Vince Carter believes that he owes something to basketball. “I love the game of basketball,” Carter says. “Basketball has given me the opportunity to be in a position to help out people. I enjoy helping out people.” The Dallas Maverick guard is entering the final stretch of his NBA career, something I didn’t address with him, but Carter sees an opportunity off the court to give back. “Even around here, I always sit down with the rookies. I hang around the rookies and we talk about things going on with their lives, and even though they make a few old man jokes, I am able to give what I have experienced and seen to them.”
It could be the Carter glare after one of his air-defying dunks on the court, or the rumor that Carter once body slammed his coach in Toronto, but I never would have known the person Vince Carter is unless I sat down with him one-on-one after practice as the 35-year-old prepares for his 15th NBA season.
It’s a day most of us dream of. You sign a big contract to be a professional athlete, and you’re unable to sleep because you’re trying to figure out which car to buy, where to buy a house, or how you’re going to spend your money. For Vince Carter, it was an easy decision. “Embassy of Hope was the first thing that we started really when I got started,” says Carter. “It wasn’t a car, or anything like that, Embassy of Hope was started before all of that.”
Vince Carter started his own foundation, Embassy of Hope, when he first came to the NBA in 1998. He felt that he needed to give back. “It is just something I am passionate about,” says Carter. “I enjoy supporting and helping kids find their way. It allowed me to reach out to kids, and let them know it is important to believe in your dreams, and that you can achieve those dreams. Every kid sets a goal, sets the bar for themselves, but lose the belief that those goals which they set can be reached. We also allow them to choose their career path, and teach them how to go about achieving their career choices.”
Carter started his NBA career in Toronto, and has made stops in New Jersey, Phoenix, Orlando, and now Dallas. The Embassy of Hope Foundation has come with him to every stop. Although Carter makes a point to give back to his hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, Embassy of Hope has organized, supported, and sponsored events in every city in which he’s played. The Foundation has donated school clothes to kids that cannot afford them, started school radio stations empowering parents to become more involved with their kids’ lives, and run basketball camps and golf tournaments. There are far too many programs and fundraisers to mention, and Carter likes it that way.
In 2007, Vince Carter was there when a statue of him was unveiled in front of his old high school, Mainland, in Daytona Beach. A bronze Vince Carter, wearing a suit, stands with an outstretched hand, a basketball tucked under his other arm. Carter says, “It’s just me reaching out my hand, encouraging that kid to reach out for help, and asking that kid to trust me enough to get over that obstacle that is in their life right now.” The bottom of the statue is engraved with, “Believe in your dreams.”
“That’s what I love most about my life,” says a smiling Carter, “Being able to help out kids that probably wouldn’t be capable of reaching their goals on their own. Whether it’s getting someone into a Division III school to play ball, or kids are being bullied and are scared and don’t want to tell their parents…I can understand that.”
“People put athletes on pedestals, but these kids feel more comfortable talking to us than anyone else. You may be a fan of mine, or see me as a hero or role model, but they feel so comfortable just sitting and telling me their secrets. I think that’s very cool. I don’t know them that well, yet they treat me as their best friend and tell me everything. The first time it happened, I was a little uncomfortable. I’m thinking to myself that what I tell this person can go one of two ways, up or down. It just kind of spooked me out, but I just tried to be honest and give my advice. I use things that I have been through, and it made them kind of relax.”
Asking Vince Carter to pick his favorite moment since starting Embassy of Hope is like asking him to pick his favorite dunk. He simply can’t. “There are just so many. I have kids that started in my basketball camp the first year, and now are camp counselors and have not missed a year since. Just seeing the people grow up, and meeting people that want to help out with the camp. I think of the kids that came in having chosen the wrong path, and sitting down with them, they spill their guts. Things they don’t tell their mother, father, brother, sister, but they sit down and tell me their deepest, darkest secrets. All of a sudden, they change their lives. It is nothing more than just sitting down and pointing them in the right direction. It’s nothing they learned in a book. Getting a letter from a family member saying that they are not sure, nor do they care, what was said at the camp, but their child’s life has changed since. They went from skipping school, and now they quit stealing and are getting straight A’s.”
Diehard Vince Carter fans might not even know that Embassy of Hope Foundation, and particularly Vince Carter, donated several million dollars to Vince Carter Sanctuary, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Bunnell, Florida, mainly tailored to kids struggling with addiction.
The Sanctuary is a refuge for Carter, and is near and dear to his heart. “It has opened my eyes. For the life that most people think I have, it has opened my eyes to just how many people fall victim to it. I am a very sensitive guy, yet strong and confident in the things that I do, but I am just willing to do anything to help these guys out in any way that I can.”
“I have had friends who are great athletes fall short, family members, uncles, and a brother that was going through [addiction]. It’s just another way to help out someone who may not be able to help out themselves. We do an annual thing where I come up there and all the graduates and the current kids that are in there, we just sit and have a big pow wow. It’s tough because you want to hold it together for them because they are in there doing something to get better. When you hear someone tell you thank you for saving my life, it sends chills down my arm, every single time. To think that this person probably wouldn’t be here in a year, and they are thanking me for saving their lives.”
What has eluded Vince Carter is a championship, and he is even more determined to capture one while in Dallas. It’s uncertain what his role will be there, but one thing is for sure—there are thousands of people who know exactly what role Carter has played in their lives. He’s given them one.