Don't Stare at the Forest

I like Skeets a lot, but sometimes his ceaseless Vince Carter bashing renders me glum. I understand why he does it; Skeets rides hard for his Raptors, and Carter very passively tore the throat out of his fair city. But to my set of peculiar biases, it seems excessive: while I would never hold up Vince Carter as the epitome of athletic excellence, it seems almost unfair to expect him to be. Time and time again, Carter's proven that, despite having all the gifts in the country and an irresistible nice guy vibe to him, he just doesn't get basketball. And I don't really know if we can hold him accountable for this.

Case in point: The above video, presented to me by the aforementioned Dino-nut. What's amazing is how breezy and kind Carter comes off as, and yet what an utter, sniveling "fuck you" his actions in the story come off as. Then there's the fact that, for any NBA player with an ingrained sense of identity, the Rucker means something. They go there to prove they're in touch with the raw, to do shit that would get them tossed out of most pro contests. No matter how deft or astonishing one plays, the assumption is that, when he touches down at the Rucker, he's saying he can do more. Vince, though, thinks of it as another goodwill appearance, until he finally wises up and casually brings the house down.

That's the common thread in Carter's career: the paraphrase someone on The Wire (Bodie on Namond?), Vince is just not built for this shit. Which is a puzzling statement to make, seeing as Vince is physically as suited to the sport as anyone in total imagination. Notably absent, however, is that sixth sense for the mores, ways, and means of sports participation. It would be otherworldly if this quality didn't so often lead to disappointment and rancor; as it is, something like the graduation fiasco serves to disqualify Carter from the brotherhood. Once he's retired, he'll immediately become a credit to the sport, and even in Toronto people will line up to touch the hand of the most perfect dunker of them all. Only then will he really make sense, as an outwardly pleasant man who, in some remote sense, is connected with outstanding feats on the hardwood.

For most active players, the converse is true; to some degree, that's the basic assumption of the Lens of Psychology that, practically speaking, our version of fandom depends on. Compare Carter's slightly creepy presence in the league with that of his cousin McGrady, also awash in humanity, also disrupting the usual life/ball balance. But in T-Mac's case, all his pain and weirdness comes rushing back into his game. That Carter is detached, or defines himself outside of basketball (however humbly) gets in the way of his stylistic self-discovery.

Both accidentally and inevitably, McGrady's sports life carries on in the same vein as his personal life. This is the kind of thing that makes us call T-Mac "bottomlessly soulful" and Carter "without a soul," and makes us feel that watching McGrady is not just an exercise in aesthetics and entertainment. And, I would argue, the same thing is true for being McGrady. Vince Carter makes it ruefully clear that to him, basketball is not life, and is in no way intertwined with his deepest self-discussion. It may drive us mad as fans but ultimately, it's more dismal fact than point of contention.


At 9/19/2007 12:28 PM, Blogger Tim said...

A nice apologia, Shoals, but he is still my least favorite player to watch. To see VC carelessly shucking up 3's is putrid to any true fan - because he fundamentally doesn't understand his role at all, but is paid and lauded like he does. Nice guy, crazy athlete - and an absolute horror to watch on Rod Thorn's Nets. God, they need a revolution in East Rutherford....

At 9/19/2007 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to be a little bemused at all the VC-hate, chalking it all up to sour grapes over his poor treatment of the Raptors. But then I watched him play in person last season and left the arena absolutely furious that I was subject to such a blatantly half-assed performance.

I've never had a player who actually scored almost 30 points leave me feeling so annoyed.

At 9/19/2007 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...but he is still my least favorite player to watch."

WOW. It's like you never saw the worst of Rafer Alston, Nick Van Exel, Ricky Buckets, Antoine Walker... I could go ON and ON.

I despise Vince's history and "true" image... but on the court I would make a point to do more than glance.

Great piece Shoals.

At 9/19/2007 1:16 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

The YouTube is a clip from "On Hallowed Ground", a great documentary on the streetball game featuring bits on Ruckers and The Future. Just a headsup to all, to go peep it if you are interested in more of this.

