The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the RaptorBlog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans.

Vince Carter’s Raptors résumé:

- 2nd in All-Time Franchise points (9420) and 1st in Points per game (23.4)

- 3rd in total rebounds (2091) and 4th in total assists (1553)

- 2nd in total blocks (415) and 3rd in total steals (534)

- Leader in P.E.R. (21.8)

- 5th in games played (403) and 3rd in minutes played (15,114)

- Perennial All Star and multiple-time leading vote-getter

- 2000 Slam Dunk champion

Okay, so maybe Vince Carter doesn’t exactly gel with the “how beloved they are by Raptors fans” part of our criteria, but whatever you personally think of Carter, it’s pretty difficult to argue with him as the greatest Raptor through the franchise’s 17-year history. And whether you want to admit it or not, at one time or another, the word “love” probably didn’t even come close to describing your feelings for him.

Without further ado, let’s get into this post on Vince Carter, the greatest player to ever wear Raptors red…or purple, or white, or “Naismith silver.”

The Beginning:

The date was June 24, 1998, the NBA Draft, where franchises’ futures hang in the balance. The Toronto Raptors had won just 67 games total over their first three years of NBA existence, and had taken a discouraging step back in season three, losing 66 games and trading their original face of the franchise, Damon Stoudamire. Quite simply, they needed to hit a home run. They needed to find a saviour.

With a draft night trade that sent their own pick (No. 4), Antawn Jamison, to Golden State in exchange for the player the Warriors selected fifth overall, Vince Carter, Toronto had found that saviour, all be it a temporary one.

The North Carolina product burst onto the NBA scene with an exceptional rookie campaign, averaging 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, three assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game while starting 49 of Toronto’s 50 games in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season. In addition, the Daytona Beach native led the Raptors to their best season up to that point (a 23-27 record and .460 winning percentage), had Canadian basketball fans thinking playoffs through parts of the season, and was rewarded with the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.

Perhaps most importantly, Carter gained league-wide recognition as one of the game’s young stars and potential superstars, and even had some pundits throwing out the “next Jordan” comparison. The Raptors weren’t prime time just yet, but with Vince leading the way, it was obvious that they were on the cusp.

The Rise:

After virtually guaranteeing a playoff trip during the final game of his rookie season, Carter was ready to deliver in his first full 82-game NBA season in 1999-2000. It was during this season that Vince took his game from young star and potential superstar to bonafide young superstar and potential future MVP candidate.

He scored, he attacked the basket with ferocity, he hustled, he hit big shots with the game on the line and whenever his team seemed to need one, he delivered that elusive first playoff trip in Raptors history, and with his absolutely spectacular and awe inspiring performance at the 2000 Dunk Contest, he officially put Toronto and Canada on the NBA map.

Vince Carter as “Air Canada” may have been built and groomed as a rookie, but it was during his sophomore season season that Air Canada officially broke free of the runway and took flight.

The Peak:

By the time Vince’s third season rolled around, the initial short-term goals had been met. The Raptors were a legitimate playoff team, a big time draw around the Association and on television (they had appeared on NBA on NBC the previous season, with Vince scoring a career-high 51 points against the Suns at Air Canada Centre), and were a respected franchise within the NBA.

It was time to set the bar higher, and that meant going from a young team just happy to be there at the postseason party to a team that not only expected to get there, but also expected to win once there.

Once again, Carter, along with a lovable and memorable supporting cast that will live forever in Raptors’ fans hearts, delivered for Toronto. He averaged a career-high 27.6 points per game during the 2000-2001 season to go along with 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and just over a block per game, leading the Raptors to another franchise-best, 47 wins, a result they have matched (and never surpassed) just once in the 11 years since.

He helped the Raptors win their first and only playoff series in a rematch of the 2000 Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Knicks, averaging 22.8 points per game in the series and coming up big when it mattered most, scoring 59 combined points with the Raptors facing elimination in Games 4 and 5.

