I'm going to be honest with you - I have an irrational love for Vince Carter.
Half-Man, Half-Amazing might be regulated to Half-Man Boob, Half-Neck Beard at this point in his career, but my love for VC started way before his acrobatic feats became surprises rather than expectations.
Part of it was my young, naïve brain. When basketball first became something I was aware of, I was a mere junior high student, a delinquent with no real context for basketball goings-ons other than whatever I could scrounge up on the Internet and ESPN highlights. Remember, this was the fall/winter of 2003/2004 - YouTube wasn't even invented yet (Good God, I'm getting old). I watched my Dallas Mavericks with great regularity but one product really swung me to Carter.
NBA Live 2004 for Playstation 2.
Yeah, not exactly the Roy Lichtenstein-for-Andy-Warhol inspiration, but hey, whatever works, right?
Carter was featured on the cover and to me, the game was marvelous. The gameplay was quick and fluid for the time and the game featured separate (and genius) dunk/layup and jumpshot buttons.
(Sidenote: not only was that concept incredible for those frustrated with the game deciding to pull up for a two-foot jumper, it created some amazing, "HOLY CRAP" scenarios, for instance: Playing with the Suns in the 2005 version in a tight-game online, I was only up by two in the fourth with about 30 seconds left. I had a chance for the dagger. I isolated with Nash at the top of the key, got a screen from Stoudemire and decided to rise up for a patented Nash clutch three-pointer. Except I hit the dunk/layup button. Nash floated the ball out one-handed beyond the arc much to my absolute horror. Except he swished it. I celebrated way too much with my buddy Jeff, fist-pumping and yelling into the night. It was about as much fun as a 14-year-old could have in suburban North Texas.)
Infatuated with the game, I also became infatuated with the cover athlete. I tried my darndest to throw an oop with Carter to himself in the game, to many unsuccessful results. In my free time, I would scour NBA.com and random video hosting websites (remember, no YouTube) for Carter highlights. I couldn't stop watching him. The ridiculous high-flying moves combined with a silky smooth jumper with unlimited range. Everything about him was awesome to my teenage self, even his style. Hell, he had more nicknames than any other athlete, and all of them were awesome. (Still love "Vinsanity." I don't care what you tell me.)
My freshman year of high school (which was still junior high because our school district was insane) I bought my second-most cherished Carter possession:
Yes, the Nike Shox VC IVs. I'm not a big shoe collector, but apparently these shoes weren't too well-received. I didn't care. They featured a color scheme I was in love with (the black and red ones), shox were easily the coolest shoes at the time and IT WAS VINCE CARTER'S SHOE. THE ONE HE WORE. I didn't care about girlfriends or playing football. I was wearing Vince Carter's shoe, damnit. I'm also pretty sure me and my friend Robert regularly watched this video five times a day:
As if that wasn't enough, Carter was my profile picture on my XANGA page. Because XANGA was the coolest. (Seriously though, Xanga is where you could say I first started "blogging." If you consider emo posts from a white teenager to be considered blogging.) I didn't really need anymore reasons to love VC, until this commercial popped up on my TV:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? A commercial of VC with Onyx's "Slam" in the background? I could have died after watching this commercial and been happy with the life I had lived.
The funny thing was, during this time, no one really liked Vince Carter. He was the LeBron James of his era, as he betrayed Toronto and left. He really started the trend for the whole "superstar quitting" meme of the social media generation. Toronto fans burned his jerseys and national writers gathered the page views and readers with their Vince Carter bashing columns.
He didn't try on defense. He only went to the basket when he wanted to get on the highlight real. He isn't a franchise guy. He never practiced seriously. All this was going on during my idolization of VC.
But I never knew any of it. The blogging world was much different then, and I was barely in high school: I spent my time actually playing basketball, band practice, hanging out with friends then reading NBA blogs. I just didn't have the interest. All my sports news came from ESPN and the local newspaper. So my ignorance and naïve brain actually helped me here, it allowed me to have a hero, even when everyone else already pegged him as a villain.
I campaigned to all my buddies that Carter was a missing piece for the post-Michael Finley Era Mavericks. Dallas in those days started a shit-filled slew of guards such as Adrian Griffin, a raw Raja Bell, Walt Williams, Devean George, Greg Buckner, Marquis Daniels and Antoine Wright at shooting guard. Really, that's pretty putrid. Carter would have fit in well (or so I thought) being the slasher, Robin to Dirk's Batman. When he was traded to New Jersey and then Nets started winning, I was only slightly devastated knowing the Nets wouldn't let him lose until he started to fall off. Which he did.
Those years in Orlando and Phoenix were years I really stopped paying attention to Carter. I was in college now and I was more in-tune with the NBA world. I read blogs from fantastic writers, dug into advanced stats and watched NBA games that weren't just Dallas on regular occasions. I focused more on the Mavericks and how they could get better with Dirk then following a childhood hero. Much like my pro-wrestling fixation, I simply grew out of Vince Carter. He was a fad. Someone I still loved, but clearly a more flawed image than the one I perpetuated in my head in my more juvenile years.
Then this year happened. I've previously written about how awesome Carter has been with Dallas thanks to Rick Carlisle's ability to utilize Carter's remaining (and very effective) skills. I've watched Carter pull of some moves I thought were left in 2003, the same year I fell in love with an athlete no one truly loved. I love the rev-up move, I love that the team loves him and I love that he hasn't be an absolute travesty on defense. Carter's fit in even better than even the most optimistic expected. He's provided offense from a position that has eluded the Mavericks for years (starting two-guard.) He's also the more prototypical and complete two-guard the Mavs have had. No need to worry about being too short, too slow or too untalented. Carter gives the Mavericks reassurance at a position that far too often has provided question marks.
And the fact that it's my former childhood hero doing it makes it all the more sweeter. VC is still hated by a lot (seriously, a lot) of NBA fans. But he still has one. A loyal, irrational one. But still one. And I couldn't be more giddy.