He’s known as “Half-Man/Half-Amazing,” “Air Canada” and “Vinsanity.” One gravity-defying dunk at a time, he pushed the limits each and every NBA game he starred in — 1,541 games, to be exact.
He’s made appearances in the world’s most renowned basketball league for four different decades, a feat previously unaccomplished. And competing on an average of 30 minutes per game, he played a critical team role for every jersey he sported.
His name is Vince Carter.
In the 1998 NBA draft, the newly established Toronto Raptors tried their luck with a 21-year-old junior from North Carolina. Seen as having incredible potential yet to be proven at the next stage, the young talent knew he had to work his way to the top starting from the ground up.
Unphased by the pressures of fulfilling lottery expectations, Carter quickly began to thrive in the limelight. Already widely known for his high-flying acrobatics upon his entrance to the NBA, 20,000 fans regularly flocked to Toronto’s SkyDome to watch Carter do what he did best: put on a show.
Over the course of his first season, Vinsanity emphatically punished the rim one too many times to count, effortlessly catching alley-oops from near half-court and viciously posterizing a 7’2” Dikembe Mutombo. He finished fast-break opportunities with flashy 360-degree dunks. He clutched game-winning tip-ins. He banked in deep, buzzer-beating threes.
In just 50 games total, Carter flexed his offensive prowess, making him an instant global icon and threat to the rest of the NBA. By the end of the 1998-99 season, he seized the highly acclaimed Rookie of the Year Award, steamrolling past opponents while averaging 18 points, 3 assists and 5 rebounds a game. Toronto had managed to find its first true franchise gem, a star in the making who could light up the box score just as easily as reeling in some big-ticket highlights.
Carter continued to dramatically improve as a player during the 2000 season, earning a starting lineup spot in the NBA All-Star Game roster while leading his team in points, field goal percentage and games started. With all the confidence in the world and game to back it up, the sophomore Raptor decided to bring his gifted talents to the highly anticipated NBA dunk contest, an announcement that would forever change the landscape of the event for years to come.
When All-Star Weekend’s Saturday night rolled around, Carter stepped into the Oakland Arena with the kind of swagger that drew the attention of every spectator in the building, from celebrity to player to fan.
As Carter paced up the court to complete his first dunk of the round, fans buzzed and cameras turned to capture a reverse 360-degree windmill.
In only one attempt that lasted a grand five seconds, the crowd was instantly brought up to its feet. Fans held high “10” signs in the stands, Shaquille O’Neal clutched his camcorder in awe and commentator Kenny Smith uttered his now-famous line of the night: “Let’s go home!”
Carter continued with a 180-degree windmill from the baseline, a between-the-legs dunk off a bounce and a never-before-seen “honey dip” in which his elbow hung high over the rim.
“I was pulling off things that I’d never really done. Never tried, never even thought about,” Carter said in an ESPN E:60 special.
Carter went on to win the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, now widely regarded as one of the greatest performances in the event’s 36-year-old history. With an overall average score of 49.4 out of 50, the other contestants facing Vinsanity never even stood a chance.
Five years later, Carter was still taking advantage of his prime, only this time with another team: the New Jersey Nets. He continued to post respectable numbers and showcased versatility on both ends of the floor. With average totals of more than 20 points a game, Carter cemented his legacy as a likely future Hall of Famer.
After his time with the Nets, Carter bounced around a multitude of teams at the turn of the 2010s, including the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies for three seasons apiece. Although he lost some youthful athleticism and was a handful of years past his prime, Carter kept up his love for the game in different ways.
Instead of stuffing the stat sheet, he became a mentor for younger generations that shared the same court, some of whom were nearly half his age. By providing veteran insight, scoring tactics and leadership that could only come from two decades of NBA experience, Carter proved to be just as valuable as when he first entered the league back in 1999.
Now, after a 22-year career, the 43-year-old shooting guard boasts eight different All-Star Game appearances, two All-NBA Team selections, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Olympic gold medal. Vinsanity always contributed something to his team, no matter which one he played for. Because of this, he has nothing left to prove. Given his intangible instinct to score, historic longevity and willingness to lead a team through thick and thin, Carter is, and will forever be, an NBA legend.
Ryan Chien covers rowing. Contact him at