Vince Carter has been greeted as if he’s on his farewell tour at times this season.
Road games with the Kings are advertised as the last chance to see Carter play.
To be clear, Carter is not planning to retire.
“I see that every time; I hear people say that all the time,” Carter said. “I’m like man, did y’all not hear me? I’m not retiring; I’m still playing. But it’s all good. When it’s time, I’ll definitely let it be known but I have plans of playing another year.”
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Carter celebrated his 41st birthday Friday by practicing with the Kings. He did get in some golf in the morning, but it’s basketball that makes Carter happy and in his 20th season, Carter is still enjoying the game.
Carter said it means “the world” to be able to still play basketball at an age when most are well past their playing days.
“I’ve worked extra hard just to be able to last because I love this game,” Carter said. “It’s not a money thing. Obviously you want to be compensated for what you bring to the table, I get that, but it’s not the end of the world. I put the extra work in, whatever the case may be to be able to do this, to play games, to compete.”
That includes playing with against players who he is more than double their age. When Carter is in the backcourt with De’Aaron Fox, he’s 21 years older than his teammate, making some wonder if that’s the biggest age gap for backcourt mates in NBA history.
“It might be unless somebody played with their dad or something, because that could be my dad,” Fox said.
Carter has appeared in 29 games this season and would play in every game if he had his way. But the Kings are resting veterans to give more playing time to younger players.
He’s averaging 4.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 16.3 minutes while shooting 38.6 percent this season.
Carter scored a season-high 24 points on 10 of 12 shooting in Sacramento’s win over Cleveland on Dec. 27 – showing he’s more than just a sideline mentor.
Carter has said he doesn’t want to coach when he’s done playing (he prefers broadcast work), even though it seems like he’d be a natural. When he’s not playing he instructs his younger teammates and is able to reach them.
“I hate sitting out because I love to compete,” Carter said. “If I’m able to play, I want to play, but I get how it works. So each and every day I just make sure that I’m ready to go and it’s no different than when I was 21 or 31. When I step on the floor I’ve got to do my job and I’m willing to do the work to be prepared to do so.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger coached Carter in Memphis and has always praised his leadership and presence in the locker room.
Joerger, 43, also likes having a player around who is close to his age.
“They get my jokes a lot better,” Joerger said of older players. “When you reference a movie or a cartoon you grew up with, you say it to the other young fellas they’re like, ‘What?’ ”
In Carter’s last game Tuesday at Orlando, he dunked over super-athletic Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who jumped to try to stop him.
“I actually thought (Gordon) was going to let me just have it,” Carter said. “But it made for a great play for me.”
Every time Carter dunks, he wows young and old alike.
“The young guys are like, ‘Man, how is he still doing it?’ ” Carter said. “And people who are my age are saying, ‘Damn, how is he doing it?’ It hurts, oh it hurts sometimes, but I put the work in to be able to do so.”
Carter dunks get fans at home and on the road excited, many who remember Carter’s acrobatic dunks in his younger years, including winning the 2000 Slam Dunk contest.
And during the warmups and sometimes when the cameras aren’t on, Carter still wows with hops that are impressive at any age.
“He still goes between the legs,” Fox said. “He’s not putting his head on the rim but he still can punch it. You still see that rim rattle when he dunks the ball.”
That’s part of the reason Fox is admittedly in awe to have Carter as a teammate. Aside from the dunks, Carter was among the best players in the NBA for some time and an eight-time All-Star.
“For the most part I walk in the training room and I’m like ‘Yo, you’re Vince Carter!’ ” Fox said.
Carter said he had nothing major planned for his birthday night in Miami besides rest. His time on the golf course was enough a gift to himself, he said.
He’s still not accustomed to the farewell treatment. He signed a one-year deal with the Kings last summer and is eying a 21st NBA season and celebrating his 42nd birthday around the game he loves.
“It’s kind of weird but I’m very appreciative of it,” Carter said. “Maybe they see it that way or maybe it felt that way but at the same time they can not acknowledge it at all.”