Veteran Vince Carter has received a number of farewell tributes ahead of his nearing retirement, but the one at TD Garden was “a little different,’’ he says.
Before tip-off between the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks Friday night, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge presented Carter with a special gift in a private ceremony. The framed memento features a piece of the Garden’s original parquet floor as well as a photograph of Carter’s first-ever NBA bucket, a baseline fadeaway jumper over fellow 1998 draftee Paul Pierce.
“The Boston Celtics thank you for what you’ve done for the city of Boston, the entire NBA, and the world of basketball,’’ Ainge said. “Unbelievable, not just longevity, but quality. You’ve been a great teammate and a great leader.’’
Carter, now 43 years old in his 22nd — and final — season, expressed his appreciation for the gesture after the game. He also thanked Ainge and Leanda Helms, the Celtics’ senior designer and creative strategist, on Twitter Sunday morning.
“Obviously that’s history at the bottom of that picture that I’m very appreciative of,’’ Carter said. “I know what basketball means to this city, among other sports, so it was great.’’
Carter received a standing ovation when he checked into Friday’s game during the first quarter. The cheers returned when he knocked down a three to tie the game at 43 in the second quarter, and again when he made another late in the fourth. He finished with 10 points in 24 minutes off the bench in Atlanta’s losing effort.
“I was the enemy for so long,’’ Carter said. “So many battles here, boos, and ‘You suck!’ and all of that stuff. To then come here and receive a standing ovation from a great sports town like this? It doesn’t get any better than that.’’
A number of fans in attendance also brought signs or wore jerseys to honor Carter. One even brought a copy of NBA Live 2004 for Playstation 2 because Carter was on the cover that year.
For some of the younger Celtics, video games were the only way they thought they would be able to go up against Carter.
“I try to play it cool,’’ said 20-year-old rookie Romeo Langford, who defended Carter on a few possessions. “I don’t want to show it, but it’s definitely surreal and a blessing to be able to play against guys I grew up watching and playing video games with. I would have never thought I’d be playing against Vince Carter, especially at my age and his age.’’
After the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens had high praise for Carter.
“I don’t think there are a lot of guys that could be as accomplished as he is and transition into the mentor role and playing significantly less,’’ Stevens said. I think that would be very difficult. It’s a great testament to who he is, that he’s willing to do that.’’
As he walked off the Garden floor for the final time, Carter shook hands with a number of Celtics before exchanging jerseys with Jayson Tatum.
“That’s special,’’ Tatum said. “He’s been in the NBA 22 years. I’m only 21.’’