I've written many times on Vince Carter. Like Shoals, I'm fascinated by the enigma. Bottom line: He really isn't interested in basketball. He just doesn't care that much about it... it's a job to him. Big deal, that describes more players than we care to admit - in "Black Planet" I believe it was Kendall Gill who was describe that way many times.

The difference is that Gill was just happy - he was happy to have cars, money, houses. He probably never expected that, growing up poor. With Carter he doesn't seem happy, he still seems moody. Whatever it is that makes him happy, it isn't competing, at least not in basketball. A lot of athletes thrive on competiveness... Vince might not be one of them. He might not be the guy playing blackjack, or betting on golf (like MJ). He's MJ without the drive.

Or maybe he does get competitive, but not on the court. I say that because sometimes you see the motivated Vince Carter - I've written about how exciting it is when, out of nowhere, and for no apparent reason - you get that Carter. The one that sudden blew up against the Jazz in the second half of a regular season game last year, with three after three and drive after drive, until they had to triple-team him just to get him to give up the ball. Or the one that showed up against the Raps in game 3 and 4, leading to the Nets blowouts.

Anyway, with all due respect to Skeets, Shoals is right here... Vince Carter is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA, because of the fascinating psychological aspects of his persona, and how it manifests itself in his game. His normal disaffection only seeks to heighten those rare moments when he "flames on" into total competite mode, and transforms into the Ghost Dunker.

At 9/19/2007 1:22 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

sml--actually, throughout "black planet" gill is described as moody, needy, and morose. some of which, at least, seems to come from his role with the team. if memory serves, at the end he goes on anti-depressants.

anon 1:15--i'm going to stand up here for ricky davis. i don't know how, or why, but i'm doing it.

At 9/19/2007 1:28 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


i only noticed just now that the statue of him—holding a basketball, in front of a gym—has a suit on.

vince carter is a people person who wanted to get a college degree, make his mama proud, and give back to the community. and thank his clergyman, and enjoy life. he seems more moved by this ceremony than anything in his entire NBA career.

At 9/19/2007 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a pro basketball player observes basketball as a job only, we wonder if he is dedicated to that job.

When a pro basketball player calls basketball his career, we wonder what his first coaching job will be.

When a pro basketball player refers to "basketball as life" we admire his passion, secretly wondering if his life will collapse when his knees start going.

We wanted Vince to live basketball, and he was determined to get paid for a job done. He doesn't have 3 fulls seasons left. Period. Enjoy what remains while it lasts. Vince will be happy after he signs his final contract, because his knees can finally disintegrate.

Also Shoals- please write a defense of Ricky's own goal rebound for the TripDub. I need a good laugh.

At 9/19/2007 1:39 PM, Blogger goathair said...

To stick with the basketball/football analogies and statistics that are flying around here:

VC = Ricky Williams - weed

At 9/19/2007 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're telling me Vince's laziness on the court isn't at least partially due to stinky Afghani buds of chronic?

At 9/19/2007 1:56 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

It's been a long time since I read Black Planet, so apologies for coming off like a moron. Um, maybe I should re-read it before citing it again...

The knees are also a factor, too, I imagine. Not to sound like an apologist, but nagging "jumper's knee" injuries can make going to work seem like... going to work. Like a chore. Given his reputation for... not being very tough ("Air Pussy")... I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't just go quietly into the night. Or a front office job in marketing/promotions. He seems to like bumping volleyballs into the crowd at Coney Island. Community events might be his thing.

At 9/19/2007 2:01 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Gosh, this was a long-time coming. Nice work, Shoals.

At 9/19/2007 2:34 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

Ironically, I too am known as Whole Lotta Game at the Rucker. Me and that guy get each other's mail a lot, but I ain't mad at him.

At 9/19/2007 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: The post has him correctly. In the last play off game against Labron, Vince just phoned it in.

