Vince Carter turned 40 last month, which means he’s pretty old, at least by basketball standards. To get a sense of just how old he is, have a gander at this picture and try to accept the fact that the little kid wearing the headband is Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas.
“I met Vince when I was like 8 years old,” Stauskas, who was born and raised just outside of Toronto, told Basketball Insiders. “The Raptors had this open practice, and I went just to watch and I got chosen out of the crowd to come on the court and play a shooting game with Vince Carter and Morris Peterson. My brother was there with me at the time and he had taken a bunch of pictures and, when I got drafted, my brother actually tweeted out a picture of me standing next to Vince. So the first time that I played against him he was like, ‘Damn, I saw that picture. You’re making me feel old.’”
To be fair, he is the league’s oldest player, but it’s a fair assessment of a photograph that really is a treasure. Growing up just a half hour outside of Toronto, Stauskas couldn’t help but grow up a Raptors fan. In fact, he was two when the NBA expanded to Canada, which means he’s never really experienced a world without the Raptors. To be introduced to that team’s best player at so young an age, only to play against him in the league a decade later is pretty incredible.
“It was like 12 years ago that that picture happened and I was up to his hip. Now I’m going up against him,” he said. “It was pretty cool just to see that.”
It’s been even cooler to end up in the same league as your childhood hero.
“When [Carter] was still in Toronto, that was the superstar that I looked up to. He was one of my idols,” Stauskas admitted.
He’s still in awe of the seemingly ageless Carter, who plays ball unlike any 40-year-old that has ever come before him.
“He moves like he’s 30 right now, that’s the crazy thing,” Stauskas said. “He’s obviously done a good job of taking care of his body, and obviously he was a freak athlete coming into the NBA. He doesn’t have that same athleticism anymore, but to still maintain a good portion of it at 40 years old is impressive.”
It was Carter and those early Raptors who helped develop Stauskas’ love of basketball when he was a kid. Unlike most other kids his age, he had zero interest or inclination in ice hockey at that age. It’s always been basketball.
Today, though, Stauskas has noticed a shift back home, as basketball grows increasingly popular in a town that once belonged almost exclusively to hockey.
“It’s changing now,” he said. “Basketball definitely is becoming a lot more popular, especially when you go to see the playoff games in Toronto, now you’ll see how engaged the fans are and the fan support is pretty good. I’d say it’s at the top of the league. … I think all of the kids that are growing up in Canada see that it’s possible now and so they all have something to look up to and something to strive for as well. Hopefully, they can follow in our footsteps and we can continue having players every year that are getting drafted from Canada.”
Of course, it has a long way to go to topple the country’s most well-regarded sport.
“Basketball is definitely blowing up,” Stauskas chuckled. “But I don’t think it’ll ever overtake hockey.”
He says that, however, knowing that this was never was true for him, and in many ways Carter had a lot to do with instilling in him that love of the game. Fans may still boo Vince Carter when he comes back to Toronto, but he helped inspire a generation of young ball players in Canada that may not have existed without him. Stauskas is living proof of that.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.