Toronto Raptors: Is Charles Oakley right with Vince Carter criticism?

Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter. (Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport)
Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter. (Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport) /

Charles Oakley believes the Toronto Raptors would have won Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, if Vince Carter didn’t attend his graduation on the same day.

Vince Carter was the player who meant everything to the Toronto Raptors during his time in Southern Ontario. He was a five-time All-Star who put the franchise and Canada firmly on the NBA map.

By comparison, Charles Oakley only made one All-Star appearance during his entire career. He also effectively only “passed” through Toronto, spending just three of his 19 seasons in Southern Ontario.

And yet, Oakley still played an essential role as part of the Raptors team which made the first two playoff appearances in franchise history. He was the hard-working, physical, veteran presence Toronto needed.

As such, when the 1985 ninth overall draft pick has anything to say about the Raptors, he’s worth listening to. Especially when it involves “Air Canada”.

Oakley was in Toronto last week for a celebrity basketball tournament and on Friday, he was interviewed on Tim and Sid. As reported by Sportsnet, he has no doubt the Raptors would have won the deciding Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, if Carter didn’t attend his college graduation ceremony on the same day.

Over the first six games of the series Carter was sensational, averaging 32.2 points per contest. However, when it mattered most in Game 7, he scored just 20 and missed a last-second jumper, which would have clinched a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

As you can imagine, the loss resulted in people questioning the 41-year-old’s wisdom in flying to North Carolina before the deciding game, to receive his diploma. To many, this was just another example of his selfish nature, putting himself ahead of the team during his tenure in Toronto.

Oakley admitted the players only found out their teammate would be going to his graduation at essentially the last minute. The renowned hard man was diplomatic when Tim and Sid asked him if they protested to management, but you could still read between the lines.

"“No. He’s still our brother, said Oakley, as reported by Sportsnet. “It was important to him and his life … He made the right decision for him, but it wasn’t a team decision.“He came in, played a good game, but it’s like a band member off key. You know the difference.”"

Unsurprisingly, Oakley’s comments have had a polarizing effect among Raptors/Toronto sports fans. The reactions have ranged across the spectrum, from ‘he’s right’ to ‘who cares?’.

Starting with Oakley himself, it is unfair for people to suggest he’s irrelevant and just trying to get publicity for himself. Apart from the fact he’s had more than his fair share of publicity in the last 13 months, he was just answering a question from a couple of Toronto-based sports personalities.

In addition, the 54-year-old makes some valid observations, given Carter’s points production and the fact the Raptors lost by just a single point. It stands to reason they could (would) have won, if their star player hadn’t spent the day flying to and from North Carolina.

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However, when turning to Carter specifically, it is also unfair to criticize him for what he did. You (usually) only get the chance to graduate once in your life and it is one of those things which is arguably more important than sports.

(Think about all the athletes who leave college early, to enter the professional ranks. While they are doing it for the money, a lot of people believe they should finish their education first, to put themselves in a stronger position post-playing career.)

In addition, Carter was at the height of his powers, as he averaged a career-high 27.6 points during the season. He likely had a certain feeling of invincibility given his talent, likely meaning he believed he was good enough to overcome making two flights on game day and still being able to perform at a high level.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter how the situation played out, no matter how intriguing it is. Ultimately though, this is a case where Oakley is probably right and Carter made the correct decision.

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What’s your take? Is Oakley right? Would the Toronto Raptors have won Game 7 if their star player didn’t attend his graduation? What about Carter’s decision? Do you hold it against him, agree with what he did, or do you just not care? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.