“I’m Gabe Vincent,” he said, holding out his hand.
Vincent had just finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field, including 4-for-6 beyond the arc, in the Heat’s 111-108 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2, tying the series at one game apiece.
But even though he shined in front of 19,000 people — and millions more watching on television — he still wasn’t sure if everyone in the arena knew his name.
For Vincent, the last few years have been a whirlwind, in which he went from not knowing if he’d make it in the NBA to starring on the league’s biggest stage.
Vincent went undrafted in 2018 out of UC Santa Barbara. He was waived by the Sacramento Kings after signing an Exhibit-10 contract. He then played in the G League for two years, hoping he’d catch the eye of somebody who would recognize his talent.
When asked if he was worried about his future at that time, he shook his head.
“Not at all, not at all,” Vincent told FOX Sports. “I felt I did the things that I needed to do to try to break into the NBA. And if it didn’t pan out, it didn’t pan out. Other options would present themselves. But I just continued to trust the process. And just kept working on my game.”
The Heat went on to sign Vincent to a two-way contract in January 2020. He has since worked his way up from playing only nine games during the 2019-2020 season to representing one of the key pieces for a team that’s three wins away from an NBA championship.
For the 26-year-old Vincent, this is not something he takes for granted.
“It feels great to be in the Finals and to have these opportunities that many people play seasons — not seasons, careers — in this league and never got an opportunity to do so,” Vincent told FOX Sports. “I’m just happy to be here and just trying to help my team get a win.”
This past regular season, Vincent came off the bench before becoming the team’s starting point guard in February. And this postseason, Miami is relying on his contributions, with both Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo sidelined because of injuries.
With that in mind, Vincent has played his best basketball yet.
He has scored at least 20 points four times this postseason, highlighted by a 29-point performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.
When asked what Vincent has proven this postseason, Adebayo didn’t hesitate.
“Undrafted players can start in the Finals, be productive, and it doesn’t mean anything that he’s undrafted,” said Adebayo, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists on Sunday. “He’s giving guys [hope] who are going through his path or down that road of, ‘You’re not this, you’re not that, you’re not this.’ And he’s carving a space for himself. I feel like a lot of people are going to know who Gabe Vincent is.”
Vincent is in the final year of a two-year, $3.5 million deal, and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. After his performance this postseason, he’s expected to garner a significant amount of interest.
When asked for his thoughts about what’s next, he chuckled.
“The lovely free agency question,” Vincent told FOX Sports. “The Heat have been great. They’ve put a lot into me. They’ve invested in me a number of ways, with time and effort and helping me grow my game. I’m very appreciative to them for the opportunity initially that they gave me, and for helping me grow. I love Miami. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Adebayo said he first knew Vincent would turn into the player he has become when he scored a game-high 21 points in 18 minutes for the Nigerian Olympic team in their stunning upset over Team USA in an exhibition game in 2021, outscoring both Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard in fewer minutes.
“He came out with that type of energy, that type of voracity and that type of anger,” Adebayo said. “I felt like from there, he’s one of us.”
As for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, he made his feelings about Vincent clear after Game 2.
“We love Nnamdi,” Spoelstra said, referring to the name Vincent wore on the back of his jersey when he represented the Nigerian Olympic Team in homage to his Nigerian father and his culture. “We really do.”
Spoelstra went on to call Vincent “an incredible winning player,” praising him for changing his game to meet the team’s needs.
“He was a gunslinger, two-guard,” Spoelstra said. “We wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team. I think that’s the toughest thing to do in this league, is turn a two into a one.”
Vincent accepted that challenge the same way he accepted all the ones that preceded it.
Now, it’s all paying off.
And even though his profile has skyrocketed, Vincent remains as humble as ever.
When asked what winning a championship would mean to him, the guy who introduced himself declined to make it about himself.
“It would mean the world, especially after the season we’ve had for this group,” he told FOX Sports. “I want nothing more for this group and for our stars that have been battling.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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