The Sports-Reference sites list a combined 53,104 players across Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL. Only 64 of them -- that's 0.1 percent -- are named Vince. Counted among them, though, are Vince Carter, Vince Coleman, and Vince Young, each of whom I find fascinating.
Previously on SB Nation Reviews: Willie McGee
In the world of sports, people named Vince might be more interesting, per capita, than people named anything else. If I cracked the definition of Vince just a little wider, the phenomenon would be even more staggering. We'd have Vin Scully, The World's Most Likable Human. We'd have Vincent "Bo" Jackson, the greatest athlete in American history and hero of my childhood. We'd have WWE owner Vince McMahon, who ... is Vince McMahon. Reviews on those men are coming at a later date, I'm sure.
For now, we concern ourselves with reviewing the Vinces Carter, Coleman, and Young.
The data I present here is factually accurate, but by virtue of how I choose to use it, I would be thrown out of any self-respecting academic institution. Just wanted to get that out of the way before I introduce the Basketball Shot Triathlon:
1. Proficiency of dunking. This is, of course, highly subjective. I'm relying on the list of NBA Slam Dunk Contest winners, which, at the least, provides a fairly solid list of our most beloved dunkers.
2. Prolificity of all shots. Dunks, layups, mid-range jumpers, three-pointers, everything, expressed in terms of career points per game.
3. Proficiency of unreasonably long shots. Almost without exception, these are the long-distance heaves taken in desperation as the clock expires. Unlike the first two qualifiers, this one consists only of a single event: the very longest shot a player ever successfully made.
These are my findings.
Way out in front is Vince Carter, his career 20.2 points per game (which may fade just a bit as his career winds down), and his 86-foot shot. As far as I've been able to gather, that is the second-longest shot ever made by an NBA player. Baron Davis' shot was a little bit longer, but his body of work in the dunking industry doesn't come close to Carter's.
Vince Carter, according to a standard I just made up, is our modern era's grand champion. By the standards everyone else follows, though, he's certainly a Hall of Fame candidate. He's No. 30 on the all-time scoring list, and if he gets another season or two in, he might pass the likes of Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley.
Most of the Vince Carter performances we'll remember best are the zero-foot shots.
In my judgment, Vince Carter is the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history. In his prime, his vertical was absurd, but his theatrics were unparalleled. Windmills, reverse jams, 360s, dunks that wrapped around defenders ... essentially, if there was ever a type of dunk in an NBA game, Vince Carter has done it.
As he and his knees have grown older, Carter's game has changed. He's always possessed a good three-point shot, and now he's leaning on it. As a rookie, only about nine percent of his attempts were threes; these days, they account for nearly half his shots. Thirty-seven-year-old Vince Carter no longer puts up star-caliber numbers, but he's still effective.
Carter is a member of that endless fraternity of great players who are dogged for never getting a ring. Like his cousin and former teammate, Tracy McGrady, he's never even made it to the Finals.
I'd argue that this is a somewhat ridiculous standard to apply to an athlete in in a team sport, and it's even more ridiculous as applied to players in the Association. Over the last 30 years, the World Series has been won by 18 different teams, and even in the dynasty-happy NFL, the Super Bowl has been won by 15 different teams. The last 30 NBA championships, meanwhile, are held by eight franchises. Six of them have at least three of those. The Mavericks are the only one-time winners in that period to squeeze in with the NBA's elite.
Vince Carter, almost inevitably, fell short of the enormous expectations set upon him, and his production regressed as he aged, because that is almost always what happens. Regardless, he's one of the NBA's great performers of the 21st century.
The artistry of Carter's dunks certainly contributes a lot to his style score, and the moments I consider his greatest are the ones that embrace the style of a dunk: sudden, shocking, and followed by a chorus of bewildered yelling and screaming. These are the Three Miracles of Vince Carter.
THE DUNK OF DEATH
This might be the moment Vince Carter is most famous for. At the 2000 Summer Olympics, he picks off a lazy pass and moves to the rim. In his way is France's Frédéric Weis.
