Vince Carter: His rise and fall with the Raptors
Toronto's 1st NBA star electrified before injuries
As part of the team's 20th-anniversary celebrations, the Toronto Raptors will show a video tribute to Vince Carter during Wednesday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Carter's current club.
The montage will likely focus on the sunnier moments of Carter's tenure with the Raps — highlight-reel dunks, game-winning shots, that sort of thing — but here's a more balanced collection of moments tracing the arc of Toronto's first, and most polarizing, pro basketball star.
Debuting in the NBA's lockout-shortened 1999 season — the fourth for the fledgling Raptors — Carter quickly became a fan favourite with a soaring offensive game that earned him the nickname "Air Canada." He won rookie of the year honours after averaging 18.3 points and throwing down countless highlight-reel dunks.
Slam dunk champ
Carter ascended to full-fledged stardom in his second season, when he scored 25.7 points per game (fourth-highest in the league) and lifted Toronto to its first playoff appearance in franchise history. But his most memorable moment came at the Slam Dunk Contest during the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Oakland, where Carter delivered perhaps the greatest performance in the history of the event.
The (missed) Shot
As "Vin-sanity" gripped Toronto in his third season, Carter averaged a career-best 27.6 points to lead the Raptors to their first (and still only) second-round playoff appearance. But the run is best remembered for how it ended. With Philadelphia leading by a point in the final seconds of Game 7, Carter had a shot to win the series off an inbounds play. But his long jumper missed, fuelling critics' cries that he shouldn't have flown to the University of North Carolina for his graduation ceremony that morning. Never mind that he scored 20 of Toronto's 87 points and dished out nine assists.
Things never seemed quite the same after Carter missed the shot against Philly. With a new six-year, $94-million US extension in his pocket and a target on his back, Carter began showing the effects of what would become career-altering problems with his knees. While fans in some corners questioned his toughness and commitment, Carter missed the final 22 games of the regular season and the Raptors' first-round playoff loss to Detroit with a knee injury that would require off-season surgery. He'd come back, but his best days in Toronto were behind him.
While Carter remained a productive player in subsequent years, he seemed less explosive (and less happy) as the Raptors struggled. Amid reports he was feuding with management and coach Sam Mitchell, Carter was traded to New Jersey in December 2004 for a package of mostly irrelevant players and draft picks. In his first game back in Toronto the following April, Carter was jeered by Raptors fans — a treatment he'd receive for years to come in the town that once embraced him.
Some credit Carter with inspiring a generation of Toronto-area kids to excel at hoops. Seems a valid argument when you consider the likes of recent No. 1 overall draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, and first-rounders Nik Stauskas, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph were all growing up around Toronto during the time when Carter starred for the Raptors. Wiggins, a high-school sensation who's now in his NBA rookie year with Minnesota, especially evokes Carter with his height, silky moves and eye-popping dunks.
And let's take a moment to salute the 38-year-old Vince, who had the skills (and the sense) to overcome his physical limitations and reinvent himself as a useful role player who's now in his 17th pro season — and still capable of delivering moments like this one in last spring's playoffs: