Vince Carter has seen a lot in his 19 NBA seasons. He was Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, won the Slam Dunk Contest in 2000, was an eight-time All-Star, and played with and against current and future Hall of Famers.
Through it all, he has seen the game change a great deal over the years.
“The game changed when they changed illegal defense,” Carter said in-studio on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “They stated to add the zone, which I didn’t understand at first when they said they were trying to add more scoring but you implement zone. Now a guy can sit in the paint a little bit longer, but hey, it worked out. But still, if you look at back in the day before the three-point line, there’s teams scoring 120, 130 points. That’s fast-paced basketball. I think once illegal defense changed, the hand-checking changed, the game started to change because you didn’t have the Scottie Pippens of the worlds, the Ron Harpers of the world – I’m naming these defensive guys who were very hands-on. Charles Oakley, they put their hands on you, they can guide you around the court. When that changed, the game changed.”
That’s why Carter doesn’t compare teams from different eras.
“We always talk about what team’s better,” he said. “Could the old Chicago Bulls – or some of these old teams that three-peated – compete with teams now? I don’t think they could. Well, some guys could translate. I don’t think a lot of (current) guys could translate to that because it was physical. Think of some of those Knicks teams (from) ’95 to 2000. Their rule was anytime a player runs through the paint, they had to hit you. The reason I knew that was I ended up playing with Charles Oakley, and I asked him about it. I was thirsty for the history of the game, and of course he played with Mike. I played with Kevin Willis, who played with Dominique. I played with Dee Brown, who played with Larry Bid. I played with Doug Christie, who played with Magic Johnson. So all these guys that I played with, they played with some of the best. Antonio Davis played with Reggie Miller.
“So the history and their approach to the game and just listening to them talk, now you see it – you can’t do it,” Carter continued. “There’s no hand-checking in the game. You can run around freely. So offensive players like Kyrie Irving who have these unbelievable handles – you can’t guard these guys one-on-one. We can talk about who’s better; it’s hard to say. A guy with a great handle like that or a LeBron James with his ability to go downhill – he knows as soon as you touch him that it’s a foul. You can’t put your hands on players anymore. So it’s hand-cuffed the defensive player and elevated the offensive game and more scoring. Back in the day, if you drive, you best believe you’re going to get beat up. It’s just a different game.”