Choose your course
My freshman year in college proved frustrating. Even though I earned a starting spot on the team, I didn’t play as much as I had hoped and wasn’t allowed to play “my game” in legendary coach Dean Smith’s structured offense.
The team's style revealed a weakness in my game. I needed to improve my outside shooting. That summer I chose to turn frustration into motivation. I worked hard and my jump shot improved. In my sophomore year, we took a 16-game winning streak into the 1997 Final Four.
Arizona knocked us out in the semifinals. Teammates had to pick me up off the court because I couldn’t believe we lost.
My junior year we reached the Final Four again, only to be ousted by Utah in the semifinals. Immediately after our loss, teammate Antawn Jamison, the NCAA Player of the Year, announced he’d go into the NBA draft.
So we made a list of the pros and cons of coming out early. Then we wrote down what could go wrong. I talked to people I trusted, current and former pro players, coaches, and scouts – not to give me the right answer, but to point me in the right direction. Coach Smith, who retired after my sophomore year, told me he thought I was ready for the NBA. I appreciated his encouragement and honesty. After all that I decided to put my name in the 1998 NBA draft. The Toronto Raptors picked Jamison, my teammate, with their fourth pick and the Golden
The quick trade surprised many people, including my family. We didn’t mind, though. I was excited to be chosen and thrilled to join my cousin, Tracy McGrady.
Kids always ask what was the first thing I bought after I signed my multi-million dollar contract with the Raptors. Was it a hot car? A new mansion? Gold jewelry? No, it was none of those. The first thing I invested my money in was a new foundation. I started the Embassy of Hope Foundation in my hometown. It was important for me to share my good fortune with those who are not so fortunate.
Since my rookie year, the foundation has teamed with many sponsors and raised more than $585,000 dollars for programs to support kids and families in Daytona Beach and Toronto. We strive to encourage people to believe in their dreams. Once you have hope, anything is possible.
If every choice you make is about yourself and money, then you're missing out on the rewards of helping others. A great assist is as much fun as scoring in basketball. Giving someone an assist in life makes you feel like a winner every time.
Raptor coach Butch Carter (no relation to me) made me feel like a winner from the first day. He pushed me to step up and show the league what I could do. He had faith in me.
The first season I made the All-Rookie Team. In my second year I was voted to the All-Star Game. I was honored to be invited to the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. I had a little problem getting to the dunk competition. The NBA ran out of stretch limos to take long-body players from the hotel to the arena. I didn’t have a ride. So the NBA got us a four-door sedan and Tracy and I squeezed into this tiny car.
As a kid I taped the Dunk Contest and studied it like an art form. I wanted to show what I could do.
My opening dunk – a baseline widmill jam – got the fans excited. A straight-on jam jumping from the free-throw line pumped up the house. Then Tracy joined the act by bouncing the ball in front of me. I caught it in mid-air, scooped it between my legs and slammed it home. A reverse 360 windmill gave me a perfect score with one more to go. For my final try, I wanted to put some pizzazz into it and blow people's minds.
So I jumped extra high and rammed the ball and my hand through the rim into the net up to my elbow and then hung there for a few seconds. I took home the dunk title and much more.
The Dunk Contest became my coming-out party. Suddenly it seemed everyone knew me after that.
In the second half of that season, T-Mac and I became a force on the court and close friends off it. That was special because we didn't grow up knowing each other.
Together we helped lead Toronto to its first playoff appearance. In the first round, unfortunately, we lost to the New York Knicks. We lost five games by 7 points in the series. I didn’t shoot well. Many critics pointed their fingers and blamed me for the losses. It didn’t bother me. I choose not to listen. I don’t let negativity bring me down.
Before the next season, I learned my agent, Tank Black, lost $200,000 of my money on bad investments. He “lost” other athletes’ money as well and eventually landed in jail.
That was tough to swallow. My family trusted him with everything. You earn trust by the choices you make. It only takes one bad decision to break the bond of trust.
Tracy and I had our trust tested after the 2000 season. The first-round playoff loss to the Knicks brought change. Coach Carter was fired and Tracy left as a free agent, signing with Orlando. I pictured us playing together many years. But Tracy wanted his own course. I heard rumors that he grew jealous of my popularity.
We didn’t speak to each other for six months. Finally, we decided we were too tight to continue this family feud. We chose to forgive. I forgave him for leaving. You can’t pick other people’s paths for them. It was his choice to make. And for whatever he said or didn’t say, it’s history.
That summer when Tracy left, I learned Chris, my brother, was in jail for drug possession. Chris dropped out of high school and lost his way.
The 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, became my escape from frustrations. I joined the USA basketball team with a head of hair and new aggressive attitude. I had been bald since the 11th grade in high school.
The opening ceremonies were unforgettable. You realize it's not the Raptors vs. the Lakers. It's the U.S.A vs. the World. The magnitude of the event hits you.
Our group of NBA players was Dream Team III. For many years Olympic rules didn’t allow professional players to compete. Then at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain, the first group of pro basketball players competed.
The second Dream Team won gold in Atlanta in 1996. So the U.S. had won the last two Olympic men’s basketball titles. We weren’t going to let the winning streak stop with us.
The world wanted to knock us down. It was a tough tournament. We played several tight games, beating Lithuania by just 2 points in the semifinals and leading by only 4 with four minutes to go in the championship game against France. The most talked-about play of the tournament came in the early rounds against France. I had an unbelievable dunk over the 7-2 Frenchman, Frederic Weis. People still say that it was the most amazing dunk ever.
After I missed a shot, I got the rebound and attacked the basket. Weis stood between the rim and me. I jumped right over him. I thought he slipped and fell while it happened, but he didn’t. When I saw the tape, I couldn’t believe it myself.
Throughout the tournament our team was criticized for perceived unsportsmanlike behavior. Some wrote I behaved badly.
Do I regret some choices I made on the world stage? I think our emotions got the best of us. We were pumping up ourselves and our teammates more than trying to put down or bully others.
Sports bring out intense feelings sometimes and my raw emotions came out. I had a few bad days. I let anger take control when a couple of people tried to hurt me with dirty plays. The world saw a different Vince Carter and didn't know what to think.
To me, winning a gold medal at the Olympics is better than winning an NBA title. You get a chance to win in the NBA each year. The Olympic Games come around once every four years.
My mom wanted that gold medal for me more than I did. After we beat France 85-75, seeing Mom there for this event made me break down and cry.
Vince Carter, a five-time NBA All-Star, plays for the Toronto Raptors
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