Picture perfect: Celts hook up retiring Vince Carter with photo of his first NBA bucket

BOSTON -- Almost exactly 21 years ago, Vince Carter's Hall of Fame career began in an innocuous way: with a baseline jumper over fellow 1998 draftee Paul Pierce.

Friday night, before Carter -- now playing for the Atlanta Hawks in his 22nd NBA season -- played his final game here at TD Garden, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge presented him with a picture frame that included both a photograph of that shot and a piece of the famed parquet floor from the old Boston Garden.

"That was great," Carter said after finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a 112-107 Celtics victory over the Hawks. "Every city I've gone to so far, they've had a nice video or something and I have a nice memory of my time there. This was the same.

"I think about my first game, my first point here, and to get that picture ... that was my first point here, that picture. So it was pretty cool, and obviously that's history at the bottom of that picture that I'm very appreciative of. I know what basketball means to this city, amongst other sports, so it was great."

It was on Feb. 5, 1999, that Carter -- after being selected fifth overall in the 1998 NBA draft -- made his professional debut here playing for the Toronto Raptors, following a truncated preseason due to the lockout that shortened the 1998-99 campaign to just 50 games. And it was at the 7:22 mark of the first quarter of that game that Carter dribbled toward the hoop, rose up over Pierce and managed to sink the first shot he ever took in an NBA game.

"A little bit," Carter said with a smile, when asked what he remembers about that game. "I remember my first shot. I remember excitement, [being] overly excited. But it all happened so fast. Everything happened so fast. It was like a couple days of camp, two preseason games against the same team and then opening night against the same team.

"Obviously, I knew Paul from [playing in the] McDonald's [All American Game], but I was just excited. 'I'm finally here and getting my chance.'

Carter said that, as he tried to score his first basket, he had only one thing in mind.

"'Just don't shoot the ball over the goal,'" he said with a laugh. "From the nerves and excitement, I didn't want to shoot a 3. I remember driving to try to get as close as I can, and I remember I shot that baseline floater like that, and it went in and I was like, 'All right. We can play now.'"

Since then, Carter has merely played in another 1,500 games and taken more than 21,000 shots as he has carved out an iconic career that has spanned four decades and seen him play for eight teams.

Carter missed out on a chance at history Friday night, as he fell one rebound short of becoming the oldest player in NBA history to record a double-double in a game. Still, it was a reminder that, even at 43, he's capable of playing well and helping a team win.

Are moments like that enough for him to reconsider retirement? Not quite.

"No," he said with a smile. "For me, I'm one with it now, and I'll stick to it.

"I'm becoming ready for phase 2."

For Carter, that phase 2 of his life won't actually come to pass for another couple of months, and still includes a few more trips down memory lane -- including his final visit to Toronto in April. But now that he's a few months into this final swing around the league, Carter said he's growing used to getting the kind of send-off that he received in Boston on Friday night -- when he got a standing ovation as he checked into the game -- everywhere he visits for the last time.

"I can handle it," he said. "I don't want to say it's a harsh reality, but this is it. It won't happen again. But it's a great feeling to be appreciated for my time here.

"I was the enemy for so long. So many battles here, [hearing] 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."