Vince Carter and the ripple effect on Canadian basketball

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Via: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images (Foreground), Unsplash (Background)

In case you missed it, Oren Weisfeld analyzed the importance of Dwight Powell to Team Canada and you can check it out right here.

The ripple effect is something that I love to talk about in great lengths. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a ripple effect occurs when the action of one, influences the actions and/or outcomes for several others. What we’re witnessing right now, with the Team Canada roster, is a ripple effect that began before some of the members were even born. We know the story… in 1998, Vince Carter was drafted by the Golden State Warriors and then traded to the Raptors immediately. It’s been documented before, but to thoroughly understand the scope of Carter’s impact on Canada, we need to dissect how Canadian basketball got to this point.

Hockey is all Canada knew for the longest time. In 1946, the first-ever NBA game was hosted in Toronto at Maple Leafs Gardens between the New York Knickerbockers and the Toronto Huskies – who folded after just one year. The fact that the newest incarnation of Toronto’s professional basketball franchise was named after a pop-culture movie was a clear indication that the growth of basketball in Canada was going to be a process (and just to clarify, it was longer than Sam Hinkie’s). In the 1995 NBA Expansion draft, B.J. Armstrong was the first selection made by the newly established Toronto Raptors franchise and if you recall, he infamously refused to play for them. Not a single game. Never even made so much as a footprint on Canadian soil as a member of the home team. In the eyes of the NBA, the Raptors were obscure.

But when the Raps acquired Carter in that 1998 draft day trade, Canada received an enormous, and much needed, jolt in-the-arm. Upon drafting him, then-GM Glen Grunwald thought Carter’s workout was the “best workout I’d seen in terms of athleticism.” While Grunwald’s assessment of Carter was accurate, it wasn’t the only thing that stood out about the UNC prospect. Contrary to popular belief (and popular opinion), Carter wasn’t going to finesse his way out of Toronto. Based on those two things, he was already well on his way to becoming a household name.

Looking at the players on the Senior Men’s National Team, there’s no question that the ripple effect caused by Carter is being felt, and is being seen, as we speak. When Carter was drafted, there was only three Canadian NBA players: Bill Wennington, Rick Fox, and Steve Nash. At the end of last season, there was a total of 20:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker
  • R.J. Barrett
  • Khem Birch
  • Chris Boucher
  • Ignas Brazdeikis
  • Oshae Brissett
  • Dillon Brooks
  • Brandon Clarke
  • Nate Darling
  • Luguentz Dort
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • Cory Joseph
  • Mfiondu Kabengele
  • Trey Lyles
  • Mychal Mulder
  • Jamal Murray
  • Kelly Olynyk
  • Dwight Powell
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Andrew Wiggins

*names bolded are members of the Senior Mens FIBA Olympic Qualifying team

All these guys were born between 1991 and 2000. So, they were somewhat aware of the hysteria surrounding Carter and the Raptors, given that around the same time Toronto was really beginning to take off. Fans were sent into a complete frenzy after the dunk contest and a brand-new culture began to evolve. Toronto and Canada had seen so much hockey, and not nearly enough basketball. But when Carter put on one of the greatest shows ever in NBA history, there was no denying how special he was. Who wants to be ‘Like Mike’, when we had Vince?

Think about the kids that were growing up, shooting hoops in their driveway, or in the schoolyard. I remember I was one of them and I wanted to be like Vince. As a kid, you saw him fly through the air and throw it down with tremendous power. His insane hopping ability combined with his athletic prowess was awe-inspiring. He was our Michael Jordan and at the time, he was being compared to MJ. Whether the debate was valid or not, Carter was the greatest basketball sensation Canada had ever seen.

In the documentary The Carter Affect, several Canadian NBA players spoke about Carter as if he was a prophet. The times they spent practicing their games, just because ‘Air Canada’ was in constant flight. He’s the one who inspired them and gave them hopes of one day becoming an NBA player. Even Drake mentioned “girls have to want to be with you, and guys have to want to be you… Vince had that,” and Drizzy was spot on. Kardinal Offishall talked about Carter “leading the charge in loving T.O.,” and was serious about putting Toronto on the map.

Corporate sponsors historically put money into hockey because it was a safe bet. But that changed when Carter won the dunk contest and began securing endorsement deals for himself. To have that happen in Canada was a big deal at the time, especially considering all the hockey teams the country inhabited. But his work went beyond servicing him alone.

He funded a new basketball court in Etobicoke and spoke to hundreds that were in attendance at the unveiling. Giving back and helping Toronto communities was something he wanted to do often, hosting his annual Vince Carter Charity All-Star Game, right before Caribana weekend. The event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Vince Carter’s Embassy of Hope Foundation and the Raptors Foundation to benefit Toronto children’s charities.

Current NBA players discussed the impact he had on them, in The Carter Affect documentary:