It was a surreal experience to be in line for a film behind grown men wearing full basketball uniforms, cheering as if they were at a live event not about to watch archival footage.
But that was the scene at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “The Carter Effect”, a film where everyone knew the outcome and most who paid to see it had a distinct opinion on who the hero and who the villain was before they stepped foot in the theatre.
TIFF has become a landing place for sports documentaries. Last year it was Masai Ujiri’s “Giants of Africa” documentary garnering big buzz and the basketball film momentum continued in 2017.
This year executive producers Drake, LeBron James as well as Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey, Norman Powell, Akon, Kardinal Offishall, Chris Bosh, Andre De Grasse, Raptors “Super Fan” Nav Bhatia and former Raptors Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph were all in attendance at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
The only person of consequence not in Toronto to see the film was Carter himself, who has yet to see the film. Carter planned to fly North to see it but changed plans as he had to help his Florida based family in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
But the breakout star of the film was Vince’s mother Michelle Carter-Scott, who was the most candid and gave the film a sentimental feel when describing Vince’s grandmother struggling to deal with the booing he endured on his return trips to Toronto. Although former MLSE boss Richard Peddie, also featured in the film, has since disputed her recollection of how things ended in Toronto.
Director and producer Sean Menard described the film as a “love letter to the city.”
Having lived through the entire films narrative, it felt like flipping through a scrap book. The film’s strength is taking you back to a simpler time with nostalgia on what it was like to have a good basketball team for the first time, what it was like to have an athlete dominate the airwaves in the United States. The Blue Jays were respected in the USA but they also built their empire on the back of multiple pennant races. The Raptors— and seemingly Carter— came out of nowhere. To be given a super star and an exciting team over night was euphoric for a fan base made up largely of NBA newbies.
It was also a reminder of how different this city was. Scenes in the film of the media room of the early day Raptors was full of a press core that was all white, male and largely old.
The film accurately portrayed how Carter became a leading man in basketball circles beyond the Canadian border. At the height of his powers, Vince Carter sold out two charity games. Now many NBA teams struggle to sell out regular season games.
When you learn in the film that Vince Carter’s Mitchell and Ness throwback jersey is a top five seller for the company and hasn’t gone down in sales over time, you realize the “Carter effect” is still tangible.
But it wasn’t al a re-jogging of past memories. For example, it was eye opening to see Carter’s McDonald’s All-American high school dunk contest. Many of the dunks he did then were the same as the ones he became famous for years later— which underscores what a different sports consumption time Carter rose in. Now we would have seen all of his high-school dunks on Instagram that night. He wouldn’t be a new star in a new country. He would have been over-scrutinized and analyzed.
The other thing the film leaves you wondering is what could have been? What if Tracy McGrady didn’t leave? What if Richard Peddie didn’t hire Rob Babcock? What if the franchise and the fan base was as sophisticated then as it is now?
Drake addressed the crowd after the premiere, hoping Carter would end his career as a Raptor: “It would be great just to give him a full season of standing ovations.”
“When any one individual can captivate a city,” LeBron James told the crowd after the film, “they’re going to support that individual for a long time. Vince had a whole country supporting him.”
If you go in to the film looking for closure on Carter’s departure from Toronto, you’re not going to get it. What you will get is a stroll down memory lane and an ability to transport yourself to your childhood when basketball in Toronto was in the honeymoon stage, and the entire country was married to all things Vincent Lamar Carter.