It’s a simple phrase, but carries tremendous weight when used meaningfully, and Vince Carter isn’t quite ready to say it yet.
And credit it to him.
The easiest thing for Carter to do as his career is winding down would be to come back to Toronto, say a generic ‘I’m sorry’ and be done with it.
In an age of insta-healing, therapy-speak and fake closure, the wounds struck by Carter’s departure from the Toronto Raptors remain tender for many, Carter included.
And for the moment Carter isn’t prepared to make that clear, unequivocal step towards a complete rapprochement with the organization – and the fan base – that he has been so synonymous with, even though the 10th anniversary of his being traded away is this year.
Which is fair. The organization is still feeling their way around the subject too.
"He was spectacular here. He was our only true franchise player. Arguably we have not had a franchise player since. Chris Bosh was an all-star, but not necessarily a franchise player," MLSE chairman and minority owner Larry Tanenbaum said on the subject recently.
"[But] I want a bit more maturity around the Raptors first," he said. "Yes it’s been 20 years, but truthfully I want more history and time to put that in perspective … When you see our Canadian young guys coming up and they’re asked how they got inspired, they were inspired by Vince Carter playing for the Raptors. Those are all important pieces of what Vince Carter truly means, not only to the history of this franchise, but the history of basketball in Canada.
"[But] I’d like to give it time."
The topic of how to deal with Carter’s legacy in Toronto is pertinent because time is flying by.
Carter isn’t ready to hang it up yet as a valued Sixth Man for the surprising Mavericks, who are hanging onto a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.
But the Raptors are in a fight in the East and Wednesday night it was DeMar DeRozan – the best shooting guard to play in Toronto since Carter left – who rang up a career-high 40 points as Toronto survived falling behind by 21 points in the first half before clawing their way back. His effort earned a nod from his famous predecessor:
"Sometimes when you have athleticism like that you go, you just play," said Carter, who finished with eight points and four assists. "He’s now slowing down and everything else is developing and it’s making him a tough player."
Carter delivered what he does best now: some perimeter shooting, some clever ball movement and a vocal presence on defence, but he showed he’s not completely Dell Curry 2.0 when he got up for a dunk over DeRozan in the first quarter.
"It surprised me too," Carter said. "I wasn’t expecting it. He said ‘really?’ I said sorry, I didn’t know that was still possible."
Is a complete reconciliation between Carter and the Raptors possible?
He’s halfway through his 16th NBA season and is turning 37 in a few days, and with the Raptors ramping up in advance of their 20th anniversary celebration next season, the question of how to handle Carter – who unquestionably represents the best and worst of time for the franchise – needs asking, which is why Sportsnet committed to revisiting the Carter story in the documentary "The Re-imagination of VC" which aired Wednesday night and in the current edition of Sportsnet Magazine.
Carter told me back in October when we sat down for two hours of interviews over two days that he senses people’s stance softening.
"But I can feel the shift because people are learning more about me, maybe?" he said. "I think people are starting to move on or understand or learn about the history of the situation."
And conditions locally have changed.
Last night before the game Carter had a private pre-game chat with MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke; it was the first time the two had met.
If there’s anything Leiweke has demonstrated in his brief time in Toronto it's that he understands symbols and gestures. He brought back Dwayne DeRosario on the soccer side; he’s brought Drake on board, and if he can honour rocker Jon Bon Jovi at the ACC, finding a way to connect the Raptors to such a key element of their past seems right.
Carter is reciprocating. He sat down Wednesday for some on-camera reflections the Raptors will use as part of their 20th anniversary programming next season. He’s indicated he’s willing to participate in some franchise alumni events in the future.
The new faces around MLSE will make it easier for the franchise to acknowledge their part in the chill that set in between Carter, the team and their fans a decade ago.
But for a full healing to take place Carter will have come some distance. He didn’t help his cause when he said he wasn’t going to dunk anymore or getting on stage with Nelly while rehabbing his knee or going public with trade demands and potentially hurting his value.
It wasn’t a great moment in Raptors history and there is plenty of blame to be shared, but could Carter have done things differently at the end?
"There’s something that maybe I could have handled better," he said. "I’d need to sort through it – yes to what, no to what – but I’d probably say yes."
It’s not quite "I’m sorry" but it’s getting closer. Which is fine, the organization isn’t all the way there either.
These things take time.