- Josh Elias | October 8th, 2019
There used to be a game people would play called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” where people would try to connect Bacon to any given person in Hollywood in six degrees or less. It was a spoof of the concept of six degrees of separation and an interview Bacon once gave in which he talked about having worked with just about everybody in Hollywood, it was popular enough to inspire books and become engrained in pop culture, and anybody who actually played it must have been the biggest film nerd in the world.
There’s even a website that’s been around for 20 years now entitled The Oracle of Bacon. The Oracle of Bacon uses an algorithm that compiles nearly a million IMDb pages to find links to Bacon.
Why in the world am I writing about Kevin Bacon?
Well, the originators of the game claimed that Bacon was “the center of the entertainment universe”. Perhaps there’s an equivalent in the NBA.
In that regard, I’d like to propose Vince Carter to be the center of the NBA universe.
Carter’s entering his record 22nd NBA season, he’s suited up for eight teams, and he’s had 254 different teammates. He has a veritable A-Z of names he’s suited up alongside, ranging from Aaron Brooks to Zoran Planinic.
He’s played alongside Chris Bosh, Cliff Robinson, De’Aaron Fox, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jason Kidd, Lamar Odom, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Muggsy Bogues, Rashard Lewis, Richard Jefferson, Tracy McGrady, Zach Randolph, and, of course, the indomitable Brian Scalabrine.
You could legitimately make a full eight-man rotation just out of former teammates of Carter who have the first name Chris: along with Bosh, there’s Chris Kaman, Chris Andersen, Chris Duhon, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Childs, Chris Wright, and Chris Jefferies.
So if we applied Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to Carter, it’s bound to get interesting.
For the last two months of the 2003-04 season, Carter’s last full year in Toronto, the Raptors were struggling on the court and dealing with injury issues. In February, backup center Lonny Baxter was released from the team after a knee tendinitis flair, and in came a stopgap replacement in Corie Blount.
Blount was a veteran center on his last NBA legs, but more importantly for Bacon’s Law, he was a member of the Chicago Bulls from 1993 to 1995 and the Los Angeles Lakers for the next four seasons subsequent to that.
During that time, Blount had been a teammate of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. That means that, through Blount, Carter’s just two Bacon Numbers away from all five of them.
When Carter entered the league, he was part of an extremely exciting backcourt in Toronto, spearheaded by himself, Doug Christie, a young McGrady, and an established uber-athletic point guard named Dee Brown. Brown has, by now, become largely forgotten by much of the NBA’s fanbase aside from Toronto and Boston, but there’s a good reason those two teams still remember him fondly.
Brown was one of the more entertaining players in the league circa the mid-1990s and he has a dunk contest title to show for it. He was also able to score in spurts at a high rate, leading to a 1993-94 season where he led the Celtics in scoring. For our purposes though, he’s important because his entrance to the league was alongside Boston’s Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.
Which means Carter is similarly two Bacon Numbers away from each of them.
His connection with Bosh means that he’s also just two Bacon Numbers away from LeBron James.
Connecting him to the man who’s projected to be the star of the next generation isn’t any harder. In fact, just last night, Carter played his first preseason game as a teammate of rookie Cam Reddish, who was a co-star of Zion Williamson last season at Duke.
In fact, it’s seemingly impossible to find someone who can’t be connected to Vince in considerably fewer steps than the necessary six.
Stephen Curry? Check.
Nicolas Batum? Check.
Josh Powell? Check.
Dwayne Schintzius? Sure enough.
So exactly how far can we go with this?
It turns out pretty far.
Using the full six degrees, Carter can actually even be connected to the NBA’s first-ever GOAT candidate, George Mikan, three different times using three entirely separate paths.
It just so happens that Carter started off his career as a teammate of Kevin Willis, the only other player the NBA’s ever had who was on a roster for 22 seasons (although he missed one of those years entirely with a torn ACL, which is why he officially has only a 21-year career).
Willis spent a few years as Moses Malone‘s post partner in Atlanta, and Malone’s first All-Star season in Houston saw him as teammates with Zaid Abdul-Aziz.
Abdul-Aziz’s first stable role in the league had been on the Seattle Supersonics, who employed Lenny Wilkens as both their star point guard and their head coach during Abdul-Aziz’s first stint in the Emerald City. Wilkens himself, meanwhile, had begun his career in St. Louis, where the center he started alongside was Clyde Lovellette, the only player to have ever earned a starting spot over Mikan. Six degrees!
Willis wasn’t the only player from the 1984 draft class that Carter got to play alongside though, thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon’s injury-prone final season in Toronto. Olajuwon’s career had begun with Lionel Hollins starting at point guard, Hollins having been a veteran floor general with a championship ring under his belt from his time at Portland.
Also from his time at Portland was 16 days as a teammate of journeyman Greg Smith, something that only at all matters in that it means we get to continue this path towards Mikan. Smith started his rookie year competing for minutes with Dave Gambee.
Gambee had been a big college star at Oregon State, but he never reached the potential he had once shown once he arrived in the NBA. Part of his stunted potential could have had to do with being drafted to a St. Louis Hawks team who had aspirations to win their second championship and therefore had no room to give Gambee minutes.
Most of the credit for the Hawks’ success at the time goes to Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, but none of it would’ve been possible if they hadn’t had the best defensive point guard the league had seen thus far – Slater Martin. Martin was crucial to the Hawks’ contention, and he was also a major part of why the Mikan-led Lakers were so easily able to become the NBA’s first dynasty. Six degrees, twice!
There was another path to Mikan that largely involved lesser-known players, too. Carter and Tyrone Corbin were teammates in the fall of 2000, Corbin’s final season. Corbin’s career had begun with San Antonio in the 1980s, in a situation where the team was mostly just in limbo, waiting for David Robinson to return from active duty so he could join the team.
While Robinson was gone though, they bided their time and stayed somewhat competitive by holding onto an aging Artis Gilmore, who was nearly a decade removed from his prime and 15 years removed from his ABA MVP award.
From that MVP season, Gilmore had spent much of it positioned in the post alongside Les Hunter. Hunter had been a two-time All-Star in the ABA, but his NBA career was much less successful. He only lasted 114 minutes in Baltimore, and that was the only opportunity he’d get before the ABA came along.
During his short time as a Bullet though, Hunter had been teammates with former top pick Si Green. Green’s career had been interrupted early on because of military conscription, and his full potential only was ever revealed in short bursts, but for thirteen games as a rookie, Green was a Rochester Royal, and one of the focal points of their young core. One of their few veterans was a bench player named Lew Hitch, a former Laker who’d spent years alongside Mikan. Six degrees, thrice!
For a player who’s still playing today to be connectable to Mikan, who started playing professionally before the NBA existed and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame 60 years ago, in just six degrees in three different ways, is ludicrous. J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are the only two active players who can even do it once (they were both also teammates with Willis).
Seriously, if Vince Carter can even connect to Mikan within six degrees, it may be impossible to find someone he can’t link to.
It even works for Kevin Bacon.
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