The player who scored the biggest basket in Baltimore Bullets history turned 68 Thursday.
Happy Birthday, Mad Dog.
"I can still shoot," Fred Carter, the man with the feral nickname, said from his home in Norristown, Pa. "I can't make the 20-footer, but I'm good from 12 to 15. The range isn't there, but the jump shot is."
The shot was there 42 years ago, too, in the seventh and deciding game of the 1971 NBA Eastern Conference finals. Sixty-eight seconds remained when Carter, a second-year guard, hit a 20-footer to give the Bullets a 93-89 lead over the hated New York Knicks.
New York responded with a basket and, with three seconds left, tried again, but the shot was deflected by Bullets center Wes Unseld. The 93-91 victory gave Baltimore its lone appearance in the NBA Finals and avenged playoff losses to the Knicks the previous two years. It also made a hero of Carter, a Mount St. Mary's product who was better known for his defense than for scoring.
"That [winning] jump shot was the result of me having played H-O-R-S-E, after practice, with Kevin Loughery and Jack Marin," Carter said. "I could never shoot with those guys, but those games taught me, over and over, to concentrate and to stay on my shot."
The win over New York was the Bullets' finest hour. Bruised and spent, they were swept in the finals by the Milwaukee Bucks, who won four straight. Three years later, the Bullets moved to Washington and later morphed into the Wizards.
Carter was gone by then, traded to Philadelphia, his hometown, during his third year in Baltimore. It was on Philly's playgrounds where, as a schoolboy, he'd caught the eye of Jim Phelan, the Mount St. Mary's coach whose team had won the 1962 Division II championship.
"Coach took me to Emmitsburg to see the Mount," Carter said. "As we drove through Westminster and Taneytown, I saw all these cows and the grass, and asked, 'How many black kids go to school here?'
"Phelan said, 'Look in the mirror. You'll be the first.'"
Carter's arrival in 1965 created more of a ruckus on the road than at the Mount.
"At Hampden-Sydney, I got called every name in the book," he said. "At Randolph-Macon, while leaving the court at halftime, I got punched twice in the back of the head. On one trip, when a restaurant refused to serve me, our whole team got up and left."
Carter, who averaged nearly 22 points in college, led the Mountaineers to an 81-27 mark and a Mason-Dixon Conference title. He still ranks third all time in scoring there, with 1,840 points.
The Bullets' third-round pick (43rd overall) in the 1969 draft, he blossomed in his second year and chipped in nearly 15 points a game during the playoffs in Baltimore's heady championship run.
"I was the Energizer Bunny for that team," said Carter who, at 6 feet 3, played full-tilt alongside the likes of Unseld, Gus Johnson, Jack Marin and Earl Monroe.
He got his nickname from Ray Scott, a 6-foot-9 Bullets forward. During a one-on-one drill, amid the pushing and shoving, Carter proceeded to sink his teeth into Scott's shoulder.
"This guy's worse than a mad dog," Scott yelped. Teammates agreed; the moniker fit. Carter beamed.
"I wore that name proudly," he said.
Swapped to Philadelphia, he thrived for five years, leading the lowly 76ers in scoring and averaging 20 points or more for three straight seasons.
Carter retired in 1977 but never left the game. He coached the Mount St. Mary's women, moved to Atlanta as an assistant with the Hawks and then spent two years as Philadelphia's head coach (1992-1994). A broadcasting career followed — eight years with ESPN and five with NBA TV.
Now retired, he spends time with his six children and three grandchildren and leads a quiet life.
"I go to Mass every Sunday, read five pages of the Bible every day and play some golf," Carter said. "I'd like to get back into [professional] basketball as a mentor, an adviser who sits on the bench and helps to talk guys through things."
The fire is still burning, he said.
"God has kept me healthy, and my energy level is high. Right now, I just take it out on the golf ball."
He treasures memories of Baltimore, from rooming with the Hall of Fame-bound Monroe to the dunking contests he used to stage with Johnson, another Hall of Famer.
"That city was my birthplace as a pro," he said. "The Bullets taught me to play winning basketball. I'll never forget the last minute of that playoff game against the Knicks when, during a timeout, [coach] Gene Shue looked into the heavens and said, 'Please, let us win this one.'
"His prayers were answered."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun