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Playing 16 seasons means spanning generations of players who wash in and out of the league.
It’s been seven years since Carter was an all-star, but he isn’t a late-career gunner trying to avoid retirement.
Standing in a tunnel at American Airlines Center in Dallas earlier this season, Cuban gushed describing an athlete of such talent and grit that the Basketball Hall of Fame should induct him now, rather than waiting for retirement. Of course, none of those words matter to the jilted fans he left behind in Toronto and the rest of Canada, or so the story goes. For his part, Babcock claims to have been blindsided by Carter’s frustrations with the club, but if that’s true, he wasn’t paying attention, as they began to bubble late in O’Neill’s failed tenure with the Raptors. Both Tanenbaum and Peddie, the president of MLSE at the time, assured their star he’d be kept in the loop on the hiring of the new GM, but all Carter heard were crickets, and it stung. Peddie panicked in the GM search, settling on Babcock only when his first choice fell through and the draft was rapidly approaching.
Carter allows that he was upfront with Babcock when they met in Mitchell’s office, saying if they felt the Raptors were better off without him, he didn’t want to be an obstacle.
Babcock, a career scout in his first and last swing running an NBA team, was eager to put his stamp on it. Babcock fired Chuck Mooney, the head athletic therapist for the team from its inception, who had worked closely with Carter; the team took away Carter’s mother’s parking spot at the ACC, a perk she’d been given as she was frequently in town facilitating charity work. The perception is that Carter mailed it in for the first 20 games of the season, a period in which he put up career-low numbers.
Meanwhile, as the GM of the New Jersey Nets, Ed Stefanski was trying to help team president Rod Thorn solve a problem. Months, even years, of fan angst boiled over in Carter’s return to Toronto on April 15, 2005. Again, time lends little credibility to the argument that Carter was unprofessional, but it’s somehow remained a convenient trope. Carter’s got his flaws, but the book reveals Peddie as out of touch, given Carter scored 50 points in game three of that famous series against the 76ers and 39 with Toronto facing elimination in game six, or that he scored 51 points the first time the Raptors were featured on U.S. Some stoicism in the face of the NBA’s inevitable bumps, scrapes and bruises might have helped perceptions—the nickname “Wince” isn’t without merit—and Carter shouldn’t have gotten on stage with Nelly at the ACC while he was rehabbing a knee injury and his team was getting blown out in Atlanta. Perhaps the most vital context to consider when examining Carter’s legacy is what was happening on the other side of the country.
Tristan Thompson was almost nine years old and living in Brampton, Ont., when that pop-culture bomb landed in his living room as he was eating KFC on his couch.
This past summer, Canada put together the pieces of what is hoped to be one of the best basketball teams in the world in an Olympic cycle or two.
Nearly a million Canadians watched that shot rise and fall in Philadelphia, the Raptors’ future suspended in time, but none had a better view than Carter, young then, miles from the man he is now.
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By checking this box, I confirm that I have read and understood each of the website terms of service and privacy policy and that I agree to be bound by them. In the 1.8 seconds after catching that Dell Curry pass, Vince Carter’s mind was racing, alive with possibilities for what would come after the shot fell. By that time, Carter was living in an electrical storm of sudden celebrity sparked by game-winning shots and legendary dunks.
Carter missed, ending Toronto’s run a single basket from the Eastern Conference final, and the fever dream popped like a fever blister. Once the standard-bearer for the youth-obsessed NBA, his icy likeness gracing the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Next” issue in 2000, he’s now as funky as bifocals and a paunch. In Carter’s case, it means playing with and against athletes who look at him like a basketball version of Buzz Lightyear—something from their childhood that has come to life before their eyes. He’s worn a beard for years and it gives him an air of seriousness, even if he’s still a prankster whose elaborate pre-game pantomime involves Mavs youngster Jae Crowder pretending to push him to the scorer’s table like someone helping kick-start an old car. A chronic problem with the tendon in his left knee—his take-off leg—eventually required surgery, but the uncertainty of his condition (the Raptors brought in an outside company to audit their medical practices at one point) in the build-up to him eventually going under the knife in late March of 2002 earned Carter a reputation as a malingerer. The team went 33-49 despite Carter playing 73 games, and the lost season begat the firing of Grunwald, whose relationship with his franchise player never wavered. Then, when Julius Erving reached out to Carter about joining the Raptors in some capacity, Carter made the introductions. Babcock, whose pleasant golf-shirt-and-Dockers style always seemed a bit of a stretch in the NBA sharkfest, choked at the draft, taking Araujo because the Raptors needed size when he really wanted Andre Iguodala, who’s still starring for Golden State.
