McNeill on Mavs: Time to let VC come home

December 19, 2012, 7:50 PM

It has been eight long years since Vince Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets, but basketball fans in Toronto have yet to forget (or forgive) what happened.

During Carter’s recent trip to Toronto as a Dallas Maverick this past weekend, fans rained down a chorus of boos whenever Carter touched the ball.

“I don’t really expect anything less,” Carter said after the game laughingly.

While he may not expect anything less, it’s a shame that fans here in Toronto still treat him in a hostile manner. They are quick to forget that he put Toronto on the basketball map when he wore a Raptors jersey during the dunk contest that launched him into stardom.

Not only that but the height of the team’s success on the court came while he was playing for the team.

Yes, things were messy when he left Toronto, but he has talked countless times about it being a mistake due to youthful ignorance and being fed bad advice from the wrong advisors. Who hasn’t done something in their early 20s that they regret later in life? The fact that Carter made his mistake under the scrutiny of basketball fans across Canada doesn’t mean he can’t regret his decision.

While it’s easy to remember the hurt of Carter bolting town and the Raptors getting little in return, the bigger picture is Toronto could have been like Vancouver, where they watched the Grizzlies exit stage left. If not for Carter’s presence, basketball in Toronto could have been extinct if his teams hadn’t performed so well. It was that success that led to big television ratings, ticket sales and a bunch of kids wearing their merchandise.

“I had six beautiful years here,” Carter reminisced. “I wanted to win. I wanted to make this franchise something special. We did do some special things and we accomplished some of the things that other organizations were never able to do. They were gone and we didn’t want that. We helped the NBA and the world say, ‘Hey, Toronto is a decent basketball city.’ It’s unfortunate that a lot of people boo and say their piece are young or weren’t even around anyway. They are just jumping on the bandwagon from what they learned or heard. It doesn’t bother me because I know what I have done here (in Toronto) and I know where it all started for me. It’s always great to come back here.”

Which begs the question: Would Carter consider coming back to Toronto to play one more year of basketball? Sure, it would take fans in Toronto some time to warm up to him, but having the best player to ever don a Raptors’ jersey end his career here would be a great thing.

Besides the sentimental aspect, during the past few years of his career, Carter has morphed from the high-flying dunker to a jump-shooting veteran leader. This season in particular he has taken O.J. Mayo under his wing which has been pivotal to the growth of Mayo on and off the court.

When you look at Toronto’s roster there aren’t many veteran leaders around aside from Jose Calderon and the point guard doesn’t strike many people as a vocal leader among this current group of younger players. Carter is a player that most of the younger players on Toronto’s roster idolized or at least respected growing up so he could walk into the locker room with instant respect and immediately have their ear.

Love him or hate him, Carter did a lot of amazing things for this franchise and it’s clear he deserves to have his number hanging from the rafters in the Air Canada Centre. But, at this point in time, with so much hostility surrounding him nearly 10 years after he left the franchise, there’s little chance of the team doing so. There’s no way the franchise would risk having Carter show up to see his number raised to the rafters only to have the ceremony be met with a chorus of boos.

A return to Toronto for a season would allow him to mentor the team’s younger player and earn back the good favour of basketball fans here in Toronto. Then, when he retires, Carter can have his number hanging in the ACC where it belongs.

It’s a win-win situation for Carter, the Raptors organization and basketball fans here in Toronto.

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