Arts·TIFF

Vince Carter filled the dreams of a generation, and this TIFF movie honours his legacy

For filmmaker Nayani Thiyagarajah, watching Sean Menard's 'The Carter Effect' at the Toronto International Film Festival brought back a rush of childhood memories.

For filmmaker Nayani Thiyagarajah, watching 'The Carter Effect' brought back a rush of childhood memories

"The Carter Effect." (TIFF)

When I was 13 years old, I was very busy planning my dream wedding to Mr. Vincent Lamar Carter.

Watching The Carter Effect — a new documentary by Canadian filmmaker Sean Menard focused on Carter, his time in Toronto and his impact on our city — had me remembering that time in my life vividly. High off the 2001 NBA playoff semi-finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, 13-year-old me spent many moments daydreaming about what would be our quiet but epic outdoor wedding — in between timeouts, during class, while walking to school and late at night in my bed. His mother, the infamous and beautiful Michelle Carter, would be watching on proudly from the front row. And I would be walking down the aisle in my part-sari, part-big white dress, towards the man of my dreams. No boy at school could compete with my schoolgirl crush on Mr. Carter. He was everything I thought I wanted.

His smile was glorious and his unapologetic love for my home city made me fall even more in love with it. The way his charity work proved his dedication to communities like mine — the ones overflowing with beautiful young black and brown kids — made me feel like he saw us and cared about us. How he inspired my little brother made me feel grateful he had role models like Carter. And of course, his skills on the floor and in the air had me enamoured by what we all came to call Vinsanity. He was the man who made me fall in love with the game, who had me cheering for my city in ways I never knew I could, and who had me dreaming of buying jersey dresses and rocking basketball shorts to school daily. Watching Vince Carter and the Raptors on TV also provided me with rare and special moments when I got to sit at home together with my family, watching our team go hard and cheering them on, my dad often complaining about how loud I would scream at any given moment for a variety of reasons. Even my mom expressed a mild interest in the game, grinning with me every time we saw Carter flash his magical smile.

This past Saturday, The Carter Effect premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Executive produced by the likes of Lebron James and Drake, the film premiered at home here in Toronto. And though I sadly wasn't there for the premiere screening, I did make it to the second screening this past Sunday. While waiting in line, I heard many folks reminiscing about that time in Raptors history, nostalgic as ever. Some of them even seemed to be new to the world of TIFF, this being the first screening they've ever attended at the festival. I smiled, thinking about how even now — 13 years later — Vince Carter could still bring us together as fans.

By the end of the screening, I was a mess of feelings once again. Yes, I cried yet again, grateful to call this city home and the Raptors our own. I shed even more tears watching that moment in 2014 at the Air Canada Centre replayed on the big screen — seeing the crowd go from boos to a standing ovation, cheering him on as the Raptors played a tribute video, Carter himself unable to hold back the tears. And my mind drifted once again to our dream wedding, thinking that now at 28, maybe I have a chance with him that was only slightly more realistic. I felt those same teenage butterflies, as I watched all of the archival footage and saw Carter share his story on the screen. I was reminded that a part of me will always love him, as one often does with their first love.

I smiled, thinking about how even now — 13 years later — Vince Carter could still bring us together as fans.- Nayani Thiyagarajah

Thinking about the film and my own appreciation for Carter, I thought it would be fun to talk to a few friends and ask them about their own memories of him. Speaking with each of them, all diehard basketball fans to this day, I laughed and smiled with a community of people who knew what an epic time it was to be alive during the Carter era of the Toronto Raptors and witness his magic. Below is a collection of the moments some friends remember the best, proving that even after all these years of separation, most of us are still moved by Mr. Air Canada and the Vinsanity that took over our city and the basketball world at large. 22 years later, the Toronto Raptors are still here, trying and thriving, and we certainly have Vince Carter to thank for that in ways. He really did put Toronto basketball on the map, taking us from a hockey city to a basketball city too in its own right, and inspiring us to become (arguably) some of the best fans in the league today.