Then he traded unbelievable performances (VC hung 50 on Philly on my 12th Birthday) with Allen Iverson in an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the top-seeded 76ers that still stands as one of the best NBA playoff series I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, Carter missed a potential Game 7 and series-clinching shot at the buzzer in Philadelphia, leading many to criticize him for flying to his UNC graduation earlier that day.

This 2000-2001 season was indisputably the peak of Carter’s career, the peak of his popularity (he would still lead All Star game voting for a couple more seasons), and also the peak of the Raptors franchise to date.

The Fall:

The biggest part of the Raptors advancing in the playoffs and coming within a shot of the Conference Finals was what happened after that. Carter signed a lucrative long-term extension and the Raptors acquired Hall of Fame centre Hakeem Olajuwon, leading many to reasonably expect Toronto to compete for the Eastern Conference crown and potentially even for the NBA championship for the foreseeable future.

As we’re all painfully aware, it never panned out. And while Olajuwon’s failure to ever really make an impact had something to do with the Raptors’ failures that season, the big blow was what would turn out to be the first of many derailing injuries in Carter’s Raptors tenure. Without Vince, the Raptors sputtered and eventually had to embark on a remarkable season-saving run over the last month of the season just to make the playoffs, where they would lose to the Pistons in a hard fought five-game series.

Despite the expectations and hope of a full return to health and return to his prime, Carter’s numbers and efficiency began to take a dive beginning in his fifth season and first season post-injury, and his hustle and overall work ethic were called into question. His attitude seemed to deteriorate, he and a fresh-faced big man named Chris Bosh never seemed to compliment each other on the court, the fans began to fall out of love with their once exciting superstar, and Carter himself appeared to be falling out of love with being a Toronto Raptor.

The Ending:

Between a trade request, his half-joking that he was done with dunking because it was “overrated,” him being booed at home and a disturbing report that he had tipped off the Sonics in a close loss, Carter’s time in Toronto had clearly run its course.

He was traded to the New Jersey Nets on December 17, 2004 in exchange for Alonzo Mourning (who would never suit up for the Raptors), Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two future first-round draft picks. It immediately went down as one of the worst trades in NBA history, certainly the worst in recent memory, and cemented the level of vitriol Raps fans would forever throw Carter’s way.

Of course, there was also a nationally televised interview with John Thompson which multiplied the Vince-hate North of border tenfold.

The everlasting clip of the interview for Raptors fans was Vince responding to the question of whether he always pushed himself: “In years past, no. I was just fortunate enough to have the talent. You get spoiled when you’re able to do a lot of things. And you see that, and you really don’t have to work at it.

At the end of the day, Vince has continually said that the interview was taken out of context. And really, a diehard Carter fan could easily say that he never specifically referenced Toronto when discussing not pushing himself. Perhaps he was talking about high school ball or college games at UNC.

No one knows the true answer, but if you look at the dipping numbers, the changing personality with the media, and the interview itself, it certainly seems like damning evidence to most.

The Aftermath:

While the Raptor-killing returns to Toronto, the booing, the electricity in the ACC and the overall storyline was kind of fun, I eventually reached a point where I was just over everything that had happened.

In talking to other Raptors fans, many feel the same way. I rarely hear anyone say they still boo Vince Carter nearly a decade later because of the John Thompson interview or because he quit on the team. In all honesty, most Raps fans I talk to admit they either don’t really know why they still boo him or say they just do it for fun, “because everyone else is doing it.”

If someone still believes that Carter quit on the team, the city, and the country, then by all means, boo away. But if you’ve reached a point of apathy, where you’re booing simply because it’s fun or because you want to be a part of an exciting and unique experience and atmosphere inside the Air Canada Centre, then may I suggest something else, like cheering?

Seriously, the booing, while maybe still deserved depending on your opinion, is old. It’s worn out. It’s not really that fun anymore and it’s certainly not unique. You know what would be unique? You know what would be exciting, special, and probably a lot of fun? Being inside the Air Canada Centre on a night where Vince Carter receives a warm welcome and maybe even some sort of ovation. Whatever you think of Vince, you can’t deny that at this point, it would be a much more memorable experience to be a part of than another night of booing him every 15 seconds.

