It’s time Toronto. Time to take the final steps to repatriate Vince Carter. Time to close the circle for good.
What you witnessed last night at the Air Canada Centre? What a nationally televised audience south of the border saw? A large part of that carries Vince’s DNA, and it’s a shame that on a night when Zach LaVine’s old-school stylings were good enough to breathe life back into the NBA’s dunk competition, the only formal recognition of Carter was part of a videoboard presentation.
It’s true that the Toronto Raptors began the process in 2014 with a video presentation during Carter’s visit to the ACC with the Memphis Grizzlies that reduced their former face of the franchise to tears. But that’s not enough. Is it too late to get him here for Sunday’s All-Star Game? Can somebody get this done?
Forget the weather. Toronto is all grown up as a basketball city and the Raptors are all grown up as a team. There is no title, that is true, but that’s shared misery with a lot of other franchises. The Raptors have had one out-of-nowhere playoff run and another disappointing playoff flameout in consecutive seasons. Since Vince was traded, others have left, too – Chris Bosh – and there have been bad free-agent contracts, horrible free-agent contracts and good free-agent contracts. All the stuff that is part of the tapestry that is the history of any franchise.
It’s time to move on, Toronto – and not just with Carter. Perhaps the reception that Tracy McGrady received Saturday night when he was introduced as one of the judges for the slam-dunk competition is another sign we can move on. Bosh? His name is poison, still – his appearance on the videoboard Saturday night as part of a lip-synch promo was booed - but those rough edges also must be smoothed out.
It is, simply put, unbecoming for this franchise to hold grudges. This is an NBA production, and Vince should have been courtside with Drake, or better yet served as a judge on the panel. His presence was nonetheless cried out for on Saturday.
My guess is some place Vince loved what he saw. It’s too early to say that LaVine and Aaron Gordon saved the slam dunk competition, even though they rattled off six consecutive dunks that received perfect scores of 50 from judges McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, George Gervin, Magic Johnson and Dikembe Mutumbo and Gordon even provided an answer to a question many of us have been asking for years:What good are mascots for?
The answer, as provided by Stuff, the mascot of Gordon’s Orlando Magic, is to stand on a hoverboard and spin around 360 degrees as a player takes the ball from you and jams it home. Or stand there with the ball on your head as the player jumps over you, grabs the ball, passes it through his legs and behind the back and launches himself toward the basket. "Me and him are now like best friends, me and Stuff," said Gordon.
LaVine, for his part, relied on old school stuff without props, with the exception of teammate Andre Miller for one dunk. The rest was all spinning and balls through the legs and behind the back and take-offs from the line.
"Going under both legs? Yeah, so I knew that I wanted to do that because it was just different," Gordon said later, admitting he was running out of ideas as the pair of them matched dunks. "I knew it hadn’t been done in an NBA dunk contest, so I think all four of my initial dunks had never been done before. That was my goal; and I did it.
The NBA All-Star Game shares the benefits of the Major League Baseball game – the athletes can do pretty much the same things they do in regular season games without risking career-ending injury – but it also has the benefit of being able to break down and showcase signature skills: hit the ball far; shoot the ball accurately, or jump higher. And for the longest time, this year’s All-Star Saturday Night seemed destined to follow the formchart of recent years.
Just as the three-point shot has become the currency of the realm because of the way the game is now played, so too has the three-point competition supplanted the slam dunk competition as the game’s marquee event. It will always be that way until Steph Curry retires – even though it was teammate Klay Thompson who walked off with the honours on Saturday. Heck, even the skills competition, won by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ splendid rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, had more excitement than some of the recent dunk competitions.
That was no surprise, and it was TNT’s Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith, who took part in three slam dunk contests as a player, had perhaps the best explanation: "The best players are in the three-point competition."
Before the competition Saturday night, the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan agreed that the three-point shot competition had supplanted the dunk. It is, frankly, one of the reasons he no longer takes part in the thing – and why so many of the game’s stars avoid the event. "Look at all the shooters that are in the three-point event," DeRozan said. "They can do incredible things. The excitement of that is definitely crazy. It’s just the game has evolved so much, that that’s kind of where it is.
"For me, being in the league so much, you play so many minutes that it gets tough when you go out there and try to do dunks that you might have been able to do earlier on."
After it was all said and done, somebody said it was like watching the showdown between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan in 1988. That drew a blank from Gordon. As for the significance of the event in Toronto, the home of Vince Carter?
"That reverse 360 windmill? That was huge. I did that just out of respect … to pay homage to Vince," said Gordon.
The night was won by LaVine – and Towns and Thompson – and Gordon can take solace from the role he played. But one person was missing: this should have been Vince Carter’s night.