It didn’t really hit Vince Carter that the Hawks’ March 11 game vs. the Knicks could be the last game of his career until teammate Dewayne Dedmon pointed it out.
“He was like ‘Man, this might be your last one,’ ” Carter said on Wednesday’s episode of his podcast, The Ringer’s “Winging It with Vince Carter and Annie Finberg.”
“ ‘They could possibly stop play or end the season right here.’ And I was like, ‘That would be crazy.’ And that was kind of it, and all the sudden you start hearing cheers because I guess it kind of hit everyone else.”
Carter, who has been working on his golf game while in social-distancing mode, discussed the fate of this upended season for essentially the first time, although he did say after that loss that he’s content with the quiet ending to his NBA-record 22nd season. After Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the league suspended play that Wednesday, and it has yet to be determined if the rest of the regular season will be played as the country tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Carter didn’t want to expound upon his career maybe coming to a close while this season was up in the air, he said, but decided to open up about it on the podcast. Heading into that game vs. the Knicks, he was taking a normal, game-by-game approach, but as the threat of the coronavirus grew, he had his doubts the rest of the season would pan out.
“I guess there was just a small part of me that was just like ‘Uh, I don’t know if we’re going to make it,’ ” Carter said.
The Hawks trailed 67-50 at halftime, and coach Lloyd Pierce told Carter the news of Gobert’s positive test. After that, Carter knew the season couldn’t continue.
“All of a sudden, you get to game time and you’re playing,” Carter said. “It was a weird game, how it was going. And you get to halftime and first, coach kind of laid into us a little bit because we weren’t playing great basketball in the first half, and right before we start the third quarter, (Pierce) walks up to me and he was like ‘You heard about Rudy Gobert?’ And I was like, ‘No, I was shooting, how would I?’ He kind of tells us and then the next thing you know the whispers start happening on the bench, and as soon as I heard that I was like, ‘They’re definitely stopping the season right now.’ ”
In addition to his avid golf game, which keeps him in the routine of practicing and competing, what’s making that tough pill to swallow a lot easier is that he made his final shot (if it indeed is his last). He’s taking the approach that the season has come to a close, and if any of the Hawks’ remaining 15 games are played, then it’s a bonus.
“It’s something I’ll always remember. … If that was the last game, that was the last shot, I made my last shot and I’m cool with it and I’m OK,” Carter said. “I feel good about my career and how things ended. If not and the season continues, it continues. Just like that. In my mind, I’m approaching it as the season’s over.”
Toward the end of that loss to the Knicks, as word spread throughout State Farm Arena that the season had been suspended, the crowd started chanting Carter’s name. Not one for festivities or spotlight, Carter resisted at first — then, he looked over at Pierce, and reality hit him. He wanted to check in and get a shot off.
“It seems like right after that moment, they started to chant again, and it got louder and louder, and I was like ‘Nah, I’m good,’” Carter said. “And I kind of made eye contact with Coach and he was like ‘Yeah.’ And right then, it’s like a chill just hit me like, ‘oh, shoot.’”
DeAndre’ Bembry started nudging him toward the court from the bench. Teammates wanted him to dunk it, but Carter, 43, known as one of the best dunkers in the league in his prime, said he’d been sitting on the bench too long to attempt a dunk. But Trae Young got him the ball, and he sank a 3-pointer toward the end of overtime.
His shooting hadn’t been up to his standards all season, but in that final sequence, everything went according to plan.
“It’s one of those moments, people, if they think of a game-winning shot, you think sometimes you want to shoot the ball and you want it to be perfect,” Carter said. “You want to have the perfect form, the perfect arc, the perfect follow-through, the whole nine. I’ve always been a guy where I believe, I’ve trusted all the work (I’ve put in) and I hadn’t been shooting the ball well in my opinion all year, but when it came down to a shot I needed to make, it was like second nature and I had done it before. So Trae throws the ball, I take my one-two step and just shoot it like I’d been playing the whole game.
“It’s giving me chills right now, actually. It was kind of a chilling moment to see it go in. Because at first I was like all right, the season’s going to (come) back. But at the same time, I was like, just in case it doesn’t, you might want to try and make this.”
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