***

Because of basketball’s global popularity compared to other North American sports, you can make the argument that since Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, no professional athlete playing for a Canadian franchise has been as popular as Vince Carter was in the early 2000′s.

Couple that global phenomenon known as “Vinsanity” with his performance on the court, and the fact that he led the team through the most successful period in franchise history, and it’s easy to see why RaptorBlog has come to the conclusion that if you’re going to rank the Ultimate Raptors of the first 17 years, Vince Carter has to be No. 1, regardless of how much the guy at No. 2 looks like an actual Raptor.

As I wrote about Vince a couple of years ago, you can say that Raptors fans brought out the best in him, both in his time as a Raptor and in his post-Raptors days, with his best performances always saved for his ACC returns.

You can also say that Vince Carter brought out the best in Raptors fans, whether it was in a positive way during the peak of the team’s success or in a different kind of way, evoking unprecedented passion and emotion from them, when he returned as a member of another team.

Either way you look at it, in any other uniform, he was simply Vince Carter. A former superstar and a shadow of his former self.

But whenever he stepped foot on that Air Canada Centre court, whether as a beloved Raptor or a loathed ex-Raptor, he was Vince “Air Canada” Carter. Half-man, half amazing.

And the greatest Toronto Raptor we’ve ever seen.

Comments (26)

  1. It will take time, but eventually the Raptors will raise number 15 to the Raptors. And unless Steve Nash signs here and gives them an excuse to retire his number after only a few seasons and because he’s Canadian, number 15 should be the first Raptors jersey to be retired. When push comes to shove, he put the Raptors on the map. He was, and pretty much still is, the franchise in the eyes of many. Eventually we’ll all embrace him again for giving us the ride of our lives during those great years when being a Raptors fan wasn’t cause for laughter.

    • Have to disagree. Unless Nash leads the Raptors to a title (LOL) there’s no way we should retire his number and there’s no way that Vince’s number should ever be retired. It’s the ultimate honour that a franchise can give to one of its player and 1 2nd round appearance and 1 Slam Dunk championship doesn’t measure up. I don’t care about the “global phenomenon” or Vinsanity…it doesn’t come close to meeting the standard of retiring a number.

      • There is no league wide standard that a player needs to meet in order for his number to be retired and every organization’s standards differ. Mitch Richmond’s number is retired in Sacramento and he was never on a winning team with the Kings. It all depends on if the franchise can cash in on a former player and help connect fans with a moment/era in the past that they can feel good about for one night.

        I don’t think it would work right now because Toronto fans are morons and boo the hell out of every former player not named Roy Halladay (even if they have no fucking idea why as Joseph pointed out) but if the Raptors continue on this sorry path, I think both sides might consider it especially if you let some time pass and let Vince retire as the team continues to make annual trips to the lottery and has nothing for fans to feel good about.

        Also, great piece Joseph, really happy Scott didn’t write this one because he still seems to be confused as to why the player who was pivotal to the greatest moment in franchise history (along with helping putting it on the map while helping it gain the league wide acceptance that quelled our inferiority complex) still has fans in the city.

        Until that era from 1999-2002 is topped, I will continue to be a Vince Carter fan.

      • Agree with James his number should never be retired in the ACC.

    • Well said. Raps should retire his jersey, if anything he put tdot on the map as far as ball is concerned. Some of my best memories as a fan were watching him play.

  2. I don’t know about the popularity thing. Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar are/were pretty damn popular. Alomar is a Hall of Famer, while Vince’s credentials are a topic of hot debate. Still, he’s definitely up there with the athletic greats to play in Canada no doubt.

