Hawks forward Vince Carter discusses making history as the first NBA player to play in four decades. (Video by Sarah Spencer/AJC)

Vince Carter reflects on being the first to play in NBA for four decades

Vince Carter stood by his locker after the Hawks’ win against the Pacers Saturday, attempting to explain the inexplicable. 

What are the emotions like after officially becoming the first NBA player to play in four decades? 

The 42-year-old Carter, playing in his NBA-record 22nd year, started to respond, only to be interrupted by 21-year-old teammate Trae Young, two lockers to Carter’s left: “Damn, four decades?! That’s crazy,” Young joked, giving Carter a hard time as he wove through a crowd of media. 

“Shut up,” Carter shot back with a smile and the cadence of mentor. 

Before Saturday’s game, Carter had seen a photo of himself with former Toronto teammate and 1984 draft pick Hakeem Olajuwon. 

“And then you have the little loud mouth guy that just left here, Trae,” Carter said of Young, a 2018 draft pick. “As much as I talk to people and handshake former teammates that are now GMs, coaches, whatever they are, I can say I played against Michael Jordan and now I’m playing (with) the Trae Youngs, and all the stars of today. I’m just very thankful to still be around and compete at this level.” 

For pretty much everyone in the league, including his current teammates and coach, Carter’s longevity is a marvel. Carter was the 1999 rookie of the year and won the NBA’s slam dunk contest in 2000. 

“I barely remember Hakeem Olajuwon, and that was your teammate?” 43-year-old Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said after Saturday’s win. “... Every milestone is just ridiculous, what he’s been able to accomplish and, our guys, I hope they really, really appreciate having him around.” 

Ask any Hawks player, and it certainly sounds like that’s the case. 

“That’s legendary,” Young said of Carter’s milestone. “I’m blessed to be able to share a locker room and have that veteran presence around me. You guys see his locker is always right by mine. It’s something I don’t take for granted. It’s special for me to be able to play with him.” 

With the addition of Jabari Parker and De’Andre Hunter, Carter’s playing time has gone down from last season as the Hawks focus on their young core, averaging 5.2 points in 15.8 minutes per game this year. 

But everywhere he goes, he’s a phenomenon — it’s not often opposing crowds protest when a player from the visiting team misses a fadeaway. 

Carter received a standing ovation upon checking into Saturday’s win, and hit a 3-pointer not long afterward.

Carter credits his longevity to a continued desire — and ability — to compete.

“I love playing,” Carter said. “I love competing. I’ve loved this game. It’s been good to me. I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s given me opportunities that I would’ve never known or seen, been introduced to.

“As a young kid, it was just a goal to be here. Once you get here, it’s a goal to stay here. Once I got older it’s a goal to still stay here. There are different milestones for me that have nothing to do with scoring. There are a bunch of 40-year-olds who have played in this league, but I want to be a 40-year-old still contributing, still competing.”

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