Vince Carter’s time with the Orlando Magic failed to live up to expectations. But the good memories far outweigh the bad memories as he ends his career.
Vince Carter did not get a lot of good memories in his homecoming to Orlando for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The Orlando Magic were focused wholly on winning a championship at that point and his arrival marked the ending of the beloved 2009 team and the serious business of trying to win basketball at the highest levels.
Yet, with Carter announcing his retirement after a 22-year career, a few precious memories come to mind.
In a nondescript game in April, the Magic had already wrapped up a playoff spot and were merely rounding their way into form for the postseason. They faced a Memphis Grizzlies team that would finish 40-42 but miss the Playoffs. This game meant something to them.
The Magic blew them out. They were in the zone going 33-8 in the final 41 games of that season. Games like this felt pro forma to them.
In the midst of that 107-92 victory, Carter stole the ball near mid-court with nobody in front of him. Even at 32 years old, an open runway like this was enough to get people to move out of their seats in anticipation.
Carter was not the high-flyer he once was, although he still glided through the lane and the air with seeming ease. But this was an invitation to do something special.
Carter had teased fans and gone for layups when a dunk seemed possible. And he said after the game he thought of just laying it in. But that idea changed quickly.
Instead of the simple layup, Carter decided to give the fans what they wanted. As if he decided to do it at the free-throw line, Carter sprung a one-handed 360 dunk. It woke the crowd up considerably in a game where he posted 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
This was actually one of Carter’s better games in a Magic uniform. And it all got reduced to the feeling everyone had in that one moment. That one dunk.
Signs of success, signs of failure
Two things define Carter’s tenure with the Magic.
The one that would seemingly overwhelm Magic fans’ perception of Carter is his ultimate failure in the Playoffs. The Magic after their 2009 trip to the Finals pushed every chip in to improve the team in 2010. They largely did so except in the result.
After walking through the first eight games of the Playoffs, the Orlando Magic met the Boston Celtics. Carter actually kept the team afloat with 23 points in a four-point Game 1 loss. But his two missed free throws late in Game 2 with a chance to tie the game are added to a long list of regrettable free throw misses in Magic history.
He largely disappeared from the series after that. And his time as a starring player was pretty much over.
There was signs he was in decline. But they still believed he could give the team the perimeter scoring punch to support the balanced offense around him.
The Magic acquired Carter after a string of nine straight seasons averaging at least 20 points per game. But he never reached that height again. Orlando got the 32-year-old at the end of his prime.
Carter needed a few years to redefine his role, turning into a sharpshooting role player off the bench until he became the mentor for young players in his final years.
His basketball legacy lacks a championship for sure. The 2010 season was as close as Carter ever got to winning a title. And his late-career decision to work with developing teams showed winning was a priority, but not his first priority. He did not need that to satisfy his career.
That is ultimately OK. Even among Magic fans, his Playoff struggles get mentioned, but they do not define his time with the team. His time with the Magic is indeed a reflection of his entire career in many ways.
The memories that stand out about Carter are not his championships or the big games he played in. They are the moments he created and the wide-eyed highlights he created. They inspired an entire generation of basketball players in an entire country. He became worth the price of admission on his own for the chance he could do something incredible.
That happened in Orlando that night against Memphis. Carter pulled something out of his bag of tricks.
It was seen every game during warmups during the team’s “Magic Show,” a pregame dunk routine that featured Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis showing off their athleticism in warmups.
It was seen when Carter went off for 48 points in a February win over the New Orleans Hornets. Carter turned the clock back and put in the most breathtaking scoring performance from a Magic player the team has seen in the last 10 years.
Carter still had that bit of magic (pun intended) in his bag of tricks. He was still capable of creating those special moments. And those special moments tend to carry the weight when it comes to Carter.
Vince Carter made the NBA better
Orlando, of course, is a special place for Carter. He grew up in Daytona Beach and went to Mainland High School. It was bitterly disappointing to see him struggle to lift the Magic up and get the shot at the championship that always eluded him.
That unfortunately will always be a part of his story. But even though Carter represented something of the break up of a popular team and his team failed to accomplish its goal in a title-or-bust season, Carter is still remembered fondly.
His career and his time in Orlando are still looked upon with warmth. That is what made Carter special. He made the impossible seem real at all times. He did so with a cool and calm demeanor that seemed to make everyone play easier.
Carter made the NBA better.
His time with Orlando was still the good times and still a good time for fans. It may have been the end of Carter as a leading man. It may have been a mixed bag with results — that ultimately ended in failure.
But Carter remains the exciting memory in our mind. He is always rising, spinning and dunking. He is always smooth and unflappable.
This is the wonder Carter brought. And that is his ultimate legacy.