He viewed the team he inherited, which included both Carter and an emerging Chris Bosh, as a rebuilding project. Two years after making the NBA Finals, the Nets were crumbling, and Stefanski (who later worked for the Raptors) looked north and saw an opportunity.
Babcock maintains it was the best deal available, but there’s little doubt that Carter was traded at his lowest possible value.


Frothing the mix was a judiciously edited feature on TNT with John Thompson in which Carter seemed to confirm the worst suspicions about him—that he failed to give his best, that he didn’t always push himself (Carter claimed his comments were taken out of context, and Thompson backed him up on it). Peddie saved the unkindest words in his recent book for the biggest sports star Toronto has ever had.
Being the face of the franchise suited him when he and the Raptors were ascendant and he could share the load with a veteran locker room, but the burden of it when things levelled off and the team got younger suggested he wasn’t a perfect match for the job.
As the Raptors were peaking in 2001, their expansion cousins the Vancouver Grizzlies were packing up and heading to Memphis.
When Carter has what he calls one of his “middle-school moments”—when an opposing player tells him about the poster they had on their wall, or the daily questions about the 2000 dunk contest—he feels it’s not all about him.
Joseph talks about going to the ACC with a sign begging Tracy McGrady to stay, a nugget he got a chance to share with T-Mac himself this past spring when they were teammates with the San Antonio Spurs, making their way to the NBA Finals. Jerome Williams drove overnight from Detroit when he learned he had been traded from the Pistons to the Raptors. Trying to get to the bottom of Vince Carter’s time with the Raptors is like diving into a deep, dark well. Would fans resent that he went to his graduation or celebrate that he scored 20-plus points, dished out nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds without making a single turnover while playing every minute of the game?
The feeling you had when Carter’s shot was in the air and all the memories were created in advance of it?
His decision to attend his graduation on the day of the biggest game of his career became a hot-button issue, questioned by teammates—“A graduation?
In Dallas, teammate Wayne Ellington, 26, remembers being star-struck when he met Carter at the Jordan Brand all-star game as a North Carolina–bound high school senior.
Carter has taken Crowder under his wing, has him over to his house regularly—and has been thanked by Crowder’s parents for connecting with their son. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban brought Carter to Dallas as an affordable piece—after earning about $140 million in his last two contracts, Carter is now playing for $3 million a year—to help extend Dirk Nowitzki’s championship window.
Vince Carter in love with the game enough to keep playing, to keep smiling at a stage when nearly all NBA careers have dried up and blown away like dust? The exact day of the meeting isn’t clear, but it was sometime in late June or early July, and Carter and new GM Rob Babcock were face-to-face for the first time. We don’t need you,” says Alvin Williams of the attitude toward Carter, his one-time teammate. With Grunwald and Wilkens gone, Carter began to feel isolated and expressed his concerns to Tanenbaum in April. But Peddie gave the NBA legend only a cursory interview at the airport, and published reports indicated Erving wasn’t really in the running. I said, ‘I’ve been here, I’m committed to this team, I want to win, that’s all I care about. Moreover, Carter had gone to Mitchell the day before the deal was completed and said he didn’t want to leave. These weren’t hard feelings; this was the small-town girlfriend laying into the NFL-bound high school quarterback for skipping out with her hotter sister.
J throwback jersey and dropped 25 of his 39 points in the second half of what ended up a convincing, crowd-silencing blowout.
12, 2000, and a memory as permanent as a tattoo was about to be emblazoned on Thompson’s young mind. His teammate in Cleveland is fellow Brampton native Anthony Bennett, who surpassed Thompson when, in 2013, he became the first Canadian to be drafted No.
Alvin Williams was a guest coach with the national team this past summer, and it didn’t take long for the group of 20-somethings on the floor to work the conversation around to a topic closer to their interest. For roughly 12 months—the last half of 2000–01, the magical summer when Toronto was the toast of the NBA and the first half of the following season, before Carter’s injuries set in and everything started spiralling—he thought he’d reached basketball heaven, but it wasn’t for eternity. Carter has put no time limit on his NBA career—“That’s not something I’m talking about,” he says. Mention the possibility of the franchise honouring his jersey or even retiring his number and his face lights up. If you’re a Toronto Raptors fan and you haven’t gotten over it, if you can still remember what you were thinking, hoping and dreaming, don’t feel bad. He was already rich and rap-star famous, but he’d signed a contract with his mother, Michelle—a teacher—that he’d complete his studies, and he honoured it.
I don’t care what type of private jet was supplied, it breaks your routine,” says Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams today—and debated in the pages of the New York Times. The relationship turned bitter and has never softened since Carter was traded to the swamps of New Jersey a decade ago. The big German has been a Carter fan since they were drafted together in 1998, and is no less so now that he’s played with him in their mutual career twilight. Peddie admitted he screwed that up: “I give myself low marks for keeping [Carter] informed, even by my own expectations,” he said at the time.