However, he also won some regular season games single handedly and spectacularily.

The Nets resigned him with high ceremony, after he must have gotten an idea that no other team values him with all his faults the way the Nets do.

This year may be a good one because his at times phelgmatic game dispostion is well known.

There may be less pressure on him and vestigages of the dunk champion Vince ( arm in basket up to elbow) will show up more often.

At 9/19/2007 4:53 PM, Blogger Carlos said...

I wholly reject the premise of you standing up for Ricky Davis.

"Only then will he really make sense, as an outwardly pleasant man who, in some remote sense, is connected with outstanding feats on the hardwood."

You've expressed exactly how I never knew I always felt about Vinsanity.

At 9/19/2007 5:06 PM, Blogger Bongo said...

So that is James Joyce in the picture right? Shoals, are you trying to say that your prediction that Vince will be celebrated by basketball despite his deep inner conflicts over the game and its meaning is similar to Joyce's celebration as the patron writer of Ireland despite his even bigger conflicts about the place? If it's not Joyce, sorry for wasting my time and yours but I like the literary references. Am I close?

At 9/19/2007 6:01 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think this makes two times ever i've done this now: bongo, you are correct.

At 9/19/2007 6:33 PM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

While I love the sturm-und-drang of FD's more sweeping and totalizing manifesto-style pieces, this right here is FreeDarko at its best. I remember that it was a similar character study on Ron Artest that really turned me on to this blog in the first place. When you keep it local like this, it just seems like you'll never run out of interesting stuff to say. Was that the point of the title?


p.s. Interesting choice on the last pic. My take is that JFKerry has the same problems with perceived inauthenticity that VC does, but in his case it comes from a surplus of career ambition rather than a deficit.

At 9/19/2007 6:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

ftk--believe me, i like writing this shit much, much more. but in the off-season, there's very little going on in the way of individual players. this only happened because skeets sent me that youtube clip. . . and, as joey alludes to, i've been meaning to write this since the playoffs.

At 9/19/2007 7:02 PM, Blogger badly drawn boykins (fka spinachdip) said...

SML - I'm not sure Vince is so much disinterested in basketball as he is annoyed by his skills.

I think he does enjoy playing basketball, and he does have a competitive streak that pops out occasionally.

I don't know if I can ever releate to a millionaire athlete, but I think have a reference point. I spent most of my high school trying to convince myself that I wasn't that smart, annoyed at how teachers kept saying "If you'd just apply yourself...", and rejecting the suggestion that I underachieved.

See, I thought of myself as less of a failure if I was a B student who occasionally got As, rather than an A student who didn't live up to expectations. And there was also the fear that if I tried really, really, really hard and still didn't ace a class - I was more comfortable knowing that I could coast and still get a B+.

Looking back, I know I was just as smart, if not moreso, than the kids who got straight As, and I love reading and just self-educating in general. But I insulated myself from disappointment by convincing myself that I just wasn't that smart and that I hated school.

I suspect the same kind of thing, the talent as a burden, might be inhibiting Carter's love of the game. I think a part of him wishes he were just an average player, and he tries to discourage the Jordan comparison by doing un-Jordan things.

Then there's that whole thing about being middle class and black. Remember that summer he dunked on Weiss, he had a mini-Afro going and he had this surly, Funky Headhunter-era Hammer thing going? And how his mom wasn't too happy about it? Maybe he's afraid that, if he tapped into his killer instict and started crushing everything in sight like we all know he could,
he wouldn't be comfortable with what he would become, that he'd be a little too mean, too thuggish.

I don't know, I'm not a sports psychologist, but it sure is fun playing one on an armchair.

vb: vqkyhmb = very quickly humbled

At 9/19/2007 8:35 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

I was at that game when VC blew up against the Jazz (nice prose, SML), winning the game on a 35-footer no less, and it seemed that he was prodded to do it by his foil, AK.

At 9/19/2007 9:21 PM, Anonymous eauhellzgnaw said...

