On Thursday night we unveiled Vince Carter as the No. 1 Raptor (surprise, surprise) in the finale of our Ultimate Raptors Rankings.

What I didn’t mention in that post is that Scott and I actually had a chance to talk to Vince a couple of weeks ago, during the final week of the regular season.

Vince was great to chat with, took a good amount of time to answer our questions and was honest with his answers when we got to the tougher questions about the John Thompson interview. It was kind of interesting to hear him surprisingly say “oh, wow” when we explained that the reason we wanted to interview him was because we were naming him the best Raptor in franchise history for our Raptors-related blog. He sounded genuinely surprised and flattered, which kind of caught me off guard. Perhaps he was just surprised that fan frustration over his departure hasn’t clouded their judgement of his peak performance, or perhaps Carter is humbler than people give him credit for.

Either way, as a lifelong Raptors fan, it was fascinating to get a few minutes with Vince Carter for RaptorBlog and to get some answers to questions Scott and I have always had, as I’m sure you have, too.

Here’s the interview, transcribed in its entirety:

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RaptorBlog(Joseph): What’s it like to be the new guy on a team that’s won a championship, where they’re trying to defend their title and repeat, but you haven’t won with these guys and you’re still looking for your ring?

Vince: It’s kind of weird because when I was traded to New Jersey they had just left the Finals. When I was traded to Orlando they had just left the Finals. And now coming to Dallas they were just in the Finals. I just missed them all by a year or so. But it’s great to be a part of this team. To actually see them with the ring ceremony, actually see them with the trophy, in person, really just ignited the hunger for a ring even more than every other year. You want that opportunity. To see the reaction, to see the actual ring. Man, this is what I’ve been wanting since day one and now to get the opportunity to play on a team that’s a contender and just won it, so they all know what it’s like and they want it again. The guys who won it before, want it again, so it just makes it a great mesh.

RaptorBlog(Scott): There’s a lot of speculation from fans and media about your plans beyond this season. The next two years of your contract are only partially guaranteed, so do you think you’d consider re-entering the free agent market again if the Mavs don’t pick up the next two years, or have you given some consideration to retirement?

Vince: I’m definitely not looking into retirement right now. I’m just going to see how it plays out first and foremost and see where it goes from there. I haven’t really looked that far ahead. I just want to complete this season. I feel like if good things happen with the team and I play well, and do what needs to be done and do what’s asked of me, then you know, it will take care of itself.

RaptorBlog(Scott): One of the reasons a lot of Raptors fans might be interested in your possible free agency plans is that a lot of fans hold on to the hope that you’ll finish your career in a Toronto Raptors uniform. Assuming the Raptors submitted an appealing offer in that situation, is that something you would consider?

Vince: Of course it’s something that I would definitely consider. And it’s something in the free agency this year, once everything was worked out with Phoenix and I was a free agent, that was a question I was asked by my family and by my agent. He’s like ‘what if?’ and I was like, ‘hey, definitely, we’ll hear what they have to say.’ So I never rule it out.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Vince, the reason we actually wanted to talk to you is because we’re doing something for RaptorBlog called the Ultimate Raptors Rankings. We’re ranking the top-30 Raptors of all time, and the reason we’re talking to you is because in the next couple of weeks, we’re going to unveil you as the top Raptor of all time…

Vince: Oh, wow…

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Yeah. And obviously what most of our readers want to hear you talk about is the Toronto Raptors and your time as a Raptor. And there were a lot of good times. Looking back now, we’re eight years removed from the situation. If someone asked you to sum up your time in Toronto, as a Raptor, what would you say?

Vince: It’s where it all started for me, my opportunity. Glen Grunwald, Butch Carter gave me the opportunity. I remember day one, Butch Carter comes to me and says ‘Vince, we’re gonna show the world what you’re made of, who you are and what you’re about.’ Day two, Charles Oakley puts his arm around me and says ‘Hey, I’m gonna show you the ropes.’ And from there I felt comfortable. It was a young kid coming to a new city, just growing up in front of millions of people. It was just an unbelievable experience. You’re going to go through ups and downs in your life, in your career, that we all go through. That’s understood. But they were all worth it, because it adds character. It was just phenomenal. You can learn. Eight years removed from it, you’ve seen so many things happen to other players, and you can kind of really enlighten them if ever asked. It’s been a wonderful ride. It’s just hard to believe it’s been 14 years now, and I’m still playing the game I love.

RaptorBlog(Scott): I wanted to get your take on the Dwight Howard situation in Orlando. You played with Dwight, so you’ve seen first hand how important he is to that team, but his public image has taken a serious hit this season with the way he’s appeared to lead the team on with his future plans, and his falling out with Stan Van Gundy. Since you had a similar experience with how things ended between you and the Raptors in 2004, what advice would you give Dwight about how he should handle the situation going forward?