The Carter Effect (TIFF)

Vanessa Rodrigues, 29: "The Carter Effect — when I hear it, if you didn't tell me what it was about Vince Carter, my mind would still go to Vince Carter. It's a very appropriate title. Mr. Vincent Lamar Carter came along and exposed me to basketball, and I had this newfound love for it because of him. I always think back to his big cheesy grin, and it still melts my heart. He was so handsome! He made purple jerseys look amazing! I'm sorry, but not many men can make a purple jersey with a dinosaur look good. And I feel like every Raptors fan still kind of replays that game 7 shot in their mind against Philly. He's my Michael Jordan. He's the reason I got into basketball and the NBA. He revolutionized the dunk contest. I still watch that footage and get chills. No one gives me chills the way Vince did. The impact that he had on the game with Canadians — you cannot deny that. He changed the game."

Ayan Siyad, 31: "When Carter came, Carter was everything. He wasn't just a new rookie, no — he was everything! Carter came in hot, the man was going off on games — like, what kind of rookie does that? That's why he won Rookie of the Year. Till this day, I am a diehard Vince Carter fan. Carter had a huge impact, especially for me. I grew up in Dixon. Back in the day, through his foundation, he was building a lot of basketball courts in Toronto and my actual neighbourhood, I think that was the first [court]. He actually came for the ribbon cutting and he took the first shot! That helped a lot of kids in my community have something to do in the daytime and at night. I'm not gonna lie, I spent a lot of time on that basketball court, and so did a lot of others back in the day. Honestly, he made us known. He's the reason why the Toronto Raptors are known and they have a great fanbase is because of him. He made players want to come up and play with us...The name of the movie is perfect. It makes sense because this man didn't just impact the basketball community — he impacted actual communities in Toronto. He made us known all around the world."

"The Carter Effect." (TIFF)

Natty Zavitz, 30: "I've been trying to find the armband Vince gave me for years. I remember he was injured and I was sitting by the players' entrance, and he just came out and handed it to me. I would've been like 12 or 13. It was a feeling of elation. He meant so much to me as a kid. Just this Sunday, I played ball in the OG Vince Raptors shorts. I was a Raptors fan from the moment they were announced, but he was so transcendent — the most important person in the NBA for us. He completely legitimized the franchise. I'm excited to see which aspects of Vince's relationship with the fan base they chose to include. When the Raptors traded him, I was devastated and, along with the rest of the fan base, probably put more blame on his shoulders than he deserved. The basketball and Toronto bonafides of the creative team behind the film is cool. Nice to see Lebron take interest in the franchise and know the OVO guys are trying to spread the Toronto gospel through mediums other than music."

Chris Penrose, 37: "The real moment was the dunk off. You have Shaq with the camcorder; you have Kevin Garnett going crazy; you have all of these people just having their minds blown. And this man putting his hands across his chest where it says Raptors and it says Toronto. That moment — yes, I remember feeling like we have something here. Take us seriously. I remember visiting the States — you wouldn't see Raptors highlights on their sports channels, but you would see Vince highlights. And by virtue of that, people were seeing the Raptors. And that playoff run in 2001 — that moment, how it felt when the ball was in his hands, how it felt when he let that shot go, how it felt when it hit the rim. And while it didn't go in, we were still there. If a memory could be compared to a tattoo, that was it. Growing up, through middle school, through high school, through college, even being drafted in the the NBA, I don't think he could ever imagine his legacy would be elevating the game of basketball in Canada. Not a lot of players can say that. Ginobili can say that about Argentina, Mutombo can say that about Congo, but not many can. More than how talented he was, his legacy was elevating the sport of basketball in Canada."

The Carter Effect. Toronto International Film Festival. Friday, September 27 at 9:45pm and Sunday, September 17 at 3pm. Scotiabank Theatre. Toronto. www.tiff.net

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nayani Thiyagarajah is a a director, producer, and writer of stories for the screen. As a Libra, she enjoys the balance of both truth-telling and playing make believe for a living. Fun facts: Nayani sometimes cackles and snorts while laughing. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram here: @_9knee. (For anybody wondering, that's how you say her name. nayani = 9'knee)

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