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Over time, NBA players simply become known for their most-apparent skill. It’s not exactly fair and can be a bit reductionist — Steph Curry is more than just a long-range shooter — but it’s the way things tend to work. If you ask a basketball fan about Vince Carter, for example, they’re probably going to remember his aerial ability and propensity for a big slam dunk.

During his time on the hardwood, though, VC wanted something more.

Within a 2000 Sports Illustrated story, the UNC product explained how there was more to his game than just rocking the rim. And while those moves are still a part of his legacy more than 20 years later, the guard did live up to his own words.

Vince Carter said that he wanted to be more than just a slam-dunking sideshow attraction

Vince Carter goes up for a slam dunk.
Vince Carter during the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. | Jed Jacobsohn / Staff

If you’re a fan of slam dunks, you could spend hours flipping through Vince Carter’s catalog and taking in everything from the iconic 2000 Slam Dunk Contest to his legendary Le Dunk de la Mort. And while those are parts of the guard’s legacy, he didn’t want them to be the entire story.

“Carter wants to be known as more than just a rim rattler, in much the same way that Ken Griffey Jr. is uncomfortable being pigeonholed as a home run hitter,” Phil Carter explained in a 2000 Sports Illustrated story. The scribe also included an explanation from the man himself.

“Dunkers come and go,” Carter says. “You can go down to the playground and find a bunch of
guys who can do fancy dunks. The great players excel at all aspects of the game. That’s what I want to be.”

Phil Carter, Sports Illustrated

The piece then cited some stats and quotes explaining where the then-Toronto Raptor excelled and where he could do better. It’s been more than 20 years since those opinions were uttered, though, so we’ll take a different course of action. Let’s assess Carter’s goal in light of his entire career.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s fair to say that Carter accomplished his aim


NBA Fans Never Saw Vince Carter’s Best Slam Dunk

As I mentioned off the jump, it’s impossible to remember Vince Carter without thinking about at least one of his slam dunks. I’d argue, however, that’s just the way sports fans’ collective minds work. With countless players, coaches, and executives cycling through the NBA landscape, some shortcuts need to exist. Carter is tied to dunks the same way Kobe Bryant is forever going to remembered as a Laker. It’s not the whole story, but it’s a quick way to tell a large portion of the tale.

With all of that being said, though, a deeper dive shows that VC proved to be a quality player, not just someone populating the highlight reels. The guard averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per outing across his career. Not only do they indicate something more than a one-dimensional player, but they’re dragged down by Carter’s sheer longevity. Had he retired in after the 2013-14 season, as a conservative example, things would look a bit different.

And, on the subject of his career, the eight-time All-Star deserves plenty of praise for spending 22 seasons in the Association. Beyond the sheer physical challenges — he was playing nearly 15 minutes per contest, even in his final campaign — it also underscores Carter’s value. No team, no matter how desperate it may be, is going to play a 43-year-old who can’t do anything other than dunk.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that VC aged gracefully and had no problem stepping into the role of mentor. As documented in a Sportsnet story by David Singh, the veteran evolved into “one of the NBA’s premier player-coaches.” It would be easy to fall into the trap of being a grumpy old man who doesn’t need to do anything for anyone, but Carter was a good teammate until the end. When you’re talking about legacy and how you’ll be remembered, that matters.

Memory is a highly personal thing. If your thoughts about Vince Carter begin and end with dunking, though, it’s probably worth a deeper dive. You won’t be disappointed.