He is one of the most frustrating players to watch, but he can be quite entertaining when he's trying.

But I have always called bullshit on the graduation "controversy." I expected Toronto fans to make noise about it, but the fact that the media at large bought into it is some grade A.

The losers who criticized the decision are the same (mostly white) middle aged men who shake their heads at kids skipping college and bemoan the damage that multimillion dollar athletics has done to the value black youths place on education.

I've always applauded the fact that no matter how much he dogs it on the court, at least he has his priorities straight.

At 9/19/2007 10:49 PM, Anonymous Andrew MacKenzie said...

I'm from the T. so my views definitely have that spin to them. I'll try to keep it in check.

The one thing I noticed about Vince was how uncomfortable he seemed when on the court. Especially when coming back to Toronto as a net. Fans would just pour hate onto him and he would just stand there and give that nervous smile, the same one that he gives when his team is losing, the same one he gives when a situation just suddenly appears and he doesn't want to be part of it. That incident with Mo Peterson last year, when Vince had, uh, playfully slapped him, and Mo had slapped him back and got ejected. The Toronto fans went crazy and Vince knew he had fucked up and zing, same incredibly uncomfortable, nervous, awkward smile.

I mean, I can totally identify with that smile. It's a defense mechanism. When you're put into a shitty situation the best way to deal with it is just to smile and kinda pretend it's not happening. And I think that was what Vince was doing. If he just ignored what was up it would blow over.

This is what I think infuriated Toronto fans so much, this um nonchalance? The team is falling apart around him and hey that is certainly a bad situation. But la-dee-dah, this is not in my hands to control. It certainly isn't the mentality of a pro sports player, and it especially isn't that of a leader, which is what Vince was thrust into after T-Mac and Oakley left. I'm not used to it in any player, and I find it kind of unsettling to see on the court. It reeks too much of real life, of the insecurities of regular humans, to belong in the fantastic superhuman world of sports.

This kind of mentality shows up in other sports too. Rex Grossman, for example, is similarly unsettling. And everyone else picks up on how dude just does not fit in. So I think that is really the issue with Vince. He's the star and we connect that with leader. And when he doesn't live up to that we question why.

Vince does that awkward smile with the Nets too. I saw it in that playoff series, especially when he was choking in front of the Toronto crowd. But it's not as much an issue with the NJ fans, because Vince doesn't have to be a leader with them. They have their conventional star in Richard Jefferson, their trailblazing leader in Kidd. Vince seems like the freak who mails in 30 points once in a while. And over there, it works.

At 9/19/2007 11:45 PM, Anonymous hiero_yo said...

It was definetly Namond. That said I think the crossroads for Carter was game 7 of the 2001(?) playoffs against 76ers where he flew to his graduation beforehand. It was a defining moment that showed his heart wasn't in it.

At 9/19/2007 11:49 PM, Anonymous ....endtroducing said...

Incidentally and unimportantly, I think it's interesting that the song playing in the background of the youtube clip is gang starr's "just to get a rep."

At 9/20/2007 12:21 AM, Blogger badly drawn boykins (fka spinachdip) said...

" At 11:45 PM, hiero_yo said...

That said I think the crossroads for Carter was game 7 of the 2001(?) playoffs against 76ers where he flew to his graduation beforehand. It was a defining moment that showed his heart wasn't in it."

eauhellzgnaw is right, the "controversy" is bullshit. For one thing, not to sound like an elitist asshole, but if you went to Carolina, you'd understand. I mean, it's normal to be proud of your alma mater, but Chapel Hill's different. I can't explain it to you, maybe Sheed or Zwikker can explain, but it is.

And here's the thing, commencement was at 8 or 9 in the morning (I think), and the stadium ceremony's over within an hour. And since he took a private jet from, he was back in Philly before half his teammates were out of bed, most likely (did he even miss the shootaround? who gives a shit about a shootaround seven games into the series?). Shit, it takes most of the Knicks longer to get from the suburbs to MSG than it took Carter to get to Philly from Chapel Hill.

