DALLAS -- He doesn’t look a day older than he did that spring evening back on May 20, 2001. Then, a Toronto Raptor, Vince Carter nearly had a perfect day.
The Sixers and Raptors were playing Game 7 in Philadelphia with the winner advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Carter, now in his 16th NBA season and third with the Mavericks, remembers the final possession as if it happened yesterday.
“When we got into the huddle getting ready for that last shot before [head coach Lenny Wilkens] even drew up a play, I said, 'Coach, I want the ball,'” Carter recounted after Dallas' morning shootaround on Monday before beating the Sixers, 97-94 (see story). “Pump fake, swing through, and by halfway it looked good and it ended up hitting the back rim."
The Sixers moved on to play the Milwaukee Bucks while Carter went home to criticism. Prior to the opening tip on that night, Carter had flown to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take part in the University of North Carolina’s graduation ceremony and receive his diploma.
But when Carter missed that shot, some questioned his commitment to being properly prepared for a Game 7 stage. Nearly 13 years later, Carter knows he did the right thing.
“That was a monumental moment in my career, personally and as a professional player,” Carter said. “I was able to accomplish two of my goals: to make it deep into the playoffs was one, and to graduate. So that day is something I will never forget and always cherish.”
Carter finished that Game 7 with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and it turns out he's the only player from the series still active in the league today, a testament to his work ethic and desire to continue his playing career.
“You have to put your work in,” said the 36-year-old Carter, who is averaging 11.4 points per game this season in 23.2 minutes. “Summertime is very important for us older guys. For one, taking care of your body and getting your rest. Young guys are still learning that but after you have been around, you understand that’s important. Utilizing that cold tub, and ice becomes your friend.
“I am just thankful to be here and still compete at a high level and still be getting significant minutes."