Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Vince Carter has played a lot of roles in his career, from rookie sensation to franchise cornerstone to malcontent to valued scorer to journeyman veteran. Yet, despite that convoluted history and the likelihood that he'll make the Hall of Fame, Carter is going to be remembered for one thing above all else. In his day, he was inarguably one of the best dunkers — whether in games or in his sole, legendary dunk contest — that we've ever seen.
Carter is now 36 years old and can't get up like he used to, but he does dunk with some regularity. However, he apparently doesn't take the same pleasure from it that he once did. From an interview with Steve McPherson for The New York Times (via TBJ):
“Back in the day, I didn’t really care,” said Dallas’s Vince Carter, in the visitors’ locker room after a game at Minnesota. “I’m suffering now.”
He’s talking about the price of a youth lived at the rim, recorded in highlight reel after highlight reel: his self-alley-oop off the glass at the 2005 N.B.A. All-Star Game; the 360 reverse windmill with which he opened the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest; the time he went toe-to-toe with Alonzo Mourning, rising above one of the N.B.A.’s best rim protectors to slam it home. And, of course, his legendary leap over 7-2 Frederic Weis in the 2000 Summer Olympics. It was dubbed the “dunk of death” by the French media. [...]
Asked if dunking is as much fun as it looks, he grimaces. “Nowadays? I do it because I can, but sometimes, the landings suck. That takes the toll on your body. If it’s needed, it’s needed. But if I can make the two points by layup, I’m going to do that. You have to be smart about it.”
Smart isn’t always lauded in athletics, but Carter has learned the game lasts much longer than a dunk. “When you’re younger,” he said, “you don’t really care how you land when you come down.”
On one level, this response is a shame, because watching VC dunk was one of the great joys of being a basketball fan over the past 15 years. Imagining him not enjoying a dunk feels wrong.
Or maybe it's just another example of the inexorable march of time and the effects it has on the professional athlete. We often hear of basketball players needing to change their games as they age, and Carter has evidently done that in transitioning from a scorer to a broader contributor. But it's also true that cutting back on more physically taxing plays — dunks, in his case — doesn't make those plays any more comfortable when they do occur. A 36-year-old man is always going to have trouble hitting the ground, no matter his abilities.
In a way, this experience isn't that different from that of a father whose kid wants to ride on a rollercoaster. The experience itself can still be fun, but the aftermath makes it more trouble than it's worth.