    • Like I said, the fact that basketball is so much more of a globally followed game is what drives me saying that Vince was the most popular and recognized athlete (globally) playing in Canada since Gretzky. In terms of actual popularity within Toronto or within Canada, then I would put guys like Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Roy Halladay, Doug Gilmour, even NHLers that play in other Canadian markets like Iginla, in there with or ahead of Vince. But I meant from a global perspective, he was the biggest and most popular athlete to play in Canada since Wayne.

      • You could make the case he was ahead of Gretzky in worldwide recognition. Few people outside of North America/Europe know who Wayne Gretzky was in his prime. But a lot more (probably a billion or so) knew about Vince.

  3. Vince demanded to be traded, then stopped playing when it didn’t happen to force this organizations hand… resulting in a terrible trade. It was perhaps one of the worst trades in the NBA but in fairness to Babcock what could he do? What would anyone here, if they were a GM, give for a guy who was clearly not putting in any effort? Hold out longer and keep watching his stock fall?

    What Vince did absolutely killed his trade value. But whats worse, is years later we find out:

    Grunwald had a deal for Nash and someone else (Nowitski/Finley) in place, MLSE killed it (probably as always because of money concerns as Vince was a cash cow), Vince stops trying, Grunwald gets canned, Babcock replaces him, Vince forces their hand, Raps get back a pile of shit.

    Biggest mistake in Raps history? Firing Glen Grunwald.

    • Great summary Joseph.

      What really ticks me with the whole Carter saga is how rejuvenated he was in New Jersey next to Kidd, dunking and scoring all over again. I’m personally against the booing, yet I still felt cheated as a young fan.

      Then him being clutch against the Raps on a few occasions (think playoffs, or the dunking buzzer-beater, my best live game EVER!). Urgh…

      Anywho, he did put the Raptors on the map and he’ll forever be linked with the franchise. So retiring his jersey does make sense, although I would cringe at the potential fans’ reaction during the ceremony…

    • Babcock should have traded Vince as soon as he was hired. I was actually calling for it before Babcock was hired, so it’s not like it would have been out of left field. Babcock didn’t want to rock the boat, though, so held onto VInce and then it blew up in his face.

      Grunwald not trading for Nash and Nowitzki only looks bad in hindsight because, at the top, Vince looked like he was going to be one of the best players in the league for years to come, and Nash and Dirk looked good, but not great. You can’t blame Grunwald for not foreseeing Vince’s injuries and how good the others would become.

      • nope thats true.. but, apparently (as per Grange) when it was reapproached in 2003/04 (when Vince had begun to quit)… MLSE refused it and fired Grunwald.

    • Not trading Vince for Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki only looks (and only could look) bad in hindsight. If the trade had happened, a lot of fans would have called for Glen Grunwald’s head.

      Glen Grunwald traded away a lot of draft picks for 30+ year old veterans, extended several of them to bad contracts, signed Michael Stewart to a hideous contract, dealt away a future first-round pick (Jared Dudley, 2007 – think about what the Raptors needed that offseason) in a quick fix to get rid of that mistakeful contract three years later and get a no-so-good 30+ year old, and didn’t draft well outside of Bosh and Jamison who he flipped for Carter. It was a metter of time before the team fell as there was nothing set to help VC long term.

      Vince Carter needed to be traded. The bigger, but not-so-talked about fail with the trade was what happened with those two first round picks that were acquired in return (Joey Graham over Danny Granger and Bryan Colangelo trading the other one away to ship Jalen Rose’s overpaying contract out to give him cap space (Rajon Rondo, who BC later tried get with another first round pick in the draft could have been had)).

  4. I don’t think it would take much to rehabilitate his image in Canada enough to get his jersey retired. A couple offhand mea culpas the press copuld overexagerate, maybe have someone from the team take some responsibility… I think most people are over it,but might not happen untile he retires.

  5. Vince is easily the greatest Raptor ever, but I do not support retiring his jersey number at all. He quit on the franchise in a public and disgusting way that helped set the team back for years. Management may have been incompetent, but that’s no excuse for the way he acted. His legacy will be one of the most exciting, athletically gifted players to ever play the game, a legit perennial all-star, but at the same time, a player who didn’t work hard enough to maximize his talent, was softer than tissue paper, and quit on his team. You don’t retire that kind of player’s jersey IMO.

