Celebrating Toronto Raptors fan favourite: Morris Peterson

Toronto Raptors - Morris Peterson (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Morris Peterson (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

For the opening of Raptors Rapture’s fan favourite week, we take a look at Morris Peterson, one of the longest-tenured Toronto Raptors ever.

In the NBA’s current era of short-term contracts, when two-fifths of all players were free agents this summer, it’s rare to see anyone – let alone a role player – stick around for years with a single team. Toronto Raptors fans know that first-hand, as the franchise has cycled through one wing shooter after another over the years – from Jason Kapono, Jamario Moon, and Sonny Weems to Steve Novak, DeMarre Carroll, and Danny Green.

That’s why Raptors fans can appreciate Morris Peterson as much as any player in franchise history. Peterson – known by the affectionate nickname Mo Pete – stuck with the Raptors for longer than almost anyone, enduring many of the highest and lowest points in the team’s existence.

Peterson’s wild shot-making, heart, and seemingly unconditional love for a struggling franchise made him a hero in the eyes of Raptors faithful.

Connecting eras

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One of the main factors of Peterson’s fan favourite status is simple: longevity. Peterson played 542 games (not including playoffs) over seven seasons in Toronto, holding the franchise record in games played for nearly a decade before being surpassed by DeMar DeRozan in December 2016. (Peterson remains second on the list heading into the 2019-20 season when Kyle Lowry will have a chance to pass him.) He’s also top-10 in just about every major box score stat, leading the franchise in three-pointers until Lowry snatched that title in February 2017.

After the Raptors selected him No. 21 overall in the 2000 NBA Draft, Peterson played 80 games as a rookie and was a rotation player during the team’s deepest postseason run of its first two decades of existence. Peterson made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, stuck around in Toronto for four non-playoff years, and then became the lone holdover for the Chris Bosh-led Raptors in 2006-07.

Mo Pete witnessed it all: Vince Carter’s infamous missed fadeaway in Philadelphia; the demise of Carter’s relationship with the team and his eventual trade request; Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, an embarrassment for the Raptors; Carter’s soul-crushing revenge in some of his returns to Toronto; the Raptors selecting Andre Bargnani with the No. 1 draft pick in 2006; and the Raptors’ return to the playoffs in 2007, when they lost to none other than Carter.

If misery loves company, it’s easy to see why Peterson was adored in Toronto. He was almost like a tragic figure in Raptors lore: A rookie on a young team that was supposed to do great things. The third-leading scorer on a bottom-feeder team. One of the primary defenders on Bryant in the latter’s legendary performance. The one who Carter tricked into getting (unfairly) ejected from one of those contentious return games.

Master of circus shots

As easy as it is to get lost in the bad memories – because, well, there are so many of them – perhaps Peterson’s legacy with the Raptors is that he was a bright spot during those bad times. Peterson was just as lovable when things were going well, but his presence may have been more necessary when the team was struggling. Fans need something to get through those long playoff-less seasons. Peterson provided it in the form of his signature circus shots.

There was the blindfolded shot when Peterson’s headband was knocked down in front of his eyes and he still managed to finish a layup (and get fouled). There were gems like this one, a backwards fling while falling to the floor after taking contact. There were countless others, including many lost to an era when not every highlight could be instantly reposted on Twitter and Instagram.

And of course, there was the shot before THE SHOT. Prior to Kawhi Leonard’s series-winner in the 2019 playoffs, Peterson’s game-saving three-pointer in Washington was probably the single greatest basket in Raptors history.

The shot itself was completely absurd, perfectly on-brand for Peterson. Maybe just as absurd: It was Peterson’s only shot attempt in just one minute of playing time that night. That’s fitting as well, as Peterson’s unselfishness and team-first attitude also endeared him to Raptors fans over the years.

A Raptor icon

Combining his playing days (2001-2007) and his time as an analyst on Raptors broadcasts for TSN (2015-2017), Peterson spent about nine total years around the team. The Raptors honoured Peterson for their 20th anniversary season in 2015, and again at Game 1 of the NBA Finals this June, alongside other former Raptors. Unlike many of the others, however, Peterson never left a sour taste behind for Toronto fans.

Mo Pete represented the team and the city of Toronto with pride. He was one of the most entertaining players the franchise has ever had, and he created one of the greatest single moments in franchise history. For that, he’ll always be a Raptor fan favourite.