On August 24, 1995, I entered the world. That first couple of months was the usual baby stuff, not really all that interesting, but my inception almost directly aligned with the birth of Canadian basketball.
I think that’s pretty cool.
On November 3, 1995, both the Toronto Raptors and the *sigh* Vancouver Grizzlies played their first regular-season games in the NBA. I remember it like it was yesterday...I was a huge Bryant Reeves fan at the time, little me, barely two months old, screaming at the man nicknamed “Big Country” (due to his Oklahoman upbringing ... and size) would drop in pick-and-roll coverage. Ah, what a rascal!
Surprisingly (mainly because they didn’t do this much), the Grizzlies went on to win their season opener, beating the Portland Trailblazers 92-80. So did the Raptors, beating the New Jersey Nets, 94-79. Canadian basketball was off to a hot start.
Fun fact: Vancouver started their inaugural season 2-0! Following that torrid start, they lost 19 straight. They went 101-359 in their six seasons spent in Vancouver. As mentioned, they didn’t win often.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit here, bypass some technicalities—-after all, this isn’t the story of my hometown Vancouver Grizzlies and their many failures. So let’s crank “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean up to 88 MPH and fast forward to December 2004.
The Grizzlies had been in Memphis then for full two seasons, basketball in Canada’s Pacific Northwest was already an afterthought, and the nation’s lone remaining basketball franchise, the Toronto Raptors, was facing problems of their own.
In September 2004, Vince Carter demanded a trade. His last two seasons in Toronto weren’t exactly graceful; the writing was on the wall, a divorce, an ugly one at that, seemed all but inevitable. A few months later, in December, a trade did happen. Carter was no longer a Raptor, he was now a New Jersey Net.
Now, I want to be careful with what I say. This did happen nearly 16 years ago and Toronto, hell Canada—as a nation—has forgiven Carter for the events that unfolded in December 2004.
In 2014, as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies (which was just super ironic for me for obvious reasons), Carter finally received a hero’s welcome—nearly a decade after his trade to New Jersey. A video tribute was played at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in honor of Carter’s time spent in the city. It started out with boos, which was the standard every time Carter played in Toronto for years, but it ended with an ovation and a teary-eyed Vince thanking the crowd.
You have to understand, Vince was everything to Canadian basketball. He was what Wayne Gretzky was to American hockey, and that’s not an exaggeration or a hyperbolic statement. He fueled the nation’s love for the game; his in-game theatrics were unparalleled as a box office draw, but his contributions went far beyond the confines of the NBA hardwood. He was active within the community; he donated to local charities; he was a philanthropist; he invigorated life into Toronto’s nightlife scene, furthermore, in a lot of ways—he was the city of Toronto. The city embraced him, and he fully requited that love back. That’s why his departure stung.
But when I was eight-years-old, all I saw was the man that garnered the nickname “Half Man, Half Amazing.” He was my favorite basketball player. I didn’t fully understand organization/player rifts, or how relations between the two could go south in such an abrupt fashion. So, like a lost puppy seeking guidance, I followed him to his new team—the New Jersey Nets.
Okay, now we’re getting there. Memphis was in sole ownership of the Grizzlies (even though there aren’t any damn grizzly bears in Tennessee), and Vince Carter was no longer the face of Canadian basketball.
Through Carter, I chose the Nets as my new rooting interest. And yeah, I’m allowed to bandwagon, my home team was ransacked by an inferior Canadian dollar and shoddy executives/ownership. I don’t exactly know what the rules are for “bandwagoning,” but like Isiah Thomas reminiscing about his omission from the Dream Team —sorta reverse bandwagoining, I feel as if I meet the criteria.
So when the upstart Raptors, now spearheaded by a new franchise cornerstone in Chris Bosh, met the Nets in the 2007 NBA playoffs, I was one of like maybe a couple of dozen…(?) Canadians cheering for the nation’s heel. Carter would go to average 25.0 points and 6.2 rebounds with the Nets dispensing of Toronto in six games.
I’d continue that rooting interest through the Nets’ own relocation from the Meadowlands in New Jersey to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York back in 2012, long after Vince was gone. While the Raptors’ “We The North” movement was gaining steam into the 2014 NBA playoffs, I was, once again, playing the role of heel among friends here in Canada. And once again, the Nets would vanquish the hopes and dreams of the upstart Raptors—this time in seven games, as all fans could do is curse the name of Paul Pierce. (Masai Ujiri unfortunately had tried out his own curse before the series. It didn’t work either.)
Now here we are, the immensely strange and confusing (still somehow an understatement) year of 2020. Vince Carter just recently announced his retirement, and it’s likely that BOTH the Raptors and the Nets retire his jersey in the rafters. But not before another playoff series between the two organizations ensues.
If it wasn’t for Vince Carter, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article on a blog dedicated to fans of the Brooklyn Nets. Hell, I’m not sure basketball would be as prominent in my life as it is. Canadian basketball fans owe everything to him, and so does this Nets fan...living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.