Every Nets fan remembers where they were when they heard the Vince Carter news.
The spiraling world stopped. It felt like things were falling apart in New Jersey and then everything just... froze. The team had made two straight Finals appearances and then lost to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the year before. The Nets lost the heart and soul of the team in Kenyon Martin. They were plagued with injuries the following year, starting the season 7-14 with very little hope and minimal talent to surround Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson.
Then, VC was traded to the Nets.
The Nets finished the season 35-26 from that point on, slipping into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season – an improbable turnaround from a team that was expected to fall far out of the playoffs.
It was easy to understand why everybody called him “Half man, half amazing.” He finished that season averaging 28 points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting 42.5 percent from three. Dave D’Alessandro, the great Star-Ledger beat reporter, wrote that after that December 14 trade, no one in the NBA played better that season ... and he was right.
And just like that, he became Jason Kidd’s running partner in three straight postseason appearances.
The Nets were already a good team, but Carter made them cool. His electric dunks and 360 spin shots were damn near magical, and it happened on a nightly basis. Sitting at the Continental Airlines Arena, it meant something when you hear PA Announcer Gary Sussman yell, “DID YOU SEE V-C?” because you knew you just witnessed something special.
Carter played five seasons with the Nets. He is third in franchise history for total points, he was a three-time All-Star and made the postseason three out of his five seasons. Injury-prone while in Toronto, he missed only 11 games over that time span ... and the Nets lost every one of them. He never won a ring, but he, Kidd and Richard Jefferson kept the Nets relevant for several years.
No. 15 is a major reason why many Nets fans are here today.
“I just was a kid in my room watching VC and the New Jersey Nets,” said Kyrie Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “Like I said, I’m a die-hard New Jersey Nets fan before they came to Brooklyn.” That was a kid’s dream to go see Vince Carter and Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets play. But specifically, Vince Carter used to do some amazing things. It was incredible as a kid to watch. I don’t want to take it for granted how much he’s given up his life, sacrificing his time with his family and his friends to be playing basketball for this long.”
Kids who were in the stands watching good basketball at the Meadowlands are grown up, like Irving, and followed the team to Brooklyn. There’s little debate whether Carter should have his number 15 retired at Barclays Center.
As MaxaMilliion711, a frequent poster of Carter highlights, tweeted Thursday ...
New Jersey was a smaller basketball market, so this version of VC got less national attention. But for those who watched on a nightly basis, we were treated to the best VC had to offer.— Max Frishberg (@MaxaMillion711) June 25, 2020
Let's hope the @BrooklynNets retire number 15! pic.twitter.com/WuAmZEzcKI
VC approved the idea after he played his final game against the Nets in January.
“When you look up in the rafters here and you see the group of people that is up there, if I one day get that opportunity or that honor, I’m OK with going up there. Be with guys who I looked up to like Dr. J and a great teammate like J-Kidd.”
There were so many memories, so many highlights. One cannot even fit all of them in here, so here are just a few of the most special ones.
“IT’S A V-C THREEEEE!”
Ah, what a call that was. Nets fans heard it plenty as he sits third all-time for three-pointers made by a Net with 638, trailing Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles. This was just another regular season game where VC made the improbable look easy: A pull-up three-pointer from near-half court to defeat the Atlanta Hawks. It was like… you anticipated he might do something crazy until he actually did it. Then you were shocked all over again.
This buzzer beater is an absolute classic moment in Nets history. Not just New Jersey Nets history, Nets history, the whole thing...
The New Jersey Nets had a lot of moving pieces back then. Alonzo Mourning was a big one. The Nets gave him a four-year, $22.6 million contract in 2003. Mourning was unhappy in Jersey, unhappy with then owner Bruce Ratner, who broke up the team not long after Mourning became a Net. Here’s how he later described his tenure at CAA.
“It got to the point here — I never felt this way about basketball in my life — where I didn’t care. Where I stepped on the floor and it was like, ‘Wow, I don’t care.’ It was kind of unfortunate, because I never thought I would reach that level.”
Nets fans did not like Mourning after that. He was traded to Toronto in the Carter deal, never crossing the border, never getting a physical. He was ultimately bought out so he could re-join the Miami Heat. He was booed every time he played against the Nets. And then, THIS happened...
“Vince Carter just took the imaginary ladder.”
It is one of the best dunks of his career and hearing Ian Eagle scream and Jim Spanarkel simply laughing – it’s arguably the most memorable dunk and moment in Nets history. (Gerald Green might disagree, but this one had DRAMA!)
Carter was back in Toronto after spending seven seasons there. The crowd was rowdy, booing Carter every chance they got. It was quite puzzling at the time, considering all that he’d done for the Raptors organization and Toronto as a whole. He took it personally and scored 39 points – sending the game to overtime with an alley-oop dunk and then ending the game like this:
“Vince Carter. Back in Toronto. With a bang.”
Kidd running up and jumping on Carter hits you right in the feels – and so many of these moments did. Vince Carter may not have won a ring during his Nets tenure, but he did so much for this organization, while being a model citizen and consummate professional during his time here.
Aside from the requisite accolades, the future Hall-of-Famer deserves a special night in Brooklyn when the time comes, when the crowds are back. After all, he might be the last Net from New Jersey worth celebrating (if you don’t count Brook Lopez.)
He was far from perfect. He struggled to carry a team deep into the playoffs. He never got out of the second round as a Net and he failed to make the playoffs after Jason Kidd was traded.
And still, that shouldn’t diminish his greatness on the court. During his veteran years, he never joined a super team to win a bogus ring. Instead, he embraced the leadership/mentor roles on rebuilding teams late in his career, which might have been a big reason why his career lasted as long as it did.
The emotions he engendered in fans were like few others. The dunks were endless and so were the circus shots. The electricity he and J-Kidd brought to the game was one of the most fun duos the 2000’s NBA has seen.
So it’s not odd that Nets fans will never forget where they were when Carter was traded to New Jersey because he brought so many of them home. He brought hope when things looked grim after Ratner began to break up the team. He somehow made the poorly marketed New Jersey Nets cool… and fun.
Farewell, Vince Carter. Number 15 ought to be in the Barclays Center rafters one day.
Well said, JKidd.