How Vince Carter put Toronto…and Canadian Basketball on the Map
“He made the Raptors a viable NBA team.”
After 22 illustrious seasons, Vince Carter has officially announced his retirement from the NBA.
The 43-year-old SG/SF announced that he is “officially done playing basketball professionally” on Thursday on his Podcast “Winging It With Vince Carter”
Carter spent time with eight different teams during his career, but none more iconic than his first seven seasons with the Toronto Raptors.
Carter was drafted by the Golden State Warriors 5th overall in 1998 but was traded to Toronto that same night for their 4th overall pick Antawn Jamison. Little did Carter know, he would be the main factor in putting Toronto on the map.
Daniel Reynolds, Editor in Chief for Raptors HQ says they had a tough time being relevant in the NBA
“They were a basketball squad in hockey-mad Canada, playing in a baseball stadium, and wearing weird-looking jerseys. The team was bad on the court and had gained very little popularity off it,” Reynolds says. “To get a player like Vince at that time was just what the franchise needed. He made the Raptors a viable NBA team.”
“The image of him mouthing ‘it’s over’ with ‘Toronto’ across his chest really put him and Toronto basketball on the map.”
Vince Carter started to gain superstar levels of popularity at the turn of the millennium in 2000 with his iconic performance in the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest.
“Nobody has truly replicated it since,” NBA writer for theScore, John Chick, says about Carter’s performance. “I knew he was an up-and-coming star before that, but the image of him mouthing ‘it’s over’ with ‘Toronto’ across his chest really put him and Toronto basketball on the map.”
From that point on, the eyes of the basketball world were on Toronto. Not only were the Raptors finally winning games, but Carter was blossoming into something special.
“This was when the Raptors were, for the first time in history, winning more games than they were losing,” Reynolds says. “And it became clear that not only was Toronto going to the playoffs, we were watching one of the best players in the league [in Vince].”
Toronto was known as a hockey town. Sports headlines were dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the rise of “Vinsanity” helped turn the tide.
“For a while, he was easily the first non-hockey, non-baseball star to win over the city. ,” Chick says. “That sort of thing puts cities on maps where they may not be thought of in some quarters”
The Start of a Movement
Much of the youth in and around Toronto began to become enchanted by Vinsanity. For the first time ever, kids in Canada chose to pick up a basketball over a hockey stick. Canada has Carter and the Raptors to thank for that.
“As we watch the rise of Canadian-born NBA players, it’s obvious that Carter and the Raptors changed the calculus for basketball in Canada,” Reynolds says. “We went from being a country with little basketball culture to a place that regularly generates collegiate and NBA-level talent.”
There are currently 16 Canadian NBA players plus another four more on two-way contracts. This makes Canada the second-biggest producer of NBA talent, trailing just the United States of America.
“I’m sure there would be more players,” Chick says. “but much of the explosion of talent in the Greater Toronto Area specifically can be traced back to Vince.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good times with Carter in the Six. A dispute between Carter and management led to Carter wanting out. That lack of motivation showed on the court, as Carter played with less excitement and effort than in past seasons.
“Carter really did dog it during his final days and months with Toronto,” Reynolds says. “This is the part that will likely never quite be fixed, even after Carter’s retirement.”
The front office at the time were not the victims in this case, however. They definitely played a part in pushing Vince out of Canada
“Raptors management wasn’t blameless in their handling of the situation,” Reynolds says. “I suspect both sides wish some things had been handled differently.”
For about a decade, this caused fans to turn against Carter. He would be “welcomed” with a roar of boos every time he came back to the Air Canada Centre, now Scotiabank Arena.
“As a fan I was angry at him for years,” Chick says “but like anything, time heals all wounds.”
Fans in Toronto showed Vince love for the first time in 2014 when he paid a Visit to T.O as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It just so happens that in 2014 when Carter returned to Toronto as a Grizzly and was given a touching video tribute and ovation,” Reynolds says. “For some, the wound Carter helped create will always be a bit raw, but after watching half a dozen great years of basketball in Toronto—and winning the 2019 NBA championship—it’s easier to forgive.”
Given the strange relationship between the Raptors and their fans have with Carter, many questions stand as to how the Raps would honor his impact on their organization.
“I don’t think they should retire [his number]. They should honour it. ” Chick says. “Maybe he should get a statue outside Scotiabank Arena too. Ideally when fans can actually be in the stands again.“
Reynolds, on the other hand, thinks that the iconic purple number 15 should definitely be retired. Just not the first number retired.
“He’ll have to wait for Kyle Lowry to retire and get his number hung from the rafters in Toronto first,” Reynolds says. “Then we can discuss Carter’s jersey retirement ceremony.”
Vince Carter undoubtedly had an incredible career, one that spanned three decades. Known by many as Air Canada, Carter had an everlasting impression on the Toronto Raptors franchise.