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Rare Pair
L. Jon Wertheim
November 01, 1999
It figures that Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady of the Raptors are comparable talents and kindred spirits. They're cousins! (Well, sort of)
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November 01, 1999

Rare Pair

It figures that Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady of the Raptors are comparable talents and kindred spirits. They're cousins! (Well, sort of)

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For all of Raptor Vince Carter's many virtues, he's not a patient man. Tooling around Toronto in his black Navigator, Carter taps anxiously on the dashboard at each red light. In the electronic warehouse that doubles as his sprawling condo overlooking Lake Ontario, he keeps four remotes on his coffee table so he can instantaneously change channels or switch CDs. A fledgling golfer who shoots in the high 90s, Carter usually starts his backswing before he has finished strolling to the ball. "Even as a child, he would get impatient real easy," says Vince's mother, Michelle Carter-Robinson. "Sometimes I'd have to tell him to relax, calm down and go to a movie or something."

Young, restless and preposterously talented, Carter was a bundle of nerves during the (to hear him tell it) excruciatingly long off-season. Ever since the end of the 1998-99 campaign, when he made a telegenic ascent to stardom, earning the Rookie of the Year Award and nearly leading the Raptors to the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's four-year history, Carter, a 6'6" forward, has been pining to start his second season and get back to the business of basketball. When you're 22, on the cusp of greatness and playing for a team on the upswing, delayed gratification is a burden that's hard to bear. "Last season was great, but it feels like ancient history," Carter says, looking out the window of his condo. "I'm ready to keep showing what I can do. When I say ready, I mean I'm ready now."

As Carter tries not to carom off the walls of his pad, three floors up in the same building, the eagerness of his teammate Tracy McGrady is less apparent. If the NBA blueprint shows that successful teams boast dynamic duos, the Raptors have a tantalizing one in Carter and McGrady. Like Carter, the 20-year-old McGrady has dazzling skills; Bulls general manager Jerry Krause has likened him to Scottie Pippen. But upon sauntering back to Toronto after his summer in Florida, McGrady immediately revealed himself to be in midseason form when it came to sleeping and chilling out. The abiding question: Can McGrady overcome his somnolence, accelerate his development and maximize the effectiveness of his mutually respectful—and deep-relationship with Carter on the court this season? "No problem," McGrady says. "Vince is hyper, and I'm laaaaid-back. But on the court, I'm going to step up."

When Carter stepped up last season, he was pulled right into the league's superstar vacuum. Thanks to his ability to score, rebound and block shots—and, not least, dunk with ferocity—Toronto will play on national television six times this season, which is five more than it did last year. Stores all over North America can't restock their inventory of Raptors number 15 jerseys quickly enough, and Carter's calendar is booked solid with promotional appearances in Ontario. If the entire province is pro-Vince, Carter is equally enamored of his new community, one that until recently didn't know a moving pick from Movenpick, a popular restaurant in Toronto. Cruising Yonge Street or spending a night out in the Entertainment District, Toronto's tallest celebrity greets all comers with a disarming smile and a "What's up, cuz?" It's a generic address, but when directed at McGrady, the term takes on a much richer meaning.

At a family reunion in Atlanta in July 1997, McGrady, who had just graduated from Mount Zion Academy in Durham, N.C., was approached by a woman wanting to talk hoops. She asked him whether he knew her grandson, Vince Carter. McGrady said sure, sometimes they played pickup games at North Carolina, where Carter had finished his sophomore year. In fact, whenever McGrady needed a place to store his gear, Carter would let him use his locker. Carter's grandmother explained that her father-in-law is the brother of McGrady's grandmother, making Tracy and Vince second cousins once removed ... sort of. It turns out that the relative of Vince in question is his step-great-grandfather, which means the two players aren't really kin. Such genealogical technicalities will be forever lost on them, though. Upon hearing of the distant connection, McGrady says, "I started freakin' out. I couldn't wait to tell Vince that we were related."

Carter and McGrady stayed in contact through a year that placed them at vastly different coordinates. Carter was among the best college players in the country in 1997-98, while McGrady made a seismic leap, directly from Mount Zion to the pros. Drafted by Toronto with the ninth pick, he had a rookie year he describes tersely as "hell." Flashes of brilliance were leavened by extended stays in coach Darrell Walker's doghouse. McGrady was a frustrated, lonely teenager in a strange city, racking up huge phone bills and sleeping as much as 20 hours a day. "Basically," he says, "I was just in a funk."

The clouds parted when Carter—again, think impatience—left Chapel Hill after his junior year to turn pro and, following a draft-day swap with the Golden State Warriors for his college teammate Antawn Jamison and some $250,000, ended up in Toronto. NBA players often import their friends and family to lend familiarity to an alien situation; suddenly, Carter and McGrady had a built-in support system. They realized that, in addition to family ties, they shared similar tastes in food (fried chicken and pork chops), music (R&B, rap and hip-hop) and, not least, video games (Madden NFL). Soon they became inseparable, each as likely to be in the other's apartment as his own. Teammates tell of Carter and McGrady sitting at opposite ends of the team bus and speaking to each other on their cell phones. "They say they're cousins," says guard Dee Brown. "But Siamese twins is more like it."

The presence and influence of his cousin Vinny buoyed not only the 6'8" McGrady's spirits but also his basketball. Carter and McGrady play a similar game—both are high-flying dervishes who are quick off the dribble but iffy when given the outside shot. Still, they're able to complement each other. "Tracy has the versatility and perimeter skills to play shooting guard," says Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald, "and Vince is pretty much a pure three, so we can play them together."

In a game against Indiana at the Air Canada Centre last April, they accounted for 50 of die Raptors' 99 points. A much-improved McGrady finished the season averaging 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 22.6 minutes—to Carter's 18.3 points and 5.7 boards in 35.2—and was suddenly being hailed with his cousin as Toronto's future. "Me and Vince, we're the new genera-don," says McGrady. "How many other teams have two players as exciting as us? On top of that, we're cousins!"

For now, there are still kinks in their relationship to be worked out. In a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Carter and McGrady got so caught up in trying to entertain die fans with breathtaking dunks that they neglected to play defense or involve their teammates. After die Raptors lost 112-102, veteran forward Antonio Davis called a closed-door meeting. "That was embarrassing," said Davis. "This game is a lot more than having two kids 10 out and excite die crowd."

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