Maybe people would feel better if Carter did the Jordan thing and stayed up all night gambling in Atlantic City?

Look, I don't find Carter to be that appealing and I feel dirty defending him. There are many, many things you can knock Carter for, but the graduation isn't one of them.

At 9/20/2007 1:17 AM, Blogger badly drawn boykins (fka spinachdip) said...


John Kerry during 2004 Presidential debates = Vince Carter settling for long jumpers ?

Or John Kerry, Vince Carter = both "electable" ?

At 9/20/2007 9:35 AM, Anonymous RedAuerbachsForeskin said...

who says the American worker can't compete, huh? first time I ever saw Vimpotent, he was glaring at a ballboy sfter a dunk. maybe he's just a dick.

At 9/20/2007 9:45 AM, Anonymous 10FootBongz said...

I enjoyed this post, but I think that you have the motivation for the TDot hate on Vince all wrong. It really isn't about him not winning for the Raps, even in his best years (year 2 and 3 of his career), the Raps didn't make it past the 2nd round. I don't even think that it was the injuries. Shit happens. Here's what I think it was: he quit on the team (not on the city, he had a summer charity game, he contributed/built some courts in the city, etc). Shortly before he was traded, a Toronto sports reporter asked him why he wasn't taking it to the hole as much as he used to, his response was, "I'm not dunking anymore." TSN (The Sports Network, owned by ESPN and basically ESPNCanada) even responded to that comment by doing a top 10 VC Dunk countdown. It was all bullshit. Vince tanked, lowered his trade value, got shipped out for a bag of peanuts (not even Cracker Jack, straight peanuts), then miraculously found his legs (it took a grand total of 2 games with the Nets), banged on Alonzo harder than anyone before him, and the rest is history. Maybe you would have to live in Toronto to understand that we have historically just been happy to have a basketball team. This has always been and always will be a hockey (more specifically a Maple Leaf) town. There are a different set of values that are attached to both sports. It is mostly about effort, not talent over here. For fuck's sake, Tie Domi (a 5 foot 8 ENFORCER with relatively few actual hockey skills) was treated like a god here based on the fact that he tried really hard.
So with Vince, TDot fans feel that he quit on the team, and that is that. Doesn't mean that all of us can't appreciate his dunks, or his talent, or his worth as a person once you strip away his ball-persona. It just means that he won't be respected as a real competitor up in this bitch, and that is that.

At 9/20/2007 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got the same pattern as you, I like to call it "the silver medal complex" . If you can get to the level of being 2nd through sheer talent, and you're not a neurotic (hypercompetitive etc.) there is really not much of way to find a proper motivation to get to the level of gold. You loose time, frequently sanity, sometimes friends and loved ones and all you get is just a one step

A feeling of emptiness arrives from time to time, but it might be better than a constant insecurity from permanent fight for the first spot.

I'd say Shaq is a similar case. Maybe James Lebron also

At 9/20/2007 11:12 AM, Blogger Nate said...

I'm glad someone has mentioned Kendall Gill. My man is part of the reason Seattle never reached it's potential as a team in 93-95. He had all the talent in the world, but for some reason was just happy doing just what it took to get by. He was so good that his very little was better than most guys in the league. But yeah he did piss me off at times. As Shoals mentions, I think there was something else going on there, as he was diagnosed with clinical depression during either the 94 or 95 season. Kendall didn't really start putting in crazy effort until he was a grizzled vet and had to do that in order to stay in the league. The funny thing is that I didn't pick up on this until I was much older. When I was 12 years old, I loved his game, because I thought he played so smooth and made it seem like he was doing things with little effort. When I got older I realized that he wasn't just smooth, but rather, he wasn't really trying because he probably really didn't care.

Watch Kendall at the end of this highlight clip:


Dude went from being featured on weekly highlight clips to being just a run of the mill NBA player.

And what about those classic Sonics teams? Has any team ever fallen shorter of expectations than them?



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