Was Vince Carter more of a hero or villain for Toronto Raptors fans?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10: Former Toronto Raptors player Vince Carter (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10: Former Toronto Raptors player Vince Carter (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors – Vince Carter Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport /

Among fans, Vince Carter is one of the most divisive figures in Toronto Raptors history. Was he more of a hero or villain for the franchise?

Everyone knows the famous line from The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Every Toronto Raptors fan probably wishes Vince Carter had retired as their hero. But for many, he’ll always be remembered as more of a villain.

In the decade following his public trade demand and messy exit from Toronto, Carter wasn’t just an ordinary bad guy. He was Public Enemy No. 1.

For years, Raptors fans booed Carter relentlessly whenever he visited Toronto with his various new teams. In November 2014, they finally seemed to forgive him, giving Carter a standing ovation during a tribute video in honour of the franchise’s 20th anniversary season. Carter was visibly emotional, as Raptor fans cheered him for the first time since his December 2004 departure.

Perhaps time heals all wounds. In this case, though, was the cut simply too deep to ever fully recover? Let’s explore a rollercoaster of Raptors history.

The beginning: Air Canada Carter

Carter’s first few years in Toronto were full of special moments and highlight plays. He won Rookie of the Year for the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, averaging 18.3 points per game right off the bat. The next year, Carter improved his skills, scoring over 25 points nightly and shooting better than 40 percent from deep as he became an All-Star and led the Raptors to the playoffs.

Carter’s 1999-00 season produced one of the most iconic moments in Raptors franchise history: His performance at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. Carter performed some (literally) jaw-dropping acrobatics in front of the entire basketball world, with the word Toronto sprawled across his jersey. It was an unforgettable stretch for Raptors fans.

The following season, Carter was possibly the most popular basketball player on the planet. He led the league in All-Star voting – over the likes of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Allen Iverson. He also led the Raptors to their first-ever playoff series win in 2001; it took the franchise 15 years to win another series.

The biggest what-if in Raptors history is still about Carter’s missed fadeaway jumper in Philadelphia. The shot would’ve taken Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals. At the time, it seemed like the early stages of a promising partnership for Carter and Toronto. Little did the team or its fans know, that would be the peak of Raptors basketball in the Carter era.

Still, when people say that Carter “put Toronto on the map,” this is what they mean. They’re referring to the posters of Carter mid-air, in a Toronto jersey, hanging on every kid’s bedroom wall. They’re referring to the Raptors’ only ever Christmas Day game (until next season) in 2001, which was a direct result of Carter’s popularity and Toronto’s success the previous year.

Unlike what happened in Vancouver, an NBA team was able to survive in Toronto. Carter was unquestionably a massive reason why.