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Carter, Vincent Lamar, Jr. ("Vince")

CARTER, Vincent Lamar, Jr. ("Vince")

(b. 26 January 1977 in Daytona Beach, Florida), basketball player whose spectacular dunks, explosive scoring ability, and mass appeal have drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan.

Carter was the first of two sons born to Michelle and Vince Carter, Sr., of Daytona Beach, Florida. Carter's parents divorced when he was young, and he was raised primarily by his mother and her second husband, Harry Robinson, who were both schoolteachers. His uncle, Oliver Lee, who played college basketball at Marquette University, gave Carter his first ball when he was two years old. By the time Carter was in seventh grade, he could dunk a basketball, despite standing only five feet, eight inches tall. As a teenager, Carter also played other sports. He took up the saxophone and was a drum major at Daytona Beach's Mainland High School, where his stepfather directed the band. When he was a senior, Carter led Mainland to a state basketball championship. Although he received a scholarship offer from Bethune-Cookman College for his musical talents, Carter was highly recruited as a basketball player and accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

At North Carolina, Carter played in the shadow of his teammate Antawn Jamison. As fellow freshmen during the 1995–1996 season, Jamison shined while Carter struggled, averaging only 7.5 points per game. But in their sophomore and junior years, the duo teamed to lead the Tar Heels to consecutive Final Four appearances, losing each time in the national semifinals. Although both became All-Americans, Jamison retained the upper hand by winning National Player of the Year honors for the 1997–1998 season. After that season, both players decided to make themselves available for the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. Coincidentally, Carter and Jamison were traded for each other immediately after being drafted on 24 June 1998. Jamison was selected fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors, and Carter was picked fifth by the Golden State Warriors; then the two teams swapped, with Golden State adding cash to the deal. A labor dispute delayed Carter's Toronto debut, but when a lockout-shortened season began in February 1999, he was no longer in anyone's shadow. Taking the NBA by storm, the six-foot, six-inch jumping jack was named the league's Rookie of the Year, averaging 18.3 points per game.

Carter's status grew in his second season as a professional. As he improved his scoring average to 25.7 points, it became obvious that Carter ranked with Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and a few others among the NBA's hottest young stars. His similarity to the legendary Michael Jordan also became evident when he won the annual slam-dunk contest during All-Star weekend. Carter and his teammate and cousin, Tracy McGrady, led the Raptors to their first appearance in the playoffs, where they fell in the opening round to the New York Knicks, three games to none.

During the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia, Carter starred on the U.S. gold medal–winning basketball team. Originally not chosen to the squad, Carter was a late addition after Tom Gugliotta was injured. He ended up leading the team in scoring. Although the United States did not dominate the opposition as it had in previous years, Carter provided some memorable moments. A spectacular dunk when he jumped clear over the seven-foot, two-inch Frenchman Frederic Weis and a crucial last-minute basket against Lithuania in the semifinals were among the highlights. His U.S. teammate Jason Kidd called the dunk "probably the greatest play in basketball I've ever seen." Unfortunately, the normally pleasant Carter also was noted for taunting and uncharacteristically boorish behavior during the games. It came at a time when he was dealing with the firing of the Toronto coach Butch Carter (no relation), Tracy McGrady's signing of a free agent contract with the Orlando Magic, and his mother's pending divorce from Robinson.

Carter left all that behind and continued to progress in his third year as a pro. He increased his scoring average for the fifth consecutive season since his freshman year at North Carolina, to 27.6 points per game. For a second straight year the Raptors faced the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, but this time beat them three games to two after Charles Oakley and other Toronto teammates challenged Carter to step up and take charge. Carter did so against New York and also in the second round against Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, when the two stars took turns dominating the action. The series went down to the last shot of the seventh and final contest, when Carter missed a jump shot from the wing, giving Philadelphia 88–87 and four games to three victories. The deciding game took place just hours after Carter had returned from commencement exercises at North Carolina, where he received a B.A. in African-American studies. His decision to attend his graduation was controversial among players and fans, but after leaving school early for the NBA, Carter had promised his mother that he would graduate, and he wanted to attend the ceremonies. "It was a wonderful feeling," said Carter, before remembering his team's loss. "It was almost a wonderful day." In addition to the message his graduation sent about the importance of education, in 1998 Carter established the Embassy of Hope foundation to support children's causes and was named a Goodwill Ambassador by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. On 1 August 2001, he agreed to a six-year contract extension with Toronto. "I've had three great years here," he announced at a press conference, "Why not six more?"

A comprehensive profile of Carter appears in Sports Illustrated (29 Jan. 2001), and a profile article appears in Ebony (Apr. 2000). Other information can be obtained at the website of the National Basketball Association, www.NBA.com, and the official website of U.S.A. Basketball, www.usabasketball.com.

Jack Styczynski

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