, getting as many reps as I could, doing games, studio work, and sidelines.
SI: Is it weird at those events to see other players hanging out, having a good time, while you’ve got a suit on, working?
VC: I’m one with it. I know my big picture. I had my time when I could sit around, and now I know this is step two for me. I have to put my work in if I want to consider myself good at this.
SI: Are you as comfortable now at the desk as you are on the court?
VC: Mmhmm. Yeah. I know where I can be in some years, but I’m comfortable with where I am because I know I’ve put a lot of work in. I can’t tell you the last time I felt nervous.