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An appreciation of Vince Carter, the Sacramento King

As the future Hall of Famer nears retirement, let’s celebrate Vince Carter’s lone season in Sacramento

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Hi there Sactown Royalty, my name is Sabreena, and I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself.

The first NBA game I ever went to at Staples Center was the Clippers against the Sacramento Kings. I remember the pregame so vividly — the Kings stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle, and Vlade Divac led them in a dance, something resembling a can-can. I went into the game thinking that the Clippers were supposed to be the fun team, but the Kings outclassed them in every way that day. They danced, they won, and at least for a moment, they captured my interest.

I can’t tell you that day magically turned me into a Kings fan. I lived in Los Angeles — it just wasn’t going to happen. But maybe because of that game, or because living in the Pacific Time zone makes watching Sacramento convenient, or because I simply love the purple in the Kings color scheme, the Sacramento Kings have featured prominently in my NBA fandom. And here I am, twenty years later, embarking on a new journey to join Sactown Royalty to help cover this team as a Producer of California Fan Communities.

I have been a part of the SB Nation family for a couple of years now, mostly contributing to Clips Nation and Silver Screen and Roll. I’ve been writing for much longer than that, dating back to my time at Duke. More recently, I’ve been covering the NBA and WNBA for Dime Magazine, Sports Illustrated, High Post Hoops, and The Athletic.

But I’m so happy to be full-time at SB Nation now, and that’s because this place gets what it means to be a fan. Objectivity has its place, but real, deep, sometimes irrational investment in teams and in players is way more fun. NBA fandom is in my blood. It’s the way my dad felt American as an immigrant in the 1980s. It’s the way I tried to make friends in school, the way I spent my time when that was hard, and now the way I find myself making a living.

It’s a strange time to be a basketball fan right now. It feels like a part of me is missing, and I’m sure many of you feel the same. It’s unlike anything any of us have gone through before. At least I have the opportunity now to get to know the Kings better, and to get to know you all better, so that we can hit the ground running whenever the NBA comes back. I’m ready to learn, and there’s no better place than here.

If I know anything about the Kings right now, it’s that this fandom is more resilient than most. We’re going to need that. In the meantime, we’re still going to talk basketball. It’s the only thing I can think to do right now. Hope you all continue to stick around.

Wednesday was a heavy night in the NBA, and perhaps nowhere was it more emotional than Atlanta, where Vince Carter may have played his final professional game.

Chris Kirchner of The Athletic painted the scene well: Carter had played 12 minutes in a game that the Hawks were about to lose, as they trailed by seven points late in overtime. His teammates willed him to the scorers’ table while the State Farm Arena crowd chanted his name.

Carter reluctantly agreed to enter the game, and what transpired next was a thing of beauty. He inbounded the ball to Trae Young, who brought the ball up and fed it back to Carter at the top of the key. There, he took what could be the last shot of his NBA career as every other player on the court rooted for it to go in.


Carter is universally beloved in the league, the high-flying dunker who had an acrimonious exit from Toronto but then reinvented himself into one of the best teammates in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings locker room is a testament to that.

Even though Carter only spent one season in Sacramento, and a fairly nondescript one at that, his presence was celebrated throughout that year. If in fact Carter never plays another game as an NBA player, it’s a good time to reflect on the surefire Hall of Famer’s time as a King.

Carter’s arrival in Sacramento coincided with that of Zach Randolph, another player who had been coached by Dave Joerger on the Memphis Grizzlies. He seemed pretty realistic about why he was with the Kings when he spoke at the 2017 media day.

“At this point, it’s not really about the money, more so than the opportunity. I still want to play in this league. I didn’t want to sit and collect a check and ride a wave of some championship team,” Carter said. “I want to play, I want to contribute and still help the young guys get better and go through the ups and downs of this league, cause I’ve been there.”

The comments from the young Kings suggest that Carter did just that with the young Sacramento roster. De’Aaron Fox said during the year that Carter was basically another coach on the bench, someone who willed Fox to take control of the team as the point guard. Fox also spoke after the year about how Carter, who is 21 years older than him, set an example for taking care of your body. Harry Giles didn’t even get to play with Carter since he redshirted his rookie year, but he still recognized that Carter inspired him with his veteran leadership.

Blake Ellington wrote on this site about how some former Kings, including Justin Jackson and Skal Labissiere, marveled at Carter’s ability to contribute at his age, and how he was still the loudest guy on defense. Willie Cauley-Stein was especially effusive in his praise of Carter, who gave him three specific lessons: perfect your craft, work on the mental side of your game, and maintain your body. It’s too bad that advice is now being put to use in Dallas and Portland, but Carter’s impact lives on.

The 2017-18 season marked the 20th of Carter’s career, and the 43 year old still managed to meaningfully contribute to Kings wins. As Tim Maxwell discovered in his player grades, Carter’s presence on the court bumped up the net ratings of six of the seven Sacramento players on rookie contracts, including Fox and Buddy Hield.

His best game probably came against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he helped lead the Kings to a 14-point win despite facing off against LeBron James and the core of a team that would make it back to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year. Carter’s 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting were a throwback to a throwback to his All-Star days, and he may have single-handedly set in motion Jae Crowder’s ultimate exit from Cleveland.

Carter’s most unforgettable individual moment was probably the 3-pointer that grazed every part of the rim before rolling in, moving him past Patrick Ewing for 22nd on the all-time scoring list. He has since reached 19th place, and the only silver lining to his season potentially being cut short is that Carter was unlikely to catch Kevin Garnett at his current scoring rate.

But this is still Vince Carter, and it’s hard to remember him as anything but half man, half amazing, even at the ripe old age of 41. Whether it was sinking pregame trick shots with ease, or turning layup lines into dunk contest practice, Carter always presented the possibility of something magical.

It never gets old watching Carter rise up, flush one down, and then rev the engine before coming back down the court.

Like when he picks the pocket of his 1998 draft class peer Dirk Nowitzki and glides to the basket on the break. There’s so much joy on his face.

Or when he drives past Aaron Gordon, one of the presumptive heirs to Carter’s dunking throne, and slams one over him.

There are so many reasons to love Vince Carter, and he showed off the whole package in Sacramento: the class, the leadership, the veteran savvy, and the hops. It may not have resulted in a whole lot of wins, but there are few players who have donned this uniform in the past decade and been more revered.

For 22 years, Carter has delighted fans with his one-of-a-kind talent. Even if it was just for one season, the Kings were so fortunate to have been a part of the ride.