Atlanta Hawks guard Vince Carter (15) reacts in the first half during a NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Saturday, January 18, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Vince Carter won’t get chance for another retirement conversation with Kobe Bryant

Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant spoke twice about retirement.

As much as Carter wants, there won’t be another conversation.

Vince Carter is calling it a career after this year, his NBA-record 22nd season. Bryant played 20 seasons before leaving the game in 2016. There was a hug and parting words of ‘see you soon’ after Bryant and his daughter watched the Hawks play a game in Brooklyn earlier this season. Surely there would be time for the two NBA legends to further discuss life after basketball.

It was not to be.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in Southern California. They were on their way to a youth basketball tournament. Carter and the Hawks had a home game against the Wizards Sunday afternoon.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Life and death of Kobe Bryant

Carter, then with the Grizzlies, recalled a conversation he had with Bryant in their final game against each other before the Lakers icon called it a career.

“I remember asking him was he ready to retire?” Carter said Sunday night. “He said he is ready. How are you going to handle it? Twenty years of doing something, how do you handle it? He said he’d be OK.”

Now with Carter on the verge of retirement, they had another conversation on Dec. 21 as Bryant and his daughter watched the Hawks play the Nets from courtside seats.

“I said ‘How is it?’ ” Carter said. “He said he was the happiest he’s been, getting the opportunity to see his girls grow up. Helping his daughter figure out the game and understand it the way he understood it. You could see that in her game. The next time, he asked me if I was ready to handle it. … He said ‘You’ll enjoy it. It’s peaceful.’ He said that’s when he was his happiest. 

“He said we’ll connect soon and we’ll talk about it, the steps he went through to be at his happiest and comfortable with retiring.”

Carter called the sudden death of Bryant “crushing to me.” He sees himself in Bryant. He waits for the days when he can devote his time to this daughter’s endeavors. He appreciates that he can be at his happiest after stepping away from the sport he has devoted his life to mastering.

Carter said others can see the new outlook of Bryant after a playing career that was marked by his competitive nature.

“You go through the 20 years of Kobe’s career and you think of how many people hated Kobe because of how great he was and you get to that last game when he scored 60-something points,” Carter said. “ … I think the world grew to love him even more after retirement because of the love he started to show different people. I’m talking kids in college, Trae (Young), his last tweet to LeBron (James, who just one day earlier surpassed him for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list). You could see a man who was such a fierce competitor at peace as he was sits courtside now. It’s not the Mamba competing against whoever. It’s the dad teaching his daughter the ins and outs of the game. … That’s what I saw and that’s what I think a lot of people saw.”

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