Weis is 7'2". Carter is 6'6". Carter jumps over him. The French, masters of language that they are, called this "le dunk de la mort," or "the dunk of death." It remains one of my very favorite moments in the history of sports, and for reasons that would pale if put into any words but, "it was fucking awesome."
THE SIT-DOWN 86-FOOTER
No, the shot I charted above was not in a game, and I'm sorry if you feel jerked around. Even though this was merely a side project, I'm accepting it into Vince Carter Canon and stacking it against all those in-game long shots, because:
1. He was probably about as well-defended as anyone who took an 86-footer in a game would be, and
2. He was sitting down.
The mere existence of this video is fundamentally absurd. It follows that if Carter even tried this shot, it means he believed there was a possibility of making it. Just as absurd, someone else saw him trying, and found its success likely enough to justify standing around with a video camera.
So yes, let the record state that Vince Carter is the perhaps the most electrifying purveyor of both the shortest-distance score, and the longest-distance score. He has left everything in between for the rest of your jokers. But at the beginning and at the end, you will find him.
THA CARTER 3
One of the greatest crowd pops I've ever heard, courtesy of Vince Carter, April 26th, 2014. The guy running the score graphic is so shook up that he gives the bucket to the wrong team.
Carter is 37 now. He's the basketball Giving Tree; he is old and cut down, and has nothing but threes to give you. But he will give you his threes.
As a base-stealer of the 1980s, Coleman inevitably stands in the shadow of Rickey Henderson, who was not only the best base-stealer of all time, but one of the best players of all time, period. In his record-breaking season, Rickey stole 130 bases, but I would argue that Coleman's 107 steals in 1986 were an even greater achievement.
See, Rickey was an expert at getting on base. He found himself standing on a bag 251 times in his 130-steal campaign. Coleman, who hit just .232, only got on base 202 times. He just wasn't all that great of a hitter, so he had to do more with less.
No one besides Vince Coleman has stolen that many bases with that rate of success. He had 107 steals and was caught only 14 times. On paper, he attempted to steal a base almost exactly 60 percent of the times he was on base. That number would probably be closer to 80 percent if we could filter out all the times there was some asshole on the next base and he couldn't steal it.
So, think about that: in 80 percent of the times Coleman could steal a base, he tried. In 88 percent of the times he tried, he succeeded. Everyone in baseball knew how much he loved to steal, and almost nobody could do anything about it. Coleman might run on the first pitch, or the second, or the third, but as far as whether he would steal was concerned, there was no trickery.
Stealing, like most things in baseball, is usually all about guile, but it wasn't with Vince Coleman. Other base-stealers picked your pocket. He just ran up and stole your baby carriage. It's like he was playing Stratego and turning around his flag so you could see it: "there it is. Now try and get it."
He was a considerably below-average hitter as far as outfielders go. His season with the 1994 Royals was a statistical catastrophe: through 104 games, his OPS+ was 59 -- that's really bad for any batter, and really, really bad for a guy taking up an outfield spot. He couldn't compensate for this like he used to. At age 32, and removed from the steal-happy world of Whitey-ball, he was only stealing 50 bases instead of 100. He played only one full season after that, and was out of baseball by age 35.
I don't care about his hitting, really. It's not what he did. Despite playing only eight honest-to-god full seasons, he's sixth on the all-time steals list, alongside a bunch of guys who played for 20 years.
Those who played R.B.I. Baseball surely remember the devastation Coleman, the fastest player in the game, could deal. He was kind of a glitch in real-world baseball, too. This was Vince Coleman's first career home run, which, like all his R.B.I. Baseball home runs, was an inside-the-parker.
I'm playing it at double speed. It broke the GIF, and I have decided not to fix it. His legs move so quickly that if we pull half the frames out of the video, it doesn't even look like running. Watch as he rounds third. He looks like he's flying, like the laws of nature require his person to circle home plate just as unconditionally as it insists that an electron maintain its orbit around the nucleus.
