The word addiction is paralyzing in its truest form. Ask anyone that has dealt, suffered, or loved someone with an addiction, you’ll know that addiction knows no bound. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, where you live, or how many people know your name.
Most sports fans know Vince Carter as a high-flying NBA basketball player. A charismatic, intensive, player on the court, Vince Carter has carved out a legacy of saving lives off of it.
The Vince Carter few know is what drives him. Growing up with addiction all around him, Vince always found serenity through basketball and sports. The competition was his drug. Meanwhile, family members all around him were losing the battle against addiction. “I have had friends who are great athletes fall short, family members, uncles, and a brother that was going through that addiction,” says Carter.
It’s a day most of us dream would happen to us. You just sign a big contract to be a professional athlete, you’re unable to sleep at night because you’re trying to figure out which car you should buy, where you should buy a house, or how you’re going to spend your money. For Vince Carter it was an easy decision. “Embassy of Hope was the first thing that we started really when I got started, says Carter. “It wasn’t a car, or anything like that, Embassy of Hope was started before all of that.”
What some even diehard Vince Carter fans might not know is that Embassy of Hope Foundation, and particularly Vince Carter, donated several million of dollars to a drug and alcohol treatment center in Bunnell, Florida. The place, named Vince Carter Sanctuary, is a drug and alcohol treatment center mainly tailored to kids struggling with addiction.
The Sanctuary is a refuge for Carter, and is near and dear to his heart. “It has opened my eyes. For the life that most people think I have, it has opened my eyes just how many people fall victim to it. I am a very sensitive guy, yet strong and confident in the things that I do, but I am just willing to do anything to help these guys out in any way that I can.”
“It’s just another way to help out some one that may not be able to help out themselves. We do an annual thing where I come up there and all the graduates and the current kids that are in there, and we just sit and have a big pow wow. It’s tough because you want to hold it together for them because they are in there doing something to get better. When you hear someone tell you thank you for saving my life, it sends chills down my arm, every single time. To just think, that this person probably wouldn’t be here in a year, and they are thanking me for saving their lives.”
Most in recovery will seek out those people that have what those in desperate positions need. As much as a sponsor helps out a new person in recovery, Carter is amazed at how willing and open people going through treatment are. “People put athletes on pedestals, but these kids feel more comfortable talking to us than anyone else,” says Carter. “You may be a fan of mine, or see me as a hero or role-model, but they feel so comfortable just sitting and telling me their secrets. I think that’s very cool. I don’t know them that well, but yet they treat me as their best friend and tell me everything. The first time it happened I was a little uncomfortable. I’m thinking to myself that what I tell this person can go one of two ways, up or down. It just kind of spooked me out, but I just tried to be honest and give my advice. I use things that I have been through, and it made them kind of relax some.”
Carter started his own foundation, titled Embassy of Hope, when he first came to the NBA in 1998. Carter felt that he needed to give back. “It is just something I am passionate about, says Carter. “I enjoy supporting and helping kids find their way. It allowed me a way to reach out to kids, and letting them know it is alright to believe in your dreams, and that you can achieve those dreams. Every kid sets a goal, sets the bar for themselves, but lose the belief that those goals which they set can be reached. We also allow them to choose their career path, and how to go about achieving their career choices.”
Vince Carter believes that he owes something to basketball. . “I love the game of the basketball, Carter says. “Basketball has given me the opportunity to be in a position to help out people. I enjoy helping out people.” The Dallas Maverick guard is entering his final stretch of his NBA career, something I didn’t address with him, but Carter sees an opportunity off the court to help people out. “Even around here, I always sit down with the rookies. I hang around the rookies and we talk about things going on with their lives, and even though they make a few old man jokes, I am able to give what I have experienced and seen to them.
Carter started his NBA career in Toronto, and has made stops in New Jersey, Phoenix, Orlando, and now Dallas. The Embassy of Hope Foundation has come with him to every stop. Although Carter makes a point to give back to his hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, Embassy of Hope has organized, supported, and sponsored events in every city that Carter has played. From donating school clothes for the first day of school to kids that cannot afford new clothes, to starting school radio stations empowering parents to become more involved with their kids lives, to running basketball camps and golf tournaments. There are far too many programs and fundraisers to mention, and Carter likes it that way.
In 2007 Vince Carter was there when a statue of him was unveiled in front of his old high school, Mainland, in Daytona Beach, Florida. A bronze Vince Carter, wearing a suite, stands holding out one of his hands, with a basketball tucked under the other arm. Carter says, “It’s just me reaching out my hand encouraging that kid to reach out for help, and asking that kid to trust me enough to get over that obstacle that is in their life right now.” On the bottom of the statue, the words “Believe in your dreams.”
“That’s what I love most about my life, says a smiling Carter, “Is being able to help out kids that probably wouldn’t be capable of reaching their goals on their own. Whether it’s getting some one into a Division III school to play ball, or so forth. Kids are being bullied, and they are scared and don’t want to tell their parents. I can understand that.”
Asking Vince Carter to pick his favorite moment since starting Embassy of Hope is like asking him to pick his favorite dunk. He cannot do it. “There are just so many. I have kids that started in my basketball camp the first year, and now are camp counselors and have not missed a year since. Just seeing the people grow up, and meeting people that want to help out with the camp. I think of the kids that came in having chosen the wrong path, and with just being willing to sit down with them, they spill their guts. Things they don’t tell their mother, father, brother, sister, but yet they sit down and tell me their deepest, darkest secrets. All of a sudden, they change their lives. It is nothing more than just sitting down and pointing them in the right direction. It’s nothing they learned in a book. Getting a letter from a family member saying that they are not sure, nor do they care, what was said at the camp, but their child’s life has changed since. They went from skipping school, and now they quit stealing and getting straight A’s.”
What has eluded Vince Carter is a championship, and he is even more determined to capture one while in Dallas. It’s uncertain what his role will be in Dallas, but one thing is for sure, there are thousands of people that know exactly what role Carter has played in their lives. He’s given them one.
For more information on Vince Carter and Embassy of Hope, please visit www.vincecarter15.com