SPORTS Al­ways nice to see Vince again

With re­tire­ment on the hori­zon, was Tues­day the last time Carter re­turned to Toronto?

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The last time Vince Carter was a Toronto Rap­tor, YouTube hadn’t been in­vented yet, among other things, which is a lit­tle like Dorothy Parker liv­ing be­fore Twit­ter. On Tues­day, Vince re­turned to Toronto again, on a sev­enth dif­fer­ent team since he left his great­est and only en­dur­ing NBA home. He’s 41, all of a sud­den. Is this the last time he comes back? Will he fi­nally re­tire, 15 years af­ter he left in search of a hap­pier place to be?

“I hon­estly don’t know,” said Carter in a morn­ing scrum be­fore his … At­lanta Hawks? … played the Rap­tors. “I’m so up and down with it … I would like to come back and play, and then next month, I’ll prob­a­bly say, this is it. It’s just one of those things, when you get close to the end, do­ing some­thing you love for so long: for me, it’s one of those fi­nal de­ci­sions that’s tough to make un­til the last minute.”

If he plays 36 of the 42 games left in At­lanta’s nowhere sea­son he will pass Moses Malone, Kevin Gar­nett and Karl Malone for fifth in ca­reer NBA games. Asked if there was any­thing new left for him, Carter re­mem­bered to men­tion a championship be­fore talk­ing about be­ing tied with Robert Par­ish, Gar­nett and Vince’s one- time Rap­tors team­mate Kevin Wil­lis with a record 21 sea­sons played. It sounds like he’d like to break that record.

He’s mostly a body now, a like­able vet­eran three-point shooter who can still un­cork a dunk in the pre-game that set the in­ter­net ablaze in quiet, nos­tal­gic ways. But Vince can’t stop.

“You know, I talk to Kevin Wil­lis a lot and I apol­o­gize to Kevin a lot be­cause I used to make fun of him when he was here,” said Carter. “I was like man, what are you do­ing? Why? And he was like, I love it, I love it. We talk about that ev­ery time. Just the love of the game. I al­ways see a lot of peo­ple say­ing ‘Why, you’re older, you’re this, you’re that, you’ve seen it all, you’ve ac­com­plished what­ever. Why?’ And it’s just, I love it. I love it.

“I’m just not tired of it. It’s hard work and it’s a lit­tle tougher than it was 10 years go, but I still en­joy the grind. I don’t mind fly­ing late on the plane, or four games in five nights. I can’t imag­ine not do­ing it.”

So he keeps go­ing. He has never ad­mit­ted he quit on Toronto, re­gard­less of whether he was right to. No­body was ever booed more here. But he’s al­most sur­vived long enough to out­last the ar­gu­ment over his de­par­ture. The ar­gu­ment, in emo­tion and du­ra­tion, has al­ways been proof Vince is the big­gest star the fran­chise has ever had.

Demar Derozan was a fan of the Rap­tors grow­ing up be­cause of Vince. Tris­tan Thomp­son once told Vince that for Cana­dian kids, so many of whom are now in the NBA, he was their Michael Jor­dan. Vince, along with James Nai­smith and Steve Nash, is per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure in Cana­dian bas­ket­ball his­tory.

But he left for what be­came a near-end­less road. New Jersey was stranded in a swamp, and af­ter he left the Nets moved to Brook­lyn any­way. He never spent long any­where else: a cameo on the Or­lando team the year af­ter they made the NBA fi­nal; three years in Dal­las, where he be­came a backup. Three years in Mem­phis on also-ran teams. A year in the wilder­ness of Sacra­mento, and now one in the ashes of At­lanta.

He never found a home like Toronto. He once told me, “There was noth­ing bet­ter. I will say that.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vince Carter and his At­lanta Hawks faced the Toronto Rap­tors on Tues­day. Carter, who turns 42 later this month, is the NBA’S old­est player.

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