The Raptors also acquired contract ballast in the form of Alonzo Mourning and Eric and Aaron Williams.
For the first time ever, not just one, but two Toronto Raptors were participating in the slam-dunk contest at NBA All-Star Weekend, with Tracy McGrady riding shotgun with Carter. Carter is the embodiment of a time when everything good seemed possible but instead washed out, the crash seemingly worse because of the high that preceded it. The Raptors’ 20th anniversary is approaching and the team’s newly appointed global ambassador, Drake, is both an acquaintance of Carter’s and, at 27, was a huge fan in his teenage years.
The past is done, but Carter’s gift will live on long into the future: proof the basketball world has no borders.
He’d left Philadelphia the night before via a private airport in Delaware on Raptors owner Larry Tanenbaum’s jet and made it back without missing a team meeting. Carter was a northern star that raced across the global basketball landscape so brightly that years later it’s like a fever dream. His career is now coming to a close in Dallas, and in the seasons that followed his departure, nothing matched the highs he delivered as a Raptor.
Put another way, he’s in the same place now that creaky Raptors teammates Charles Oakley and Kevin Willis were when Carter was carrying the Raptors to NBA relevancy as a 47-win team that seemed poised to be a contender for years to come.
He’d yet to hire a coach, and suddenly there were reports the Raptors’ franchise player was frustrated and wanted out, so he met Carter in what would become Sam Mitchell’s office. After the season, the Raptors fired Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Fame player and coach whose calming presence was appreciated by the players, and went drill sergeant with Kevin O’Neill, a rookie head coach who lasted just one year (“A mistake,” is ex-GM Glen Grunwald’s lament) before the hiring of Mitchell. And then he’s at practice that day,” says Mooney, who runs a personal-training business in Toronto now.
Little did Thompson know that the pair had barely made it to the event, stuck in rainy Bay Area traffic with three others in a sedan.
You could tell that whether it was Cory Joseph or Tristan Thompson, watching Vince Carter instilled something into them to be those types of players or have those kinds of aspirations,” says Williams. All that’s left are the echoes, and what you hear says as much about the listener, perhaps, as what’s actually there. This January’s visit to the Air Canada Centre with the Mavericks could be Carter’s last as a player, and then what? Don’t feel the least bit silly that nearly 13 years later—an unlucky 13, as we all know—questions about what might have been and what actually came to pass linger, stuck in time.
Back then, the Raptors—the franchise that subsequently gave the world Rafael Araujo, Rob Babcock, Richard Peddie and the idea of Canada as a high-tax basketball outpost—seemed like the future.
And yet, he’s been gone so long that Canadian basketball fans are beginning to see the fruits of his legacy, as a generation of kids, inspired by his outrageous assaults on gravity, took to the game and have given Toronto and Canada a coming wave of homegrown NBA heroes. He finds himself sharing wisdom they imparted to him and laughing afterward, like a parent telling his teenager the same things his parents told him. I can take it, I’ve been through a lot, go ahead.’ And that wasn’t what was reciprocated in that meeting.
Carter retreated into himself: “I used to say, ‘[How do I] map out a way to get through that and still do the things I’m doing—and still be a professional athlete? I never really believed that, but a player with Vince’s personality, his pizzazz, his athleticism—that really turned things around for the Raptors very quickly. Little did he know that Carter hadn’t so much as rehearsed the show he was about to put on, save for a half-hearted practice on the road in San Antonio. Raptors fans forever denigrating the athlete who brought them the most exciting moments in franchise history seems the ultimate form of self-hate for a fan base that has become far too good at that too soon. And if there was a moment when it all teetered on the razor’s edge between fantasy and reality, it was as that shot hung in the air in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, whatever perceived sins Carter was guilty of in Toronto have never again manifested themselves in his long career, even as the Raptors have remained a franchise adrift all these years later. Kobe Bryant—whose tough-guy image is often used in compare-and-contrast fashion by Carter detractors—averaged 75 games a year through his first 15 years in the league.
Thompson counts meeting Carter at a Nike basketball camp as one of his coming-of-age moments—he counts the dunk contest as another, one with no small ripple effect.
To understand what went wrong, you have to go back to the beginning—or at least the beginning of the end.
It just happens that Carter’s two years that were most interrupted by injuries occurred in Toronto. You have to understand that part of Carter feels like the franchise he lifted with one spectacular play after another quit on him rather than the other way around, and he might be right.
There were zero issues, absolutely zero entitlement,” says Stefanski, recalling his first meeting with Carter after the trade.



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