Payback is a ... Carter about to join Willis in 21-season club

What’s that they say about payback?

When Vince Carter was playing for the Raptors as a rookie in 1998, there was an old guy in the locker room. Kevin Willis was the subject of many jokes from Carter and teammates as the 36-year-old was in his 14th NBA season. Ancient, they said.

Willis played 21 NBA seasons, including two stints with the Hawks, and is one of three players with the record longevity in the league. Carter, who agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million veteran minimum contract with the Hawks Wednesday, is about to play his 21st season.

Who is the old guy now?

“They teased me about being the old guy,” Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When I see him now, he knows what I’m going to say. He already knows. He is exactly where I was when I hit my 21st year. It’s incredible. 

“He’s in good company right now. I can tell you that.”

Carter is one of seven players to last 20 or more seasons in the NBA. Robert Parrish, Kevin Garnett and Willis all played 21 seasons and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Carter have played 20 seasons. Carter and Nowitzki, with the Mavs, are about to join the record-holders.

“That is tremendous,” Willis said. “You look at a guy like Vince who has been one of the most exciting players to ever play the game. Just a great talent. When I played with him in Toronto, I would never even imagine him playing 21 years because of all the explosiveness in the games which takes a toll on your body. He’s taken care of his body.

“I’m very proud of him. I told him when he was playing with the Grizzlies (two years ago), ‘You’re close. Go ahead and get 20.’ Then when I saw him last year (with the Kings), I said ‘You might as well get in the club. C’mon. Don’t stop until they throw you out.’ ”

Carter was a first-round pick, No. 5 overall, out of North Carolina in the 1998 NBA draft. He has played for the Raptors, Nets, Magic, Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Kings in his illustrious career. He earned the nickname Vinsanity early his career for his highlight-worthy athleticism and dunking ability. Carter is an eight-time all-star with the honor coming in consecutive seasons from the 1999-2007 seasons.

Carter is also one of six players in league history to record 24,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, 2,500 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 3-point field goals.

Last season, at 40 years, 46 days old, Carter became the oldest player to start an NBA game since Juwan Howard in 2013.

In his 20-year career, Carter averaged 17.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He averaged more than 20.0 points a game in 10 seasons. In addition to his all-star appearances, Carter was a two-time All-NBA player, won a gold medal in the 2002 Sydney Olympics, was Rookie of the Year in 1999 and NBA Slam Dunk champion in 2000.

Willis played two and a half seasons with the Raptors. Carter was a 22-year-old rookie at the start of their tenure together.

“I never saw him playing that long,” Willis said. “I would have given him 14. When you play above the rim, attack the basket and do all that he did, you can do that for 14 years. You start getting over that, you are serious now.” 

The Hawks are bringing in Carter to provide veteran leadership on a young, rebuilding team. Carter is one year younger than new head coach Lloyd Pierce, 12 years older than the oldest Hawks – 29-year-old Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin and Miles Plumlee – and was drafted before first-round picks Trae Young and Kevin Huerter were born. The Hawks want the young roster to see Carter and do exactly what he says.

“That’s Vince,” Willis said. “He commands that type of respect. A future Hall of Famer with an unbelievable career. Now we are on the back side of it, his experience, his knowledge, his expertise, all that comes to a very, very important role on a young team like the Hawks have now. I think they will do themselves good, as far as the players, to take heed of a guy like Vince Carter.”

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