TORONTO – On June 24, 1998 Vince Carter was selected by the Golden State Warriors with the fifth-overall pick and saw his draft rights get traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Antawn Jamison, the fourth-overall pick in the draft.
And thus began what, for the time being, will go down as the longest-tenured NBA career in history with Carter playing in his 22nd — and final — NBA season this year as a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
Throughout those 22 campaigns there have been many ups and downs along the way for Carter, including, of course, the indelible mark he left on the Raptors – both good and bad – during the height of the "Vinsanity" era.
From the electric dunks to the buzzer-beating game-winning baskets, to the all-star appearances — that saw him be the No. 1 vote-getter four times, including three years straight — there’s no question that Carter left an important legacy behind that helped grow the game of basketball not just in Toronto, but Canada as a whole.
For many Canadian hoops fans, Carter’s Raptors years were some of the most formative basketball memories in their lives and helped lay down the foundation of Canadian NBA talent we see today through the likes of Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Wiggins.
Still though, the heyday of Carter’s career was, essentially, 20 years ago now and as time has moved on a whole new generation of fans and players only know Carter as an old legend as they were just too young to remember what he looked like in his prime, like Toronto Raptors rookie Oshae Brissett, for example.
The Toronto native was born four days before Carter was drafted into the NBA, on June 20, 1998, and his recollection of Carter is next to nil.
"Not really, no," said Brissett earlier this week when asked if he has memories of Carter. "I was really young so I don’t really remember much about what he was doing back then, but I know he was drafted the year I was born and is still going strong."
Brissett is among a number of Raptors players who will face the former franchise star for the first time in their careers Saturday evening when the team takes on the Hawks in Atlanta.
It’s an exciting proposition as, depending on playing time, this might be the only chance some of these players get to share the floor and go toe-to-toe with Carter, a guy who likely captured their imagination more from archived YouTube clips than from seeing him live on television.
"Vince Carter’s an icon," said Terence Davis. "I saw a video, probably only a few days ago, but he’s the only person [I’ve seen] to jump over another human in a game. He’s an icon. I’ll always be a Vince Carter fan."
The moment Davis is referring to is, of course, when Carter jumped over 7-foot-2 French centre Frederic Weis for one of the most spectacular dunks in history during the 2000 Olympic Games.
Like Carter was, Davis is a bouncy, athletic specimen. He likely isn’t quite the high-flyer Carter was in his day, but then again no one is.
This includes Malcolm Miller as well, who, while growing, up attempted some of the windmill jams Carter did during that famous 2000 slam dunk contest – Miller said he managed to get the 180 windmill down, but not the 360.
"I think the dunk competition," said Miller of his fondest Carter memory. "Really, that’s probably my biggest memory because growing up all of the kids wanted to dunk and everything and everybody wanted to fly like Vince."
At 26, Miller is older than the 21- and 22 year-old Brissett and Davis and has clearer memories of Carter at his height. And Saturday night could be particularly special for him, as he’s never had an opportunity to share the floor with Carter despite this being his third NBA season — mainly because he’s spent most of his time with the Raptors’ G League outfit, Raptors 905, as a two-way player the last two seasons.
"Seeing a legend like that I definitely always pay my respects and being on the same floor as him and in the same game is always something that will be locked in my memories," said Miller. "He’s been influential to the game, he’s been influential to Toronto and Canada and especially the Raptors. So it’s definitely a memory I’m gonna try to keep with me."
Saturday will mark the first of four encounters with Carter and the Hawks this season, so even if Miller is unable to get on the floor with Carter this time there’s still likely to be more opportunity down the road to make a lasting memory.
And this is true for every Raptors fan who grew up on Carter, in general. There’s only four chances left now to burn the lasting images of Carter into your brain before it really, finally is all over.