A year before Vince Carter was born, ABA star Julius Erving won the first-ever slam dunk contest.
Carter, born in 1977, might have missed the bulk of Dr. J’s prime, but his basketball idol inspired the play of a future generation’s great.
He has done the same for a generation of Canadian athletes.
As news broke Monday that Carter agreed to re-sign with the Atlanta Hawks, the future Hall of Famer was near the newest crop of the country’s young stars.
Carter is part of the Jr. NBA Global Championships broadcasting team for the second year in his home state of Florida. At the inaugural international tournament last year, Carter met with the Canadian contingent of 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls.
They took pictures and talked a bit, but the coaches had more to say to the Toronto Raptors legend. Some of the kids have seen his highlights, notably the legendary 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, but most don’t have much memory of his game beyond the lore.
Few kids participating, if any, were alive when Carter last played for Toronto in December 2004. They certainly weren’t old enough in 2007 to remember his final All-Star season.
But like Erving, Carter helped raise the profile of basketball, and he did so at an international level for these young athletes.
“I didn’t realize the impact that I could possibly have on, not even the young kid in my city, but the young kid in Toronto, Canada, or around Canada itself,” Carter said in a conference call Thursday. “I didn’t understand or realize the impact at that time.”
Today, the NBA is a global game. More than 100 international players, representing 40-plus nations and territories were on NBA opening-night rosters last season.
There’s near-constant access to the league through social media and game streaming.
“The global game is not, I don’t think it’s one-sided anymore,” Carter said. “It’s made every kid, I don’t care where you’re from, what your background is, believe that you have an opportunity to at least get a chance to play in the NBA.”
The Jr. NBA Global Championships are bringing together more than 350 athletes and coaches from 40 countries to play a single-elimination youth tournament beginning Tuesday.
International players will be able to see basketball in the United States, and also importantly, American youth will have the chance to do something Carter didn’t at their age: see the talent of players overseas.
“We had no idea what it was like to play international basketball until we got the opportunity,” Carter said. “Thinking about the Dirk Nowitzkis of my time – we didn’t know much about it, and obviously growing up, until the social media boom. Now, the cool thing about it, is you will hear about a kid from a different part of the world … We didn’t understand how big this could be.”
As access to young athletes, both domestic and overseas, increases, more stars from different countries have risen to prominence.
This was maybe most prevalent during the NBA awards this season. Greek player Giannis Antetokounmpo was named MVP, French player Rudy Gobert was named Defensive Player of the Year and Slovenian Luka Doncic won Rookie of the Year.
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to our young kids because the game, the global game has grown,” Carter said. “Typically you look at Olympics and you say, ‘Oh, USA is gonna win the gold for sure.’ Now, with so many stars in the league, can’t really say that anymore.”
The Jr. NBA Global Championships will take place from Tuesday through Sunday in Orlando, Florida.