The Mavericks will always remember Vince Carter fondly. And the feeling is mutual.
Carter hit one of the most memorable shots in franchise history with his 3-pointer from the corner in Game 3 of the 2014 first-round playoff series, beating the buzzer and the San Antonio Spurs. That shot put the Mavericks up 2-1 in the series and while the Spurs came back to advance (eventually winning the NBA title), it was one of many crowning moments for Carter.
Carter usually walks over to that spot whenever he’s at American Airlines Center. But he didn’t get a chance on Saturday, when he and the Atlanta Hawks got blitzed by the Mavericks 123-100.
But the 43-year-old legend still had a great evening in what is expected to be his last trip back to AAC as a player. Dirk Nowitzki was in the house, as was Shawn Marion, to show their respect to Carter.
“It’s always great coming back to a team where you’ve played and had some great memories and some great battles,” Carter said afterward. “And it was cool to see a couple great teammates like Dirk and Matrix. I don’t care how you prepare for them (return visits), they’re special. It’s a great feeling.”
Between the first and second quarters, a video tribute was played with many dunks and the signature 3-pointer against the Spurs. A standing ovation ensued and Carter waved and thanked the crowd.
“To see that video, it was great,” he said.
Carter has been in the NBA through four decades, starting his career in 1998-99, the same year as Nowitzki. Naturally, Carter had a “wow” moment late in the first half when he rose up for a thunderous dunk, which got the home crowd’s approval.
Of course, right before that, Carter missed a 3-pointer, which opened the door for some good-natured ribbing from Nowitzki.
“He was just making fun of me missing an open three prior to (the dunk),” Carter said. “He said, getting old man. I said, just wait.”
When Carter threw down the dunk, Nowitzki responded with Carter’s trademark “rev it up” shtick.
While Nowitzki spent all of his 21 years with the Mavericks, Carter has been with eight teams in his 22 seasons, including the Mavericks for three seasons starting in 2011-12.
Coach Rick Carlisle called it an amazing three years. “He was the consummate everything — professional, teammate,” he said.
Carlisle said that Carter requested to be the sixth man because he respected the role that Jason Terry had turned that job into an honor to have.
Near the end of the game, Carter and Carlisle shared a long embrace.
“He’s great,” Carter said. “We still text and talk to each other. It’s just random sometimes. We were showing our appreciation for each other. It’s like buddies meeting up like old times.”
Said Carlisle: “Vince is such a cherished guy here. Everything he meant and everything he was about – 22 years is just something else. It’s really beyond words. He’s out there playing like a guy in his prime. It’s great to see.”
Carter has indicated this will be his last season as a player. And while he admitted to having trouble coming to grips with retirement earlier this season, recent conversations with two of his contemporaries convinced him that he could handle leaving the game on his own terms.
“I’m slowly but surely becoming one with it,” Carter said. “And I wasn’t in the first month or two (of the season). I’m prepared once I walk away. After (more than) 20 years and you won’t be doing it anymore, and you know it. It’s tough.
“The night Kobe and I had a conversation about it in Jersey (earlier this season) about his happiness in retirement was comforting to me.
“And then just a couple nights ago, passing Dirk (for third all-time in games played), I got a text from him and we ended up talking about that as well. So two guys I respect and I know very well saying something like that, it’s made it a little easier.”
There won’t be many regrets for Carter, except little things, like not hitting a shot Saturday night from what is affectionately known to him as “Vince’s Corner.”
“It would have been nice if I hit a three,” he said. “I shot one from over there. It just didn’t work out. It’s all right. It still lives on for me.”
Carter has been mum on whether he might finish his career with one last trip to the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend later this month. He made his reputation early in his career in Toronto as the high-flying “half-man, half-amazing” dunker who won the event in 2000.
“I know this,” Carlisle said, “he would make his dunks on the first try. He’d certainly be a crowd favorite.”
Briefly: The Mavericks will use Super Bowl Sunday as a travel day to Indiana, where they play the Pacers on Monday night. In the past few seasons when the team has been on the road for the Super Bowl, they have gotten together for a watching party . . . The Prairie View A&M marching band performed at halftime and it was a nice touch when they shifted seamlessly from the “PV” formation on the court to the “24” formation in honor of Kobe Bryant.