It took Coleman 14.2 seconds to run around the bases. Since he certainly didn't run in a perfect square, and strayed well outside the baseline, he ran just a little further than 360 feet -- let's give him 375. At that pace, he would have a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, which would have beaten out nearly half the running backs at this year's NFL Combine. This in spite of the following:
1. Coleman maintained that pace while running over three times as far.
2. He had to run in a loop, which meant his body had to dedicate momentum and energy to maintain a consistent change in direction.
3. He had to time his gallop such that his foot would hit four specific spots on the ground.
4. He was not permitted to take a three-point stance out of the starting blocks. He didn't even get starting blocks. His starting position was, "turned the wrong way, holding a big piece of wood, and wearing a helmet and spikes."
5. He first had to hit a breaking ball approximately 335 feet.
Vince Coleman was Whitey-ball Incarnate. But his name is "Vince Coleman," and this is the rule if your name is Vince Coleman: you are either the hero or the villain of a story in which things literally explode.
There was a train dispatcher named Vince Coleman who worked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1917. One morning, there was a collision at the harbor, and a ship caught fire. Coleman, even after learning that the ship was full of explosives, heroically remained at his post only a few hundred feet away.
He sent message after message to inbound trains, warning them of impending disaster and telling them not to enter Halifax, up until the moment of explosion. It would be the largest man-made explosion in the history of humanity until the advent of nuclear weapons. He was counted among the 2,000 dead, and may well have saved hundreds of lives.
The baseball Vince Coleman, while with the Mets in 1993, lit a firecracker and threw it at some fans in the parking lot. This wasn't a black cat or Roman candle, mind you, but an explosive about as powerful as a quarter of a stick of dynamite. Three people, including a two-year-old, suffered minor injuries. He said he didn't mean to hurt anyone, and was regarded as a hero by absolutely nobody.
Vince Young's career is still alive, kind of, in that teams keep signing him in the offseason only to drop him a few weeks later. But in the sense that he's likely never to take another NFL snap, it's done.
And no quarterback's career ever ended like his did.
Young's pre-NFL football career was storybook nonsense. It starts with Young as a high school football god in Texas, which is kind of like starting Star Wars with fireworks and Ewoks. He remained in his home state, quickly winning the Longhorns' starting quarterback position, and became one of the greatest playmakers college football has ever seen. In his junior year, Young threw for more than 3,000 yards and ran for 1,000 more. In so doing, Young directly accounted for nearly two-thirds of the best offense in the nation.
The 2006 Rose Bowl was his last, and greatest, college triumph: 59 of the Longhorns' 75 offensive plays were either a Vince Young run or a Vince Young pass. He threw to anyone he felt like -- his 267 passing yards were distributed pretty evenly among five different guys. Whenever USC's defense even looked like it was coming close to an answer to his air attack, he simply ran for 10 yards a carry. It ended with a game-winning, fourth-down run through the end zone, through an ecstatic mob, and into the arms of a cow in a cowboy hat.
I suppose the first clue that this is the real world, where not everything is kismet-touched and things do not always go right, is that his home-state Houston Texans didn't select him with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. They were pre-occupied with sending their own quarterback, David Carr, on an ineffective, albeit noble, expedition to explore the Earth's mantel, and so Young was taken by the Titans at No. 3.
During his first two seasons in the NFL, Young ran a lot, suffered considerable accuracy issues, and frankly was not very good. After spending most of 2008 on the bench, he watched as the Titans nosedive to an 0-6 start in 2009, and coach Jeff Fisher -- who, it should be noted, may not have been so hot on drafting Young at all -- gave him back his starting job.
Young immediately led the Titans to five straight wins, and miraculously, they fell just barely short of a playoff spot. His play had improved considerably, but his most radical evolution was still ahead of him: in 2010, Vince Young became a game manager. He cut down his rushing attempts by half, and threw eight fewer passes per game than he did in his rookie year. He was making far fewer mistakes, and his passer rating -- which, up until that season, was 72.3 -- soared to 98.6.