    That said, I’m happy as hell he played on my team. All those forgotten feelings of pride and excitement bubble up when I watch those court cuts highlights. I somehow hurt one of my testicles after he threw down that first dunk in that dunk contest. You don’t forget something like that.

  6. We should not retire his number EVER, what he win for us? nothing what he did to us? give us false hopes. I know everybody is gettin over him and the situation, but me personally I never forgive him, he never was a superstar, he never push himself hard enough, just remember last Jordan All Star, when a lot of players offer his startin spot to MJ and Carter did not until he see the problem that his decision cause with the fans worldwide that’s why he did. In resume, this guy have a nice run in Toronto, but he don’t deserve have his number retired EVER

  7. A thoughtful, well-reasoned, and well-written piece.

  8. I agree with dribbles. You can’t award anyone for acting like a brat doing a half-assed job. And for that I boo VC, and will continue to boo him. I hope he calls his career quits soon.

    It’s a damn shame is what it is.

    With all that said, I do have fond memories of his time here.

  9. Don’t forget, the first chinks in VC’s armor appeared in his first playoff appearance, when the Knicks absolutely shut him down. I don’t think he was ever the same after that. Even when the Raptors beat the Knicks the following year, they did so more because of the rest of the team than anything VC did. Yes, he was amazing in round 2 versus Philly, but it was stunning to me just how thoroughly the Knicks were able to break Vince.

    • What a moronic comment, he was phenomenal in Games 4 and 5 in 2001 and averaged 30 points a game over the last two games of the series to help spur the comeback.

      If you’re going to rip him, at least don’t make up shit.

      • It would be easier to respond to your insults if you wrote better. 2001 was VC’s second playoff appearance.
        2001 regular season, VC’s PER was 23.4. His playoff PER was 18.2. Quite a fall.
        2002 playoffs first round vs. the Knicks, VC was:
        game 1; 5-22, 5TO
        game 2: 10-22
        game 3: 5-21
        game 4: 10-22
        game 5: 11-22 (with a big 2 FTA)
        Not exactly stunning, is it? Yes, he played better versus the Knicks as the second series went on, but I would hardly call him “phenomenal”. Considering he had a 25 PER in the regular season that year, his performance versus the Knicks was definitely disappointing. He certainly did not “step up” his game when the pressure was on.

        I’m not calling his play crap; the Knicks had some really good defenders. But that’s why I said “chinks in the armor.” Those two series were when I began to doubt that VC was the next Jordan or anything so lofty. He was an exciting, athletic player, but he lacked toughness and drive.

        • Crap, now my writing stinks. I meant to say his 2000 regular season PER was 23.4. Then those game stats were from 2001 versus the Knicks (VC’s second playoff appearance). Sorry for the brainfart (and wish there were an edit function).

          • Carter had big games PER of 23 is superstar status. Playoffs.. anything around 20 is still awesome where the defense and intensity picks up.

            If you can score over 50 in a playoff game, it proves you’re among the best. It would be even hard for Lebron to have one of those nights…

  10. Vince Carter could of been the best player ever to play in the NBA. Bad teams, GM’s, and coaches ruined that chance………
    Don’t forget the injuries

    • I bet that if McGrady had stayed with the team, both Tracy and Vince would have suffered from fewer injuries over the course of their careers — simply because neither would have had to shoulder such a heavy load by themselves. Both players broke down from over-use. If they had been on the same team, they could have played a little less and stayed healthier.

  11. Time to remember the positive. I’d want my kids to look up Vince Carter highlights as a Raptor and tell them… we witnessed that as kids.

    It’s like how some of our parents or grandparents can talk about how great Bower was or Daryl Sittler. If they had off court or personality defects, no one will know unless they dig into it.

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