On the surface, Sunday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings could be easily overlooked.
Sunday afternoon games in Toronto don’t exactly command attention; especially so with the struggling Kings in town for an easy win for the home Raptors.
However, one man made Sunday’s game special and brought fans out to watch an otherwise meaningless game in the NBA schedule. The chance to say goodbye to former Raptors hero – and one-time traitor and villain – Vince Carter made the events at the Air Canada Centre a special event.
Carter’s role in the history of the Raptors franchise and Canadian basketball has been well reported through his career. Still, it is always worth stating every time Carter returns to Toronto that the player known as a former University of North Carolina star and NBA Slam Dunk champion stateside is a Godlike figure to Canadians born in the ’80s and ’90s.
During the NBA’s move to bring the league to Canada, Carter emerged as the perfect superstar to stoke a fire inside lukewarm fans of the sport, and to fill the role as a superhero to Canadian kids learning the game. Future Canadian stars like Andrew Wiggins credited Carter for being “a big influence.”
Vince Carter’s spectacular dunks and his scoring ability lifted the Raptors into the forefront not just in Canada. His star and must watch play allowed the Raptors to build recognition in the United States through their first true amounts of exposure on national television.
Despite all of Carter’s contributions to Toronto and Canadian basketball, the majority of Carter’s career has been spent as a villain to fans north of the border. Carter’s decision to force his way out of Toronto due to discontent with the team’s front office and the handling of the situation by the Raptors led to an era where he was an enemy of Canada for years.
Whenever Carter stepped onto the floor – particularly in his run with the New Jersey Nets directly after the trade – the hate would sweep through the ACC crowd and onto the floor; pure hate for a player who was once a childhood hero.
Carter filled the heel role perfectly during this time with the Nets. He elevated his play to another level in the face of anger from a crowd that once showered him with love and now wanted nothing more than to cheer at his failures.
At one point during the rivalry between Raptors fans and Carter, it appeared as if Carter would never be truly embraced again by the fanbase.
Sure, some fondly remembered Carter and respected his time and effort spent with the Raptors. Those people were far in between as the consensus amongst fans was that Carter’s actions were unforgivable and his betrayal of the Raptors caused the team to take a step back rather than making the jump to sustained relevance.
It also didn’t help that Carter ripped the hearts out of the Raptors in the 2007 NBA Playoffs to add further heat to the rivalry.
Luckily for both parties, time heals all wounds and after Carter made several more stops in his long-tenured NBA career the hate towards him in Toronto has subsided.
The combination of the Raptors’ successes with new stars in the Chris Bosh era and now with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan along with Carter’s longevity in his 20 NBA seasons on seven different stops has allowed the hate to wash away.
Instead, Carter is welcomed back in Toronto fondly as a player who brought so much joy to basketball fans in this country during the start of something special. Love him or hate him, Carter brought basketball into the households of millions who eventually turned into Raptors fans for life.
That place in the narrative of the NBA’s history in Canada and the development of the sport in the country will forever make Carter a special figure in Toronto.
You could feel it in Sunday’s potential goodbye to Vince Carter in the fourth quarter. With 11.8 seconds left, Carter was subbed off to give the ACC the chance to say goodbye. The fans obliged with a standing ovation fitting for a player who made the ACC so special they called him Air Canada himself.
For one last time, Vince Carter gets a standing ovation in Toronto pic.twitter.com/qUpxCAcO9p
— AP (@Ananth_Pandian) December 17, 2017
If this is truly Vince Carter’s last season, this is the moment that should be remembered for a player who has stayed around long after his incredible athletic peak.
Longevity has turned Carter into a role player and journeyman in the minds of many, but in Canada, he will always be one of the biggest names to ever play the game. VC’s presence always brought a special energy to Canadian basketball and if this is truly the last time he will step onto the floor at the ACC as a player, he will truly be missed.
Thanks for the memories, Vince.