Toronto Raptors: How Vince Carter Inspired a Generation


Toronto Raptors: How Vince Carter Inspired a Generation

Never mind just the Toronto Raptors. Vince Carter saved basketball in Canada. With all due respect to Steve Nash and what he has accomplished over his playing career, he was not the original face of Canadian basketball.

The guy who really gave this sport a fighting chance in this country would be this man:

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In 1999, the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise had all but squandered a golden opportunity to expand the NBA’s influence north of the border on the west coast north. Half-filled arenas and poor money management, coupled with losing season after losing season, spelled the end of the NBA’s six year experiment in Vancouver. The team moved south to Memphis in 2002, leaving the Raptors as the only team left in Canada.

Although the Raptors were financially stable and about to enjoy the confines of a brand new arena at the heart of downtown, all was not golden. The Raptors had found themselves in a similar downward spiral of crappy teams and a revolving door of coaches and management, with no real end in sight.

Then, general manager Glen Grunwald made a trade on draft night 1998 that saw the Raptors fourth overall pick Antawn Jamison head to Golden State for fifth overall pick Carter. In doing so, the course of Canadian basketball was altered forever.

We all know the story of what happened next so I won’t bore you with the details. All you need to know is that in the four-year span between Vince’s acquisition and the Raptors first round exit to the Detroit Pistons in 2002, the Raptors franchise:

  • Set attendance records for three consecutive seasons.
  • Saw the value of the franchise go from $125 million to $217 million by 2002.
  • Set franchise records in wins, and make the playoffs three of the four seasons.

Vince left in 2004, but his mark remained. From the basketball courts in Rexdale and Pickering,wearing jerseys bearing his “VC” logo, brought disdain from loyal Raptors fans.

However, to a visible minority during his time here, Vince Carter was a hero and role model in a city that had been previously dominated for generations during the winter months, by unrecognizable faces that played a sport you had little to no connection to.

Probably the most prolific photo in Toronto Raptors history, whether you like it or not. (Getty Images)

People in this city can say what they like about Vince – how he left, what was said, what wasn’t said. But the fact that people still even talk about his departure, a decade and two division titles later, says more than any arguments the naysayers may make.

Steve Nash was amazing. He won awards and is going to be the first ever Canadian inducted to the hall of fame since Dr. James Naismith himself. But I ask you, look around the landscape of Toronto, and the Canadian NBA class of this generation, and to the haters I say wake up.

I have had the privilege to play and speak with a lot of these young men and women that are now in the pros and national programs, and every time I talk about inspirations with them, Carter is never left out of the conversation.

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Every single one of them will tell you their favourite Vince Carter moment, and even the ones who don’t necessarily see him as a direct influence on their game, will acknowledge that he made basketball a cool sport to play in this country.

I say this to Vince haters, you’re not allowed to cheer this generation on if you’re still uptight about what happened 10 years ago. You can’t have one without the other.

So the question begs, what if Vince had never been traded here back in 1998? How would the basketball landscape of this country look today? Would it even exist?

“No one has a crystal ball,” says Rowan Barrett, Assistant general manager and vice president of the senior men’s Canadian national team. “Reality is, players constantly come out of the draft and could potentially leave an impact on any market they come to. But the excitement he (Vince) brought to the game, his natural leaping abilities, even for a casual fan, made people stop and take notice.

Nov 15, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) reacts during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Dallas won 131-117. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m not sure how it would have been (without him here), but he clearly had a positive impact on a lot of the young men that have come through our program since then. Like Steve (Nash), they are global athletes and Vince had his moments, you go back to that dunk contest in 2000 and you see ‘Toronto’ right across his chest, that resonates with people.”

Barrett went onto describe the effect a player like Carter can have on a younger generation:

“More kids generally go out to the gym and try to play like him, more kids ask for the hoop at the front of the house when they are at the sports store, and the impact has carried through the athletes. He impacted participation on every level of the game here.”

It’s safe to say, when you see greatness, you want to emulate it. Seriously, take one look at this generation of Canadian ballers and it’s not hard to see how Vince shaped their future.

He looks like one of them, his competitiveness and upbringing are similar to theirs. Long before any of them ever played CIA Bounce or their respected prep schools and colleges, they got a first-hand account of what greatness looked like every night at the Air Canada Centre, even during the losing seasons.

So to the people that will be at this game tonight I ask you, if you do not cheer for Vince Carter when his tribute video comes on at the first quarter break, stand in silent reflection. Booing a generational talent like him is the same as booing every single Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, and Kayla Alexander that is either in the pros or on their way soon.

That is Vince Carter’s legacy, a legacy we need to be proud of.