He is half man, half amazing. He is Air Canada. He is Vinsanity. He made us jump out of our seats, while he soared through the air. He put basketball on the map in Canada. He inspired a generation.
His name is Vince Carter, and after 22 years, his NBA career is over.
It was a career full of highlights, memories, moments, and talking points that have never gone away. My intention with this post and to share my thoughts and memories of my first favourite basketball player, as I weave in and out of specific moments in his career.
With the 4th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Antawn Jamison. With the 5th pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Vince Carter. A few minutes later, they were traded for each other.
And with that, the Raptors were in flight! Well, not entirely. Due to a lockout, the 1998-99 season didn’t start until February 5, 1999.
I was seven (and a half!) years old at the time. My main hobby was discovering as many sports as I could and teaching myself the rules, teams, and players, just by watching on television.
I was already a Raptors fan before Carter got here. I had a VHS tape of a game I had recorded. For some reason, I went back and watched it regularly
, like a psychopath. The game was at SkyDome – a baseball stadium – and featured players like: Doug Christie, Dee Brown, Oliver Miller, and a young Chauncey Billups.
I’m feeling nostalgic just thinking about it.
At the time, I hadn’t figured out that the Raptors weren’t very good. It was just a game of basketball. You win some, you lose some.
I was so innocent.
FIRST GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE
On February 21, 1999, the Raptors moved into a real arena, suited for their needs – Air Canada Centre. The first game was against the Vancouver Grizzlies.
For some reason, the game was on during dinner time. I’m not sure what time tip-off was, and can’t find it online, but I remember sitting at the dinner table – between 5PM and 6:00PM, probably – with the TV on in the next room.
I would take a bite of food and stand up to see the TV. I didn’t want to miss a second.
It’s funny to me now because if there is a sporting event on during meal time, I’ll just eat in front of the TV. I have been that way my whole life.
Vince Carter scored the first basket in the new arena. It had to be him.
2000 SLAM DUNK CONTEST – THE BEST EVER
In the year 2000, the NBA brought back the Slam Dunk Contest as part of All-Star Weekend in Oakland – home of the Golden State Warriors.
Vince Carter was in it with his cousin, and teammate, Tracy McGrady. Also competing for second place were: Steve Francis, Ricky Davis, Jerry Stackhouse, and Larry Hughes.
Vince Carter’s performance put the Dunk Contest back on the map. It hadn’t taken place since 1997 because, as far as I can tell, players were running out of new tricks.
Well, Carter had his own bag of tricks. He was doing things no one had ever done before. It looked effortless.
The between-the-legs dunk is a visual masterpiece. I have a poster of it somewhere in an old magazine. What a moment. I can’t tell you how many kids attempted putting the ball between their legs, while jumping, on the playground.
In my final year of university, I had the opportunity to do a presentation on the NBA Slam Dunk Contest (Yes, this happened) and referenced the one from 2000 as a blueprint for what the contest should be, rather than what it had slowly devolved into – a contest full of props and gimmicks.
By the way, I just want to thank the Golden State Warriors for being apart of the best moments in Toronto Raptors history. You gave us Vince on draft day. You provided the setting for his dunk contest performance in 2000. And, you once again provided the setting for our franchise’s first championship in 2019. Thank you very much.
GAME 7 AND GRADUATION
It was May 20, 2001.
The Toronto Raptors were in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers. The biggest game in franchise history.
That morning, though, Vince Carter was back at the University of North Carolina, attending his graduation ceremony – fulfilling a promise to his Mom.
Oh, the controversy. People still aren’t over this.
He used the team owner’s plane to fly between Philadelphia and North Carolina.
He asked all of his teammates if they had a problem with what he was doing. None of them did.
He returned to Philadelphia five hours before the game started.
One more thing – he shot 33% and missed the game-winning shot at the buzzer. The Raptors lost by one.
As a kid, I didn’t have a problem with what he did. I thought it was a cool story. As an adult, I still have a hard time criticizing him.
Yes, sure, fine – he should have never gone to graduation, and found a way to accept his diploma at a later date. I’m sure the university would’ve rolled out the blue carpet for him. As the most important player on the team, he owed it to his teammates to be 100% focussed on the game.
Having said that, I’m not mad at him for going. If anything, I’m disappointed in the team for letting him. They could’ve said no. A whole front office could’ve said no. The owner could’ve NOT PROVIDED HIM WITH A PLANE.
People always want to connect the graduation with his poor shooting performance and missed shot at the buzzer. To me, that sounds too simple. I’m not convinced it was a domino effect.
I rewatched that game a few weeks ago. At one point, late in the game, the announcers even said it didn’t look like Carter’s morning rendezvous had affected his play.
If you look at the Box Score, Carter played the entire game. He didn’t spend a second on the bench. Allen Iverson also played the whole game.
Vince Carter shot 6 for 18 (33%) – 20 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds
Allen Iverson shot 8 for 27 (30%) – 21 points, 16 assists, 4 rebounds
Allen Iverson didn’t attend a graduation ceremony that morning and had a worse shooting performance than Carter. So, what’s my point? My point is it doesn’t matter where they were the morning of Game 7.
“Oh, but if Carter had been with his team all day, he would’ve played better and they would’ve won.”
You don’t know that!
I’m not mad about how the events of that day transpired. I’m not blaming Carter’s trip to graduation for why they lost by one point. Sorry, can’t do it.
If they had been blown out, then I’d be all-aboard the blame train. But it was one point. Someone could’ve made a free throw.
