Before Orlando ‘El Gato’ Meléndez became the first Puerto Rican-born basketball player ever to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, he was faced with another personal challenge — guarding future eight-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter.
Teammates at the University of North Carolina, Meléndez confirms the former Toronto Raptor was always half man, half amazing.
“Vince was one of the most competitive guy that I ever met,” Meléndez told Yahoo Canada Sports before a Globetrotters show in Toronto. “You know? Other than Michael Jordan.”
Meléndez played professionally across Europe before receiving the Globetrotters call but he remembers the moment, almost two decades ago, when he knew Carter would find stardom in the NBA.
“One time, I blocked his shot,” the 39-year-old recalled. “And next play, (Carter) said, ‘block this.’ He just took off — I’m like, ‘OK, this is just insane, right?’
“And then years later, we saw him doing over the seven-footer in the Olympics. And I was like, ‘yeah, I’ve seen that before.’ Not only a seven-footer, but I’ve seen that before.”
Meléndez says he notices Carter’s impact on basketball culture in Toronto every time he visits the city and is grateful for all the times he tried to defend him, even if in vain.
“I think, for me, it’s one of the biggest highlights of playing basketball overall — just to have the chance to play with Vince.”
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