TORONTO - The inevitable has happened to the man formerly known as Air Canada.
Age and a suspect work ethic in his younger days have caught up to Vince Carter.
The man who once exceeded even the aerial exploits of star rookie Blake Griffin no longer levitates on a nightly basis.
What he does do — cynics would say out of self-preservation since most of his contract for next year is unguaranteed — is work harder than he ever has in his NBA career.
“To me, the greatest thing about Vince is that he’s trying like crazy. He comes in early,” said Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry to a bunch of stunned Toronto scribes prior to Friday’s game against the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
“When you’re a guy that has depended on your athletic ability the years that he has, eventually, somewhere along the line you’ll lose some of that. He’s lost some of that, but the effort that he gives us, the leadership that he gives us and the way he tries to help everybody he’s been good for our team.”
Many believe Carter could have been on par with Kobe Bryant based on natural talent if he had put in the work.
Now, with his glory days behind him, the 34-year-old is doing his best to stay relevant.
Carter has averaged just 13.9 points on 42% shooting in 26 games for Phoenix, but every once in a while — including on Friday night when he threw down a host of impressive dunks — he can still deliver.
“I don’t know if there’s been a more explosive player than Vince, (but after more than a decade of playing) it’s not going to be the same so you’ll have to make an adjustment in your game,” Gentry continued.
“He might not be able to do it (every) night, when you get on the other side of your career you can’t do it over 82 games, but there are going to be nights when he does look like the same old Vince.”
And this was one of them.