This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
In his 19th season, Vince Carter returned to Toronto last week with the Memphis Grizzlies but did not play in a 120-105 loss to the Raptors. Carter has said he's hoping to play 20 seasons in the league, which means retirement is on the horizon, but not around the corner just yet. Given his legacy in Toronto, there's been an ongoing debate as to whether Carter should be the the jersey number retired by the franchise. The legacy has been described as complicated, mostly because of what ended up being a messy divorce toward the end between Carter and the team. It's been a long time since Carter owned this city in a Raptors uniform, so let's remind ourselves just how impactful he was for the franchise:
True or false: Vince Carter's 50-point performance in Game 3 against the Philadelphia 76ers is still the greatest moment in franchise history
The argument for greatest moment in Raptors history is a tricky slope. Some of us might prefer to look at the 2015-16 season and the team's first-ever run to the Eastern Conference finals as one giant memorable moment (if you want to narrow it down, the Game 3 and 4 wins over Cleveland in the ECF would probably rank pretty high). Others might point to Vince's 2000 Slam Dunk Contest performance as a highlight, if only because it was the first time the franchise was officially put on the map on the national stage, although I would argue that it was an entertaining spectacle but had little impact on the success of the team.
When I think of Carter's time in Toronto, the first immediate thought always goes to his 50-point performance in a Game 3 win over the Sixers in their classic 2001 Eastern Conference semi-finals matchup:
The playoff record eight three-pointers in the first half. The 50 points. The Air Canada Centre crowd basking in the fact our superstar was out-dueling Allen Iverson at that point in the series. Game 3 was legitimate where were you when Vince hit those threes, all-time moment for a fan base that was only familiar with dinosaur uniforms and a whole lot of losing up to that point. For me personally, this is still the greatest moment in franchise history.
True or false: We shouldn't forgive Carter for attending his graduation on the same day as Game 7 against the Sixers
On TSN radio last week, Jeff O'Neill shared his opinion on Carter's decision to attend his graduation at the University of North Carolina in the morning of Game 7 against the 76ers. "He also got on a chartered plane and went to graduation the day of a Game 7 in the playoffs, which is completely ridiculous," O'Neill said, echoing the opinions of many people who thought it was a poor decision on Carter's part on the day of the biggest game in franchise history.
I've gone back and forth on whether we should be upset at Carter for what people believe was a choice that put his Game 7 performance in jeopardy. Perhaps he would have had a better game if he just went by his regular routine (Carter played all 48 minutes in Game 7, shooting 6-for-18 from the field and finishing with 20 points), but conflating Vince's decision to attend his graduation with the result of the game seems like a slippery slope, too.
But there are people who think his potential game-winning shot would have gone in if he didn't attend a graduation in the morning, to which I say congrats to Vince for caring about his education and cherishing an important life moment.
True or false: We should forgive Carter for how his tenure in Toronto ended
By the time the 2004-05 season rolled around, the Raptors were coming off back-to-back seasons out of the playoffs and after the firing of Lenny Wilkens and the failed one-year experiment of Kevin O'Neill has head coach, Carter was on his third head coach in as many seasons in Sam Mitchell. The feel-good vibes of the 2001 playoff run was long gone. Carter was with a team in transition, and, like many superstars in this league, wanted to be in a better situation in the prime of his career.
Imagine if these two stayed together in Toronto...Photo by Reuters
Still, there was plenty to dislike about Carter's departure in a trade to the New Jersey Nets early in the 2004-05 season. He declared to the media that he was done with dunking (which was not the case after he joined New Jersey), and might have tipped the Seattle Supersonics off about a late-game play call. Carter did not help in shaping the perception that he was just another petulant brat who wanted his way when things went bad, but he also wasn't the first one to hold a franchise hostage because of the power superstars wield in this league. Time heals all wounds, well most of them, so while the departure was ugly, it shouldn't overshadow all the great moments Carter had in Toronto.
Verdict: Somewhere in the middle
True or false: The Raptors should make Carter's number the first one to be retired in franchise history
On the same TSN radio segment referenced above, the host of the show suggested that the first number the Raptors retire should be DeMar DeRozan's. His rationale: DeRozan is the complete opposite of Carter. He's worked for everything, he wants to be a Raptor for life, he's always loved it here, he's an unassuming guy and he's actually won, whereas Carter was only part of a team that won one five-game playoff series.
OK, first of all, we really need to pump the brakes about embracing athletes in Toronto because they want to be here. People want to be in Toronto not because of just the city, or because they want to wear the pride of playing in Canada as an emblem on their chest. They want to be here because they're playing for a team that is contending and for a franchise willing to pay max money for their best players. Those things matter, and it matters just the same in Toronto as anywhere else.
DeRozan is well on his way to being one of the best Raptors of all time, but let's not forget about the OG of this shit. Carter's impact on putting the Raptors on the map cannot be stated enough. For that reason alone, it makes perfect sense for him to be the first number retired.
VC salutes a teammate in the closing moments of his epic 50-point Game 3 in 2001. Photo by Reuters
True or false: Carter is the greatest Raptor of all time
DeRozan or Kyle Lowry might eventually make the case for this spot, especially if they lead Toronto to a Finals appearance at some point during their tenure here, but as it stands, even with the brief period of playoff excellence, and the sour taste of his exit, Carter was the last great superstar to play in a Raptors uniform, and is still the greatest player the franchise has ever had.
For all the reasons listed above, it's why there shouldn't be questions about whether Carter should be the first number retired by the Raptors, but just a question of when.