His career is the Pledge. Anointed as the next Jordan. Leaping over not quite buildings, but still, pretty tall French dudes. Climbing to NBA Finals. Plural. Even last year, in the twilight of his career, he's hitting game winners in the playoffs against the eventual NBA Champions.
His is the hand that's launched a thousand dunks. His is the jump shot so smooth it should be paired with a fine Dornish Red. His is the name you never thought you'd see in a Grizzlies jersey. Vince Carter. Or, maybe more correctly, VINCE CARTER.
VINCE CARTER exists in my mind in gifs and posters. Dunking on heads, shooting lights out, being a badass without trying particularly hard.
Grizzlies fans knew we weren't getting VINCE CARTER but, call it hope or naivete, we thought occasionally he might summon a bit of the old magic. A dash of VINce here. A smidgen of CarTER there.
When you've seen something for so long, you become accustomed to its existence. It's hard to believe it will end. It's hard to believe when it's gone.
He did not careen out of bounds to save a possession. His flight was not snatched from the air by a dastardly foul. The cruelty of Vince's injury was how he was undone by a perfectly mundane movement. Sauntering back on defense, he lunged forward to contest a shot. His foot planted, like it had a million times. Tendons stretched, then stretched some more, and then gave.
This is the Turn, when the thing we were promised is taken away.
I don't think the Grizzlies can win the NBA championship without Vince Carter. And the Grizzlies may know that. Spurred by the small forward-sized hole on the roster, the Grizzlies have brought in reinforcements on the wing. They can't trade a draft pick for the rest of the decade. They've possibly lost their cap space next year too. They've given a guy on a ten day contract two more years. They've played two point guard lineups, and three guard lineups. All to replace the Vince-sized hole on the wing. The Grizzlies are a deep team, and losing Vince Carter hasn't hurt. Yet.
But no wing on the Grizzlies roster combines offensive talent, shooting, and passable defense - and all of this comes with the two words "In theory" caveated in a gigantic font.
We were all so excited to see Vince Carter in a Grizzlies uniform that maybe we looked past the caveat. Acknowledged it like the fine print in an iTunes disclaimer. Not knowing that the fine print actually said that Vince Carter may not exist anymore. That his existence may have been conjured by that warlock Rick Carlisle for the last three years. How his demise lurked under the surface. How he never went to the rim. How he gingerly backpedaled on defense, with a foot that didn't bend quite like it should. Until one false step.
VINCE was taken from us, or maybe more correctly, we never had him. But that isn't the magic trick. You wouldn't just make something disappear. Disappearing is normal. It happens every day. It's life. Mountains worn down to a nub. A fraction of a fraction of an inch subtracted daily from a vertical leap. The ability to be one of the best basketball players in the world does not age well. Disappearing isn't the trick, is not the magic.
Making something disappear isn't enough. You have to bring it back. This, as they say, is
Vince Carter catches the ball on the wing, takes a rhythm dribble to his right, and elevates. His legs kick forward as the rest of his body leans slightly backwards, fading away from his defender's pointlessly outstretched arm, and the goal, and the ball that has just left his hand.
Vince is centered in the frame. He resides in the foreground, and the muscles in his calves and arms and neck gleam in sharp focus. The body is tense but the face remains loose. Eyes intent, unworried, perhaps lounging on a beach chair in the Caribbean. Already near the peak of his jump, Vince towers over his defender, a slightly out of focus blip who has not yet jumped. He lingers in the frame as an inconsequence to Vince's greatness. Though the picture hanging on the wall in my mind doesn't show it, we know he will be too late.
Vince is still frozen. The height which his feet have left the ground is an absurdity, part of the show. He isn't jumping over the defender, but for us. He doesn't look old.
He looks like VINCE CARTER.
This is the picture in my head. It is perfect and, sadly, it probably does not exist anymore.
But this is what Grizzlies fans are rooting for. We knew he was mostly gone, when he came here. But we hoped that he might, like an old friend, visit us again. He couldn't bring it every night, but maybe when it really mattered, he might summon a whisper of the old VINCE.
I feel crazy, but count me as one who still hopes. I want what Jack in LOST wanted. When Eddie Vedder warbles unintelligibly, I may not understand what he's screaming, but his scream is mine. I want what never happens, what I know to be impossible. But maybe, just maybe...
When Michael Caine opens his hand at the end of the trick, out will spring Vince Carter dunking on fools.
In short, we want magic. It's not enough that Vince fights his way back from injury. His foot must not drag as if it were carved from a block of mahogany. His jumper must fall more than occasionally.
For the Grizzlies to win the title, he must be better than he's been. He must be VINCE again.