Vince Carter spent six-plus seasons in Toronto helping build the NBA brand in the city and country of Canada. With the All-Star Game in Toronto and on foreign soil for the first time, Toronto's most famous Raptor recently looked back on his time with the franchise, trying to put Toronto on the NBA map and discussing what his impact has been on basketball and a generation of players coming up in Canada.
Q: There are Canadian-born players coming up in the NBA now who grew up watching you in Toronto. Do you understand how you might've turned them on to basketball back then?
VC: At 21, I was just trying to establish myself, the fifth pick [in the 1998 draft], traded on draft night [for Antawn Jamison], learning things about the game, learning a new city, new country, coming in and then a lockout [in 1999]. Just figuring out because everything was condensed and it was going fast, fast, fast, fast.
For me, I am just trying to establish myself and show the league, the world really, who I am, what I bring to the table, and I think just the excitement that was in that first two years with Tracy [McGrady], and now we are starting to win and it's not like, 'Yeah, you are the pushover.' When I got there, that's what it was. People considered Toronto, 'Oh yeah, this is a practice game.' Now we are starting to win games, now we are in the playoffs, we are not the pushover anymore. We are coming to play. The city enjoyed that. Now we are relevant.
So we continued to fight for the NBA to put us on the map, put us in the spotlight, give us a chance on TV or TNT or NBC at the time. I sound old. But give us a chance to really be in the spotlight to show the world what Toronto has to offer. I think for young kids, that is what it was all about. 'Look at us now, we are on TV, they are talking about Toronto and our city.' We have something to represent, and then I won the dunk contest and got in the All-Star Game, so now they are talking about the Toronto Raptors.
It is funny you hear people -- I remember [them saying], 'Yeah we don't know much about the city.' ... Now we are starting to get [recognition]. ... Antonio [Davis] and I are starting to represent Toronto; now people have to recognize us and it's pretty cool.
Q: And can you believe your impact on Canadian kids?
VC: It's freaking awesome. It is hard to believe that because I think about at that time, I was just trying to make my way.
Q: With the All-Star Weekend in Toronto, can you believe your legendary dunk contest victory was 16 years ago in 2000?
VC: It's hard to believe, yes. It's hard to believe. It's a long time ago. Sometimes I still look at it and it feels like yesterday, but that was a long time ago.
Q: Do you look back and think about the impact you might have had from that dunk contest and what it meant not only for Canada basketball but in terms of where it stands in NBA history now?
VC: No, not then. Now I do. I say I didn't because I wasn't established myself. I was so caught up in wanting to show everybody what I can do. And I knew who I was representing. But I knew that would take care of itself if I did my job and do what I want to do. I mean, I was fulfilling a dream. I always wanted to be in the dunk contest, and I wanted to show the world, this is what I can do. People had an idea but they didn't really know. And I had to show them.
When I was little, I used to tape and study the dunk contest. And that night, that was my moment. So I was living in the moment. So I never realized at the time what it would do for younger kids in the city and the country. As you move on, it's like, 'OK, now you are making playoffs and winning games and in the conference, we are playing in big games now' -- that is when you can see how much it meant to the city because now it went from just, 'Oh yeah, cool, my first year.' And then second year, it was unbelievable and in years to come, when we went on to the second round, it was nuts in 2001. That was crazy. That arena was so nice.
Q: People say the dunk contest hasn't been same, that no one can duplicate what you did in 2000.
VC: Yeah, I heard that. I don't know. [Zach] LaVine is definitely capable; he brings a lot to the table. It was a special night for me. It's going to happen. He is the guy who can do it.
Q: What do you think it's like this weekend in Toronto?
VC: It's bonkers. It's a great city. I think they'll be a great host, and I think guys are going to have a lot of fun. It's going to be cold. It's going to be cold! ... I think with the team putting two All-Stars [Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan] in the All-Star Game is big. Consistently winning, getting to the playoffs, that's what it's all about now, and I watched -- what do they call it? Jurassic Park -- that little area right there [outside the arena]. I wish they had that when I was playing. I just remembered it when we were playing, we battled against the Knicks [in the playoffs], and then of course, just how loud and how crazy the crowd was then, so I know it's bonkers now.
Q: But you couldn't make it to Toronto for All-Star Weekend?
VC: No, daughter comes first. She's an athlete. She has her own tennis tournament this weekend, so can't miss that -- that won't go well. She comes first and she has asked me every day, twice a day, 'You are going to be there!' It's just bad timing. Daddy's duty first.
Q: You are a pretty humble guy. But is there a small part of you that thinks you played even a tiny part in helping bring the All-Star Game to Toronto and Canada?
VC: Not now -- it's been a while. But we tried to push for it years ago. It's a great atmosphere, a great city to host an All-Star Game. I have been saying this for years and years, it's the best-kept secret. For guys and players who haven't had the opportunity to hang out and be around the city, they are going to enjoy it and fall in love with what Toronto has to offer. I really think so.