DALLAS — You have to look really hard to see the couple gray hairs that have crept into Vince Carter’s beard.
“Up here though, for what grows back, I’ve got a few,” Carter said, rubbing his cleanly shaved head.
You don’t need to remind Carter, the Mavericks’ elder statesman at 35 now that Jason Kidd is gone, that he’s a geezer by NBA standards. The rookies remind him more than enough.
Well, we’ll assume 27-year-old rookie center Bernard James isn’t cracking too many age jokes. But Jared Cunningham and Jae Crowder take great pleasure in reminding that they were little kids when Carter earned the “Half Man, Half Amazing” nickname.
“I don’t even know if they’ve reached puberty yet,” Carter cracked. “But, whatever. It’s just the way it is. At least I can say, hey, for your age, I can last as long as you can out there.”
Carter was one of the players coach Rick Carlisle singled out after the first day of camp as being in excellent shape. That’s not a coincidence.
Carter understands that conditioning is more important for him than ever at his advanced age, even in a limited role as a reserve.
“Being the oldest guy, that’s one of the things I try to pride myself on, being in the best shape or as good of shape as possible,” Carter said. “I want to lead by example, and that’s one of the biggest things, being in shape and being able to keep the motor going at this age. It’s a great feeling.
“I feel good. I’m able to go through camp and I don’t feel bad. … Normally, I’d be sitting on the side about to die over there. I put my time in. I did a lot of running, a lot of sprints and a lot of lifting. It means a lot.”
It means he can shut the rookies up, for one thing.
Actually, Carter enjoys the relationship he’s developing with the rookies. He fondly remembers veterans like Charles Oakley and Kevin Willis guiding him as he broke into the league in Toronto all those years ago.
Carter wants to play that mentor role for the rookies. Other than old-man jokes, their conversations consist mostly of Carter passing on advice about basketball and being an NBA professional.
“I just want us to win and they’re going to be an important part,” Carter said. “They might play big minutes and they might not. At the same time, they have to be ready to go. I enjoy helping young guys and bringing them along. It’s good for me also. It keeps me young.”