Everybody Hates Vince
Well, at least in Toronto.
A question came up on Twitter Sunday regarding Toronto’s “hate affair” with Vince Carter. Why so much negativity toward Vince, they asked? I had no real solid answer—at least not one that didn’t come off as being sarcastically funny—but it was a very good question nonetheless. One would think that with Vince being the first NBA star to ever play north of the border and considering how much he did for the franchise by putting the Raptors, the City of Toronto and Canada on the basketball map, that they’d hold a little less animosity towards the man and celebrate him as a hero. But they don’t. Whenever Vince comes to town he probably feels like he’s playing in front of a crowd full of Terrance and Phillip’s.
Allow me to remind you, my friends in the “Town of York,” that Vince Carter is the reason why you guys still have a team up there in the first place. Had Vin-sanity’s air show landed in Vancouver, we might have been talking about the Allen Iverson and Memphis Raptors debacle instead. So let’s not lose sight of the big picture here.
Vince Carter shouldn’t be the object of your wrath. Not by a long shot.
Dear people of Toronto, your NBA team just came into existence in 1995. By 1998 via a trade with the Golden State Warriors for his North Carolina teammate Antawn Jamison on draft day, you landed one Vincent Lamar Carter. Stop and think about that for a second. It takes some organizations a lot longer than three years to land a player who has the ability to turn a franchise around instantly the way that Vince did. And boy, did he do just that.
He won ROY in a lockout-shortened, 50-game season. The next year, he was voted an All-Star (and third team All-NBA to boot). And let’s not forget what he did during his ASG weekend debut. Remember when he put on one of the greatest displays in dunk contest HISTORY? Ever. Wearing a Raptors uniform. Let us also not forget that he led Toronto to a +22 in the win column from the year before, giving the franchise, the City of Toronto, and the entire friggin’ country its first ever taste of NBA playoff basketball. Not bad for a guy only two years in, eh?
And what did he do for an encore? He made second team All-NBA the following season. He was also voted in by the fans to be a starter for the East in the ASG. He led the team to a second place finish in the Central Division and to its first ever playoff series victory against the New York Knicks. He also came within one missed corner jumper against the Philadelphia 76ers from taking the Raptors to the ECF which would’ve been another first. Worth mentioning is the fact that the team hasn’t advanced past the first round of the Playoffs since then. But that’s neither here nor there.
And speaking of that missed jumper, what did the people of Toronto do when that happened? They bashed him for opting to attend UNC’s graduation ceremony and walking with his class on the morning prior to that pivotal Game 7 instead of resting all day in preparation for the game. I believe the word that was used was “distraction.” Wow, really?
The organization’s savior, the face of the franchise, attends team practice in Philadelphia that Saturday and then takes an hour flight down to North Carolina where he spends the night. He attends graduation on Sunday morning and is back in Philly by that afternoon, almost six hours before game time. And he did all that with the team “reluctantly” giving him their blessing. And it’s not like his decision affected his performance on the floor either.
He scored 20 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 9 assists, and had 0 turnovers that night. And the Raptors only lost that game by one point. ONE POINT! So let’s be honest here, he makes that shot and there is no controversy. He makes that shot and the people of Toronto still love him. He makes that shot and then possibly beats the Milwaukee Bucks to lead the Raptors to the NBA Finals, he never leaves town and perhaps they erect a statue of him dunking over Frederic Weis in a Raptors uni outside of the Air Canada Centre one day.
But that loss followed by all of the criticism he took for it spelled the beginning of the end for ‘Half Man, Half Amazing’ in Toronto.
The next couple of years for Vince were tough as he battled—not surprisingly—“jumper’s knee.” In ’02, the team won 42 games and made the Playoffs despite Vince appearing in only 60 regular season games and missing the postseason completely due to injury. The next season, still not 100 percent, VC played in only 43 regular season games and the Raptors went 24-58. The whispers of criticism started to become more and more audible.
That ‘02-03 season threw Toronto into rebuilding mode. They secured the fourth pick in the lottery and drafted Chris Bosh that summer. Lenny Wilkens was let go and was replaced by Kevin O’Neill, and the Raptors proceeded to be a pretty bad team in ‘03-04, going 33-49 which is par for the course in a rebuilding year. Vince came back to play in 73 regular season games, but his per game averages were down across the board. The team was losing and he seemed disinterested. By the end of that season, the writing on the wall was clear. The team wanted to rebuild around Chris Bosh. VC knew this and he wanted out. Twenty games into the ‘04-05 season, he’d gotten his wish. He was shipped to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Alonzo Mourning and Eric and Aaron Williams.
That was in December. In January came the infamous interview with John Thompson on TNT.
Said Carter, “In years past… I was fortunate to have the talent. You get spoiled when you’re able to do a lot of things. You see that you don’t have to work at it.” The comment came in response to a question by Thompson on whether or not VC could still rely on his raw talent. Basketball fans in Toronto felt as if he was saying he didn’t really work hard while he was there. They felt like he was saying that he quit on the team. The hate began from that moment on.
North of the border Vince was now being called selfish. People were saying that he didn’t care for the fans that had supported him all those years. They said that he was a disgrace to professional athletes. They called him spoiled and accused him of not producing in light of the money he was being paid. They said he quit on his team. That he didn’t have heart. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And every time he comes to town now, he’s booed. That’s a pretty harsh thing to do to a guy who did so much for that organization in only six seasons. Especially considering that half the time he spent there he was hurt and couldn’t play. He didn’t do half as much for the New Jersey Nets and they gave him a hero’s welcome when he came back wearing an Orlando Magic jersey this season.
So don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Vince Carter fanboy by any stretch. I’ve seen it in Toronto and I saw it happen in New Jersey where he lost interest and didn’t seem to be playing hard when the team was struggling. So yes, he does deserve his hare of blame and maybe even some criticism. But it’s not all his fault either.
Let’s be honest, how many of us could give our all when the team that we’re playing on is no good? How many of us can say that we could go out and play balls-to-the-wall night in and night out for an organization not committed to winning and fielding a competitive team? How many of us can say that we could maintain a positive attitude and remain upbeat after consistently taking Ls on a regular basis?
But I guess in Canada, when you’re a superstar you’re not given that luxury. I guess when you’re a superstar in Canada you’re not supposed to feel that way. I guess when you’re an American, multi-millionaire professional athlete playing north of the border, you’re supposed to go out and play hard for “their” team no matter what the circumstances. It doesn’t seem right, but it is what it is.
So I guess that’s why in Toronto… Everybody hates Vince.