I must’ve only been 12 years old when it happened.
Up to this point in my life I’d been infatuated with many others, but this was different.
Catching lob passes from just inside the free-throw line and slamming them home, throwing down 360s on breakaways, adding new wrinkles to the Eastbay Funk, nailing game-winners while dropping 50 on fools.
And you mean to tell me this guy actually played for a Toronto team?
I was in love with Vince Carter.
But like most first loves, this one didn’t end too well, and the scars of this broken relationship are still visible for me even 20 years later.
Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic we’re all living under, Friday night would’ve marked Carter’s last game in Toronto as the 43-year-old, 22-season veteran plans to retire at the end of this season.
There surely would’ve been a celebration in Scotiabank Arena with a video tribute, possibly an opportunity for Carter to give a speech and thank the fans and market that helped turn him into a bona fide superstar, followed by, likely, a massive standing ovation from the crowd that would’ve resulted in many a teary eye.
There’s been a lot of talk over the years that Carter should be the first Raptor to have his number retired by the team. But not from me.
Not only do I not think Carter’s number should be retired first — I don’t believe No. 15 should ever hang in the Scotiabank Arena rafters.
It’s funny — over the past five years, this has gone from a nearly ubiquitous take to a highly unpopular one. But I stick by it.
Why? Because even as I can acknowledge his legacy in Toronto — and the type of solid, unselfish mentor he grew into late in his career — I just can’t bring myself to reconcile what he did to the Raptors and by proxy, myself as a then-young fan.
It’s easy to remember the good days of Carter in Toronto.
He was, after all, an electric player who legitimately looked destined for greatness. There’s little denying his impact on helping establish the Raptors as a proper NBA franchise as well as the growth of the sport of basketball across the country.
These are all facts, and have rightfully been pointed to as reasons why many Toronto fans have turned many of those old post-departure boos into cheers.
But time doesn’t always heal all wounds.
It certainly hasn’t for me, and especially not after the truths Carter revealed in that infamous 2005 interview with John Thompson shortly after he got his wish to be traded from the Raptors and made his way to the New Jersey Nets.
Among some of the bombs he dropped, Carter admitted on national television that he didn’t always give it his all for the Raptors.
“In years past, no,” he said, responding to a question about whether he always gave max effort on the court. “I was just fortunate to have the talent.”
Up to the point of this infamous interview, I remember vehemently defending Carter’s actions to anyone who would listen.
After all, it wasn’t his fault he got injured, and who cares if he was at a Nelly concert during rehab? And I just couldn’t come close to believing the rumours that he may have been tipping off Raptors plays to opponents.
But that all changed when that interview aired, with that clip of Carter admitting he didn’t try his best for the team airing everywhere.
The reality of what Carter did hit me hard and fast.
There have been two occasions in my life where circumstances around Carter made me break down and cry.
I cried angry tears when I first heard news that he was traded, livid with the Raptors’ front office at the time for trading away my absolute favourite athlete.
And then, upon taking a few days to really soak in what Carter did after seeing that Thompson interview, I sat in my bedroom and sobbed quiet tears, utterly heartbroken.
My hero had committed the worst sports sin.
He had quit on the team.
As such, if the season does resume and Carter does get to play his final game in Toronto and you happen to spot me on press row looking less than teary eyed at the praise he undoubtedly receives, you’re just going to have to forgive me.
Great contributions or not, my 12-year-old self sees no reason why he should be acclaimed.