It's staggering. In another life, Vince Young was one of the greatest multi-dimensional, show-stopping scoring threats his level of football had ever seen. Now he was basically Damon Huard. He had to become a game manager to be at his most effective. The Ferrari was driving the kids to piano lessons.
And the story of Vince Young's football performance, for the most part, ends right there. In Week 10, Young suffered a thumb injury. He wanted back in, and it's been suggested that perhaps he didn't communicate this clearly enough; nonetheless, Fisher held him out for the rest of the game. Young was furious. After the game, he chucked his shoulder pads into the stands, yelled at Fisher, and stomped out of LP field. He was never a full-time starter again.
(Fisher started Rusty Smith at quarterback the following game. In one of the very worst quarterback performances in the NFL that season, he threw no touchdowns and three interceptions, and the Titans were shut out. Smith is perhaps better remembered as the subject of one of the grandest pieces of found poetry of our time.)
In Vince Young, I saw a man who looked up and was delighted to see that they had built a big concrete donut around him, and staggered a bunch of little seats inside of it, and that those seats were full of people who loved the same thing he did, and maybe they even loved him.
In Tennessee, for the first time in his football life, those people didn't always love him. They booed and they threw stuff. His play on the field was the end product of his life's passion, his life's work. He showed it to everyone, and they hated it. I can't think of many things more brutal, and it got to him hard early in the 2008 season. Young went missing, and upon fearing that he was suicidal, Fisher called the police. Young showed up after a few hours; he would later say that the fans booing him during a home loss got to him, and that he had to get away, if only for a little while.
I just checked Young's Twitter account, but it looks like he shut it down. He used to fill that page by tweeting how much he loved Houston, loved Texas, and loved football, and wanted to play it again. A lot of people tweeted a lot of shitty things at him. They told him that he sucked and was washed-up and stupid*. Maybe he had to get away from that, too.
*The "stupid," no doubt, comes from his Wonderlic test score, which was originally reported to be remarkably low. The NFL deemed the report inaccurate, and anyway, the Wonderlic has been demonstrated to be a completely bullshit test, and is hawked by a bunch of joyless squares.
As for me, I am ride-or-die for Vince Young. I love him unconditionally. I hope he's out there somewhere, finding peace from the dummies and having a good time. That, I think, is his style: to do what he loves, not be told who he is, and make the people who love him happy.
This is the most, and greatest, Vince Young moment.
This is from the last game of the Titans' near-miraculous five-game win streak in 2009. Down 17-13 with 2:37 left in the game, the Titans were pinned at their own one yard-line. Young certainly wasn't perfect over the ensuing 99-yard drive; he threw a couple off the mark, and one completion that caromed through the air and landed in a receiver's hands by pure luck.
But he got them there, shouldering the load he was used to carrying at Texas: nothing but a bunch of Vince Young throws, and one Vince Young run. The final play, on fourth and 10 with six seconds remaining, was brilliant. He scrambled forward a bit, perhaps in the hopes of pulling off a few defenders who knew who he was and the damage he could deal with his feet, and then he fired a bullet through traffic and into the hands of Kenny Britt.
The Titans mobbed Britt in the end zone. He didn't follow them.
He wasn't running to the sideline, either. He shoved his way through his teammates so he could slap the hands of someone in the crowd.
That someone is wearing a funny mask of some sort. I have no idea who he is. If you're one of Vince Young's people, you probably aren't out there sweating through some giant mask, so I doubt Young knew him either. Didn't matter. Right after the longest possible game-winning drive that capped a 5-0 run after an 0-6 start, he made a beeline right to this guy.
You are legend, Vince Young.
Cumulative review of Vinces
There are very few Vinces in sports, but without them, we would lack so many spectacles: a game-winning quarterback run in the last minute of a national championship. An Olympic high jump, measured in Frenchmen. A man so unstoppably fast that if he hit a single, he probably hit a double. A man sitting on the ground and throwing a ball through a rim 1.6 percent of a mile away. A man swimming through every defense in college football as though they were water. A-plus-plus. Would watch, assign unreasonable expectations, boo, hiss, cheer, and gawk in total disbelief again.