The expectations for the Raptors in their early years were simple – there were none. Having been a lottery team for the first 4 years of existence, there was an opportunity to stockpile talent and then see what would happen next. Personally, I didn’t really start paying attention to basketball consistently until I was about 10 or 11. My mom brought me to a game against the Alonzo Mourning-led Miami Heat in 2002, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. That said, I didn’t have to partake in the garbage that was being churned out from the SkyDome in the initial years, but I was still in elementary school, and no one really cared for the Raptors outside of the fact that we thought the logo was cool. The nickname ‘Craptors’ evolved naturally through their lackluster years (and I put that lightly) in the post-Vince era. In ’98, Vince won Rookie of the Year – that was good; in ’99, the Raptors made it to the playoffs for the first time in their history – that was good. Then in the year 2000, it happened. Yes, the Raptors won a playoff round and advanced to the 2nd round, but that wasn’t the highlight of that year. You know exactly what it was – the infamous Dunk-Off during All Star weekend. That’s when the basketball world (and world alike) discovered what the fans in Toronto pretty much already knew – we had a star. Since that magnificent display of athleticism and power, every dunker whom has shown some form of prominence has had to be compared to the likes of really two players: Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. That’s saying a lot, and the nickname of Air Canada was born (it helped that the Raptors played in the Air Canada Centre), but the play on words that drew instant comparison to ‘Air Jordan’ made it that much more significant. What else happened that summer? Oh yeah, this little thing called the Olympics and he cleared a 7-footer for one of the greatest dunks ever to exist on Earth. It was quite a time.
The 2000-01 Toronto Raptors set the standard for the franchise that future teams would have to catch up to. Despite the shock of losing Tracy McGrady in the offseason to Orlando (more ‘what ifs’), that team was loaded. Vince, Oakley, Alvin Williams, JYD, Dell Curry (yes, father of Stephen), Mo Pete, and freakin’ Antonio Davis (just to name a few). If there was any team that year that was poised to make a run for the Finals, it was this team. Philly had Allen Iverson, and Milwaukee had (a young) Ray Allen, but the confidence was that the Raptors would make their first Finals appearance vs. the Lakers. Again, I was 11 at the time, but you couldn’t escape the excitement from all corners of the city, no matter your age or allegiance to the Raptors. Vince showed the city and the NBA that the Raptors could be contenders for the future, and that was especially evident in the 2nd round series against the Sixers. Having the opportunity to dispose of the MVP, A.I, was a very real scenario that the Raptors could have taken advantage of. Being the leading scorer in 6 of 7 games during that series, VC put the team on his back, and in a back and forth thriller, where it looked like the Raptors could have cemented their status as a team that was ‘for real,’ that dream bricked off the rim just like Vince’s (unnecessary) fadeaway attempted game winner in Game 7. That wasn’t the worst part – it was the smile afterwards that turned Vince from beloved to hated in many of the minds and hearts of Raptors faithful.
That shot seemingly sent shockwaves in the world of the Raptors from that point on, because everything just seemed to get worse from that point forward. Raptors got back to the playoffs, but lost to the Pistons in the first round. Vince was hurt for the majority of the 2002-03 season, and that ended in a fire pit of misery. Luckily, we drafted some guy named Chris Bosh, and things looked like they were going to be good moving forward – Wrong. Wrong. Traded JYD & Antonio Davis, and seemed like it was a team that was all aboard the tank train. 04-05 will be the season that will haunt a lot of Raptors fans, because that’s when ithappened – the trade. To the Nets, no less. Management & Vince, by their own accords, have retold the story of why it happened (years later), but that didn’t stop Raptors fans from holding onto their hatred. We booed. A lot. Every time. There’s a generation of fans who grew up just hating Vince Carter by birthright. It was that bad. The game-winning 3 in 2006 at the ACC is a memory that still haunts a lot of people, but it got worse (because of course it did) when the following season, the Raptors played the Nets in the playoffs, and we lost in 6. Why him? Of all people, why did it have to be him? That’s what stung the most. It completely diminished the fact that the 06-07 team matched the high mark in games won for the franchise (which wouldn’t be broken until 2013-14), and that maybe the team would give us things to look forward to in the future (which it didn’t). It was just Vince. The hatred of him was the narrative. He was the one who ruined the glory that the Raptors were supposed to have. He’s the reason T-Mac left. He’s the reason why we didn’t advance in 2001. Him. Him. Him.
Only when Vince was on the last leg of his career is where the appreciation and calls for forgiveness evolved from whispers to actual conversations. That only came to be once the kids who idolized him in the city of Toronto (and surrounding regions) were entering the NBA and were thanking him for being the genesis of their pursuits to the big league. That’s a claim that can’t be associated to many players. Vince Carter has been designated as a role player for many years because his career was riddled with injuries. Of course there are still going to be a contingent of people who will hold onto past grudges, but for the majority of people who had an opinion on the matter of VC, the impact on the game in Canada matters more to the fans than a missed 3 pointer or bad blood with management that resulted in a trade. The Raptors are more than likely going to retire his number (which was also Amir Johnson’s number, but I think he’d understand), and he’s one of the greatest Raptors ever, and the argument is that he still is (although DeMar has certainly made his case). VC was a budding superstar that turned journeyman, and the Raptors bathed in the waters of mediocrity before the tables finally decided to turn in their favour. It’s very interesting to see the parallels of the player, and the franchise that came to be noticed because of the player. Love him or hate him, he’s a Raptor forever, whether you like it or not. There are many ‘what ifs’ that have followed the Raptors and Vince throughout their respective tenures, but what is true is that the two will be forever linked.
That’s My Word & It STiXX