Vince Carter retired yesterday (June 25, 2020).
Almost immediately a bunch of Raptors fans online were talking about how he might deserve a statue, maybe, but his jersey number can never be retired.
So let me briefly yell at a cloud and say: only people who are so immature they cannot get over a trade that happened 16 years ago or bandwagon fans don’t want this man’s number retired.
Prior to this iteration of the Raptors, Vince Carter was the Raptors, he was basketball in Canada. (Apologies to Chris Bosh.)
Prior to Kawhi showing up, Vince Carter was the best player to play for the Toronto Raptors and he remains the best player ever to play for the team for more than a season.
(Caveats: Bosh and DeRozan were never as good and impactful as Carter was at his peak. Lowry is a different kind of player than those three.)
But it wasn’t just his play for the team that was important.
It was the dunks, sure.
It was the fact that, for a brief moment, the most exciting player in the NBA played for Toronto.
But it was also his embrace of the city.
And it was his enormous impact on Canadian basketball. (Just look at the ages of Canadian basketball players in the NBA…)
Without Vince Carter I’m not sure the Raptors still exist.
Without Vince Carter, the Raptors are the Grizzlies, playing in some southern city with a few fans in Toronto still watching them but most everyone else has moved on.
I say this as someone who isn’t a huge fan of his game, even. (Kyle Lowry is much more my type of player.)
Vince Carter is not the reason I’m a basketball fan. (That’s Steve Nash.)
But he’s the reason why many Canadians are basketball fans and he’s the reason why there are so many Raptors fans from before the Raptors were actually good. He’s the reason I’m a Raptors fan first and a (casual) Mavericks fan second.
And yet, there are people who think his number shouldn’t be retired because “reasons”.
Sure, the ending wasn’t pretty. But if you’ve paid any attention to Vince Carter since he left the Raptors, you’ll know that the version of events in the Toronto sports media at the time was very much management’s version.
You can believe what management says or you can believe what the player says. Personally, I prefer to side with labour.
Moreover, Vince Carter is a nice person. It’s not like we’re talking about Gilbert Arenas or somebody like that. The supposed controversy around Vince is about him attending his university graduation. (I’m ignoring the stuff said about him the season he was traded because I suspect, with good reason, a lot of it was made up or exaggerated.)
But it’s not entirely about whether or not you’re still butthurt about how Vince left.
It’s also about how this franchise chooses to behave.
The Raptors should not be the old Leafs. The Raptors should honour the important players in its history by actually retiring numbers.
You think Vince Carter wasn’t good enough to have his number retired?
Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s number is retired, for fuck’s sake.
(The Heat have retired Chris Bosh’s number!!!)
Vince Carter is more important to Raptors history – and Canadian basketball – than many of the guys on that list are to their franchises.
It’s not like the Raptors would be celebrating mediocrity by honouring him.
Instead, they would be celebrating the most important figure in team history before Ujiri was hired in 2013. (Again, apologies to Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan.)