Vince: It’s a tough situation either way you look at it. He wants to make the best decision for him and that’s fine. I think right now, I think too many people have their hand in to the situation, and I think that’s where the problem lies. And I think Dwight should just take a step back now that he’s out of this season, to really think about what he wants to do. It shouldn’t be friends and the other bodies or representatives. He should sit down with the organization and they should just talk it out. And talk it out meaning say what you have to say, they say what they have to say. And a decision can be made from that. Because I feel like when you get other people involved, words get twisted. And that’s where things tend to go left, if you understand what I’m saying. So if they’re both sitting there, all of the outside speculation doesn’t really matter, because you’ve said it to the player or to the organization, and pretty much cleared the air. So I think that’s what needs to happen.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Vince, you had a major role in putting the Raptors on the map in the NBA. I’ll never forget as a kid in Toronto, growing up watching the NBA on NBC, that Sunday when the Raptors were going to be on NBC. Hearing that music hit and knowing it was the Raptors who were going to be on, it was surreal to me. And I’m sure it was a big deal to Toronto basketball fans and fans around Canada. In the years since you’ve left, even through some successful seasons, the Raptors have never really grabbed the NBA spotlight like they had when you were here. And there’s this perceived notion out there that Toronto’s like this little team on an island, and even if players have great seasons here, they still can’t get recognition. As someone who never seemed to have a problem getting that recognition while you were here, what are your thoughts on that perception?

Vince: Toronto is one of the best kept secrets, and that was one of the tough things about convincing other players to come play for the Raptors at the time is that they didn’t know. And that was one of the things I was trying to push at the time with the NBA, along with the fans and the organization, help Toronto gain recognition and put us on the map. Let the world see who we are and what we’re about and what the city of Toronto is about. I can speak on behalf of some of my friends, basketball fans, when they come to Toronto, they fall in love with it. They say ‘Oh man, I love Toronto, I love Toronto.’ It’s just that on a national level, it wasn’t known and it didn’t gain that recognition. We had some pretty good teams, but we had to get into the playoffs to be recognized. And it was just tough. And that was one of the things I talked about when people said ‘your team is underrated.’ I used to say ‘hey, give us a shot. Let us put Toronto and Canada on the map. Let us be seen.’ It’s unfortunate. It has happened, but it just hasn’t happened consistently. And I still think the younger players in the league now have no idea how great Canada is.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Well no one in Canada forgets what you did for the franchise, or your role in the most successful period in franchise history, but there’s still a lot of bitterness from the fans over how things ended, and you still hear the boos when you come here. There is that perception that you could have given more, because of the John Thompson interview. Do you see why some fans see it that way, based on the interview?

Vince: I don’t see it, because the interview was definitely taken out of context. For those people that were sitting in that interview room that day, they’ll tell you the same. I just find it hard to believe that people say I didn’t play hard for the franchise. I loved being there, they gave me my opportunity. That was how my career started. I was able to become Rookie of the Year, I was able to help that franchise win and make it to the playoffs, along with everybody else. I got into the All Star Game, which also helped gain recognition for Toronto, and that’s all I wanted. And that’s everything I put forth to do each and every night, just play the game that I love. So it was unfortunate that the interview turned out like it did. You only saw one side of the story and it was unfortunate that the other side didn’t really come out. People just hear what they hear on the interview and it’s unfortunate, like I said. You know, you just take the hit, and you just keep moving. I know deep down that people really know who I am and what I’m about and my love for the game. And if I didn’t have that love for the game, I wouldn’t be in it this long.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Do you think if Raptors fans could have seen the interview from your side, the way you intended it to be seen, do you think the reaction would have been a lot different?

Vince: Sure, but you know that’s just the way it goes. I mean even now, some interviews that you do that don’t come off like that, you still say ‘hey, I wanted them to say this or why did they edit out some of this, I thought that was a good line that I said,’ so on and so forth, but you know that’s just editing, that’s just the way it goes. And it was edited that way. And it’s just really nothing I can do. I just hope people forgive and forget and move on. Like I said, of course it’s unfortunate that it happened that way.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Do you think there will be a time, either when you come back as an opposing player or maybe in retirement, years down the road, where you step out on to that Air Canada Centre floor, and you get an ovation? Do you see Vince Carter ever receiving that in Toronto? Do you even hope for it?

Vince: Yeah, of course you hope for it. You know, that’s where I started. I have so many memories. Like with the questions you’ve asked, it’s brought chills because you just think back to where it started. I was able to play in a time in this city where it was, it wasn’t known, it wasn’t a popular place to be. But at the same time, there was love. When we were able to beat the Knicks for that first playoff win, I recalled making the first basket in the Air Canada Centre. That’s something that I’ll never ever forget. So I do hope for it because every time I walk in there now and I look up there, I just say, ‘Hey man, I made history here.’ You know? I won Rookie of the Year here. I won the slam dunk contest representing Toronto. That’s never been done. I have plenty of memories and you definitely hope for it.

RaptorBlog(Scott): Alright Vince, that was fantastic. Joseph and I both really appreciate you giving us your time.

Vince: Yeah, no problem.

RaptorBlog(Scott): As I said, you’re still a significant figure here, and I think deep down inside, all of us hope that there’s that sort of full reconciliation and that maybe your jersey will be hanging from the rafters of the Air Canada Centre one day.

Vince: Hey, I hope so.

RaptorBlog(Joseph): Thanks a lot, Vince

Vince: Thanks guys. Thanks for your time.