ATLANTA — Vince Carter is relaxing inside the training room of the Philips Arena visitor’s locker room about an hour before tipoff. Carter laughs on occasion, just taking in the moment. He’s already completed the rigorous pregame training routine that’s fueled his remarkable 19-year career, which is showing no signs of slowing down.
Just five days earlier, Carter threw down a thunderous dunk against the Hawks. Two days after that, a reverse dunk in a 24-point performance in his first start of the season. In pregame warmups before the Grizzlies’ game against the Pelicans, he punched in a between-the-legs slam.
“Man, wow,” Zach Randolph tells SB Nation. “Guys younger than him can’t even jump like that.”
Randolph, who has spent the past eight seasons with the Grizzlies, enjoys having Carter around.
“Vince brings a lot to the team,” he says. “You know that leadership, Hall of Fame. I call him ‘H.O.F.’”
One day, Vince Carter will indeed be in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. He has come a long way since he left the world stunned by his 2000 NBA Dunk Contest performance. He was so remarkable that even a young DeMar DeRozan in Compton took more of a liking to Carter than Kobe Bryant.
Carter’s turned that into a long and productive career in the 17 years since. Those Raptors highlights stick out the most, but he’s been a 10-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, and scored over 24,000 points while plying his trade for five different teams.
Most assume that players as explosive as Carter don’t age well. Yet Carter is in his 19th year in the league, still producing for Dave Fizdale’s team. Earlier in the season, he became the sixth player over the age of 40 to score 20 points in a game. With Chandler Parsons out for the season, Carter is even starting again as the Grizzlies gear up for the playoffs.
“The same guy has been here,” Carter says when asked to explain his longevity. “It’s just now I think my ability and my knowledge of the game is now taking over because I don’t dunk as much as people want me to. At the end of the day, I just know how to play the game, and it’s really helped me just do my role.”
To say that Carter “rests” to maintain good health
After games, he gets another workout in instead of going home right away. Sometimes, he works out his upper or lower body exclusively. It can be cardio, weights, or a combination of both.
“I just keep the core — keep the body tight and just treat my body like a well-oiled machine,” Carter says.
Mike Conley has picked up some of those habits from Carter. Before Carter arrived in Memphis in 2014, Conley simply rested and laid down after games. Now, he copies some of Carter’s tricks.
“Lift, to work on your legs, to do treatment, massages, all those things,” Conley says.
Conley also cut sugar out of his diet because of Carter.
“I’m eating a lot of peanuts and stuff instead,” Conley says. “Maybe a little raisins here and there.”
That calorie intake is the focus of Carter’s upkeep when he’s not between the lines on an NBA floor. He cut out alcohol long ago and increasingly treats his body like a temple.
“A 64 Chevy, it needs a lot of maintenance,” Carter says. “You always gotta stay working on it just to keep it running correctly. That’s kinda how I treat my body.”
But Tony Allen has a much simpler theory when it comes to Carter’s longevity.
“His passion for the game is still there,” Allen says. “Here’s a guy who has signed plenty of maxed-out deals and he still loves the game.”
The maintenance can only do so much, though. Getting up for dunks is still easy for Carter, but the landing is now difficult. When Carter’s feet hit the floor after his dunk against the Hawks, he feels immediate pain. Plus, Carter says that his dunks can actually hurt the Grizzlies because opponents immediately take the ball out for a fast break the other way.
“It was all great and everything, and I was like, ‘Aw mama my knee is killing me right now,’” he says.
But those problems won’t stop him from getting up. Carter can’t throw down reverse windmill jams anymore, but knows now to save his energy and unleash the hammer only when he finds it appropriate. Carter has eight dunks this season. That’s more than players like Derrick Rose, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, Marcus Smart, and dunk contest champion Glenn Robinson III.
“I compartmentalize it again, and maybe in five games I’ll bring it out,” he says.
Carter has also enjoyed mentoring younger players more than he expected, assuming they’re willing to listen.
Andrew Harrison, who spent the 2015-16 season in the D-League and signed with the Grizzlies in the 2016 offseason, is one of those players willing to listen, even though Carter is “old enough to be my dad.”
“What I try to do is just take what I see, how he prepares himself, how he just gets ready mentally and physically for every game,” Harrison says. “I try to take that and mend that into my own routine.”
Even though he’s the oldest player in the NBA, Carter is still producing better than many guys half his age. He isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, so why not assume he’ll keep doing this forever?
“When I don’t want to do that anymore, I’m going to walk away,” he says. “I will never disrespect the game.”