Comparing eras makes Carter wince!

“One thing I am not a fan of, is the comparison with other players when a new player is drafted. It puts a lot of pressure on that player to live up to the comparison. It is better to say this kid has flashes of X or Y..,” opines Vince Carter, the oldest player in the National Basketball Association now.

Vince Carter (left) with musician Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs before Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, California. Carter has seen basketball evolve over a period of more than two decades.   -  AP

Vince Carter, eight time All-Star, and twice an All-NBA team nominee, is now the oldest player (aged 40) in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Carter is now a free agent after playing for the Memphis Grizzlies in the past three seasons. He spoke to a group of Indian journalists who were invited by the NBA to cover the 2017 finals.

Excerpts:

Question: How do you rate this current Golden State Warriors team (2017 NBA champions)? Are they among the best ever?

Answer: They are a very good team. They have won championships. But what about the Bulls of the 1990s, the Lakers of the 80s and the 2000s, the Celtics etc. The Warriors have Kevin Durant who has averaged 28 points, 50% shooting on both 2 pointers and 3 pointers and Stephen Curry. But they still have a lot more to go to do what LeBron has done over the last few years. The legends, for e.g. Scottie Pippen, say, “Let it happen. Let this play itself out... Let’s see what this team achieves in the longer run, before we talk of them being the best team or their players being the best ever and so on.”

The way they are playing is amazing, but they have to do it more consistently like the Bulls did in the 1990s to be considered among the best ever. It is too early to say that now.

You have been an athletic, perennial All-Star player in the league for two decades. You are now the oldest player in the league and were still effective for the Memphis Grizzlies. How have you maintained your consistency and your ability to remain a good player in the league at this age?

It is all about repetition and continuing to work on the game regardless of how many you have played or how established you think you are. I still work on my game, work on my body to get better.

Being the oldest player, I think, means more to me now than ever. I relish being the oldest player, but I still want to be one of those in best shape. I sometimes play 40 minutes and think how I am able to even play 25 minutes... that’s my motivation. I had some injuries but I continue to work on my game.

I took the time to learn what works and what makes me or helps me to become effective. I incorporate each of those things in workouts — pre-game routines, morning shoot-arounds etc.

I still love the game... I still love competing. I put a lot of work in the off-season and I am not tired of doing this. Not putting up the work to do this is when it is time to walk away. Lots of players... don’t really put that effort to their game or their body to last this long. I still have the motivation and love to do the little things to play this game at a high level.

Are you disappointed that you haven’t won a championship ring so far?

It is unfortunate, yes. But I am still blessed to have a career like this so far. There are other legends who haven’t won a championship too. Not winning a ring doesn’t define my career so far. It is still a goal of mine. I was consistently able to play at a high level. I was able to consistently transcend through the different eras and adapt to changes in the game, which a lot of guys were not able to do.

So, I can’t let not winning a title discredit 19, hopefully 20+ years of work which a lot of guys couldn’t do. Only a few select guys could do what I have done.

Sportstar: When we think of basketball in India, we think of it being a uber-athletic sport that is played by tall players. What we don’t really know well is that basketball is a game played by athletes with high I. Q., in terms of understanding space, team-work, the game and so on. Could you tell Indian readers how brains are as important as brawn in basketball?

For me, in my younger days, I was able to jump over, jump through and jump around players. But as I got older, I was not able to do that as easily. I had to out-think other players. It comes back to learning the game at a young age... learning how to play the game correctly. You think, if I can make a great move just to get a three-point shot off, that is not learning the game. You have to learn the nuances of the game, understand angles, understand that some guards who are guarding me are faster than me... and so I am not just going to try go around or under him, I am going to get some space, some room... just to stay in front or contest, for example.

I was fortunate to play for the great Dean Smith (former North Carolina college basketball team coach) who taught us the game of basketball. I didn’t realise it then, but he taught us discipline. All the young guys who come into the NBA, they have the god given talents and athleticism, but others who come into the NBA have them too.

San Antonio Spurs Manu Ginobili (20) and Tony Parker concentrate on the game as they take a break on the bench. Ginobili was known to devise strategies even here and integrate with the game as soon as he came back on.   -  AP

Some players have it easy in middle and high school or even college as they are taller, faster or jump higher or outmuscle their opponents because of their god given talents but they find it relatively difficult to do so when they come to the NBA. There is, of course, an elite group of players like the Currys, Durants, the LeBrons and then the rest of the NBA. There are a lot of guys who are spoken of highly in college, but don’t pan out in the NBA.

So, for some players, maybe Indian players, who want to be in the NBA, they need to learn new things to bring to the craft — being ‘shifty’, new skills, understanding how to get their shot off and so on. They need to study the game. For me, I was a starter all my career... and then all of a sudden I had to take a new role as a bench player.. I had to go and study on how some of the bench players in the NBA history do what they did, what was their approach, how can I incorporate myself into that approach and so on.

I watched the Vinnie Johnsons (of Detroit Pistons), the Manu Ginobilis (Spurs) and the Jason Terrys (many teams particularly, the Mavericks) of the league. All of them were great in their sixth man role. So, I watched and learnt how as soon as they checked into the game from the bench, the effect they had, their roles etc. And I was able to accomplish what I did, adjust to a new role, based on the time I took to study the game.

So, it is important to upgrade your skills. We tend to forget about the brains of the game.

Do you understand how the salary cap works in the league and other such issues now that you have played so long here/

I do now! I am a free agent now and you need to understand the business of the league. When you are young, you think you have arrived in the league and that’s it. But there is more to that in terms of the business of the league.

Are you coming back to the Grizzlies?

As I said, I am now a free agent and I am weighing my options and waiting for that phone call. But I am training and working hard expecting to come back to a team and regardless of where I land.

What kind of changes have happened in the NBA in terms of the way it is played? And are you happy with the changes?

The game has changed. It is much more fast, a lot of three pointers, much more exciting and reaching out to fans. Back in the day it was more of a defensive grind... you couldn’t just run through to the paint and not get touched. Someone would hit you in the chest and that’s the way it was played. Now they have opened the floor where you can do that, so there are more points to be scored. It’s exciting now.

There were many scoring teams before, with lesser three pointers, but they have changed rules to allow for those times of high scoring to come back.

Players of the 1990s... they don’t relate to this era, players like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan who believed more in defensive and slowing down the game. I played in both eras, then and now. I used to be beaten up every time I went to score in the paint then! But it is hard for me to pick which era I liked more.

Vince, in the NBA, players are compared to other similar ones in the past. For e.g., one could say that you remind many of Dominique Wilkins or a Dr. J (Julius Erving) in terms of athleticism. Who do you think in this era reminds you of you?

It’s tough. One thing I am not a fan of, is the comparison with other players when a new player is drafted. It puts a lot of pressure on that player to live up to the comparison. It is better to say this kid has flashes of X or Y. When I was coming up or Jerry Stackhouse or Harold Miner or Grant Hill... they were comparing us to Michael Jordan. But no, don’t compare me to Jordan..we don’t want them. Some of us handled it well... I am not Michael Jordan, thank you very much... I want to be me.

Trying to live up to being compared to Jordan is a dead end! I think it does a disservice to young players to compare them to others in the past.