Many assumed the 2001 playoff run was the beginning of a sustained period of winning for the Raptors. It wasn’t. By 2004, Carter wanted out.
The details of him wanting out have always been confusing to me. After all these years, I’ve heard things from, “Carter wanted to leave” to “Carter believed the team wanted to build around Chris Bosh instead” to “Carter was willing to stay, but the team had already agreed to a deal”.
I don’t know what the truth is anymore. But in the eyes of fans, Carter quit on the team.
He was traded to the New Jersey Nets in December 2004, for a whole lot of nothing. I didn’t understand. If you trade one of the best players in the league, you’re supposed to get a large haul of valuable assets. That is not what happened.
Vince Carter became Public Enemy #1.
Since we traded Carter within the division, we got to see him multiple times a year. His first game back in Toronto, April 15 2005, was mayhem.
The crowd was so angry. “They don’t hate nobodies”. And Carter was so good. He scored 39 points.
Here was a guy who made us fall in love with basketball, and before he could really accomplish anything, he was gone.
It hurt. Tell me how it couldn’t. Of course the entire fan base was mad.
Fast-forward to January 8, 2006. Vince Carter was back in Toronto, once again getting booed out of the building.
At one point in the game, he playfully slapped Morris Peterson in the face. Peterson slapped him back. It was all in jest. They were former teammates – friends. But the referee caught Peterson’s slap, not Carter’s, and tossed him from the game in the second quarter.
I don’t know how the crowd didn’t start a riot at that very moment.
I vividly remember watching that game. I was perplexed.
Carter had 42 points that night, including the game-winning three-pointer from close to half court. Of course. Jason Kidd jumped in his arms as if they won a championship.
NOVEMBER 19, 2014
By this point in Carter’s career, he was a bench player, and on his 6th team, the Memphis Grizzlies. He would play for eight teams over the course of his career.
On this night, he was back in Toronto once again. I had tickets to go to the game with a few friends, who I was going to meet there.
This was the first time I would see Carter play in-person. I never went when he was on the Raptors because….well, I guess I never asked my parents for tickets. I really don’t have a better reason.
For some reason, there was a blizzard that night. I got dropped off at the subway to take to the game. After a few stops, I started feeling sick and needed to find a washroom. Well, lo and behold, not every subway station has a washroom!
What kind of nonsense is that? I finally found myself at a Starbucks across from a subway station because that’s the best I could do. I was so sick, there was no way I could continue on to the game, so I got back on the subway and went home.
I’m forever traumatized by the words, “The train is moving at slower speeds due to inclement weather.” That’s the last thing I needed to hear.
That night, I was wearing my red Vince Carter jersey. I had planned to give him a standing ovation. I wasn’t mad at him for leaving anymore. I hadn’t been for a while.
Up until that point, Carter hadn’t been cheered in Toronto since he left in 2004.
And you know what happened that night? He got a standing ovation. I missed it.
I’m still so disappointed with how that night unfolded. I listened to the game in the car on the way home, and then in my room as I went straight to bed.
THE CARTER EFFECT
Vince Carter had such an impact on the next generation, but I don’t think anyone realized it at the time. Now, we see Canadians getting drafted into the NBA (top picks, too) and they talk about how Vince Carter inspired them to play basketball.
If there was no Vince Carter in Toronto – if the Raptors didn’t trade for him on draft day – do the Raptors go the way of the Vancouver Grizzlies and get relocated after a few seasons?
I don’t know. It’s possible.
If you were a kid in Toronto (maybe even Canada?) in the early 2000s, and you were interested in basketball, it was because of Vince Carter.
No one will ever forget that.
RETIRE HIS JERSEY
I don’t want to get caught up in the, “Should the Raptors retire Carter’s jersey?” debate. Nor do I want to get caught up in the, “Should he be the first Raptor to have his number retired?” discussion.
Both are foolish and people get way too mad at them.
Here’s what’s going to happen:
1. He will get a banner raised to the rafters and his number will be retired. The fact that people think that shouldn’t happen is idiotic to me. If we’re still sitting here, ten years from now, and Carter doesn’t have a banner, it’ll be the biggest embarrassment imaginable.
It’s happening, okay. He’s going in the Hall of Fame. We’re raising a banner. Get over the whole, “He quit on the team” thing.
2. It doesn’t matter to me who has their number retired first. People want Kyle Lowry’s jersey retirement to go before anyone else. Logically, that makes sense. He deserves it.
What if he has five or six more seasons in him, though? And then the ceremony would be the following season, at the earliest. We’re going to have Vince Carter wait until 2027(?) before we feel good about putting his banner up? Are we okay with that?
I don’t know. It just feels weird to me. Then again, I don’t care about “the order of banners being raised”.
The Raptors organization will make their own decision and we’ll cheer for the person, regardless of order. It’ll be fine, guys, I promise.
END OF AN ICON
When you watch a Vince Carter highlight reel, there are so many dunks and plays that make you think, “Was anyone ever defending him?”
The fact of the matter is, he would just jump over people and put them on a poster, so they were better off getting out of the way.
He captivated a nation and, yes, it was a bumpy ride, full of every emotion between love and hate, but it was a wonderful ride. You can hate him for leaving Toronto, but you also have to love him for the things he did while he was here.
Vince Carter’s first season in the NBA started later than usual, due to a lockout. His final season in the NBA ended earlier than usual, due to a pandemic.
It cost him one last trip to Toronto, where he was sure to receive a loud ovation for the final time as a player.
To me and millions of fans, he will always be half man, half amazing.
He will always be, Air Canada.
He will always be, Vinsanity.
Thanks for the memories.