The early stages of a sports franchise are bound to be brutal. Either a league is expanding, birthing a new team into competition, or an existing franchise is unable to draw requisite support in its current market and must relocate.
Obviously, the latter of these two was the case when the Grizzlies came to Memphis. What kept fans coming back during these maturing years, other than the hope for improvement, was a chance to see superstars.
During the inaugural ’01-’02 season, thousands of Memphians paid good money to come see their new team. And other players too. Kobe and Shaq were marching towards what would eventually become a three peat. Jordan was back…with the Wizards. But a new star had been born. Someone who brought the dunk contest back into style. Someone who attacked the rim with such malice that it was worth the price of admission, even if it only happened once.
So there I found myself, a Grizzlies fan, wearing a purple Vince Carter jersey inside the Pyramid. Going for the Grizzlies, but going for Vince Carter. I was probably getting jeered left and right, but I was 9, I didn’t care.
It was getting late, and the Grizzlies were winning, which was good. But I had not seen what I came see. Vince Carter dunking the bejesus out of the ball. Not good. Then it happened, a breakaway one on none. He elevated like he rarely does nowadays, and the crowd held its collective breath. Then, as if he new what the people wanted, Carter deprived a new NBA fan base of a signature “I was there” moment. He simply placed the ball above the rim with two hands and delicately dropped it through the basket.
What the hell was that? Boos rained down. The city’s team had the game in hand, but they too wanted the rim’s durability to be tested.
Now, some thirteen odd years later, Carter will don Beale Street Blue as a Grizzly himself. Although he is no longer the league’s top dunker, it is a dream come true for me. It’s rare that your favorite player of all time ends up playing for your favorite team. Especially as Carter was established before the Grizzlies called Memphis home.
Not only is it special that he will be playing for the Grizz, he will be a key factor in determining how the team performs this year. Mike Miller’s exit left a need for a veteran leader who can score, especially from three. Carter, the league’s 7th leading three point shooter of all time, will fill that void nicely. Furthermore, he can attack off the dribble and play more than capable defense. At times last year, Miller had to be hidden against a weaker offensive opponent, creating a mismatch for another player. Additionally, Coach Joerger praised Carter as “a top 5 pick and roll player in the NBA”.
I’ll leave you with some of the glorious images that made Vince Carter into Vinsanity, Half-Man Half-Amazing, and Air Canada:
Every kind of dunk imaginable from his days in high school, to college, in Toronto, New Jersey, for Team USA and even charity events and All Star Games. Windmills, Alley-Oops, Alley-Oop windmills, out of bounds alley-oops, 1 handed 360’s, 2 handed 360’s, tomahawks, baseline drives, fast breaks, drive-by’s, facials, posterizations, 1 handed put backs, 2 handed put backs, off the back board to himself, reverses, and 1’s. Seriously, every kind.