It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years since Vince Carter first started playing in the National Basketball Association, his nightly highlight reel of dunking mastery helping to put the Toronto Raptors on the map.
He may be reviled by many in Toronto for the way it all came to a rather clumsy end some eight years ago when he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, but No. 15, who is now 35 and a bench player for the Dallas Mavericks, said he still gets flushed with excitement every time he returns to the Canadian city to play a game.
The Mavericks are in Toronto to play the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre Friday night.
Carter said the first thing he does when entering the building is gaze up at the rafters to spot the banner proclaiming the building's opening on Feb. 20, 1999 when the Toronto Maple Leafs played the first game in the new building.
The next night, the Raptors had their turn, taking on the now defunct Vancouver Grizzlies.
"I was able to make the first shot in Raptors history," Carter said Friday afternoon after the Mavericks shot-around at the ACC. "Some of you guys who are new here, look that up. That's something I'll never forget.
"And from that moment everything evolved to me being here today, still being able to still walk on a basketball court and play and come back here and play, and it's 2000-something."
Carter is not the human highlight reel he once was, but he has still got some game, relying as much on his veteran savvy as he does his athletic prowess.
He has become something of a mentor to the younger players, much like the way Charles Oakley took him under his wing back when he was a rookie.
"When I first got here, just learning about the league, what the NBA is about, the second day of practice Charles Oakley put his arm on my shoulder and said ‘I'm going to show you the way,’" Carter said "What do you say to that, first and foremost. But I was fortunate to have a lot of veterans just like that.
"I kind of feel like I should do the same for the next wave of guys, or next generation. I enjoy it. I think it helps my game, it helps me fine tune my game.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said he looks at Carter now and sees a player who can still cause a lot of damage.
"I tell you what, he reminds me a lot of Jason Kidd, just that old veteran, knows how to play, game comes easy to him," Casey said. "He's one of those guys, he's hard to double team because he reads situations so well. He's just a natural. Again, it goes back, the game is just so easy for him. Comes off pick and rolls, get to the basket. Go ahead and double team me I'll pick you apart.
"So he hasn't slowed down, still the same Vince - probably doesn't have the same hops as he had back when he was here, but the same athletic, gliding gazelle that he's always been. Great player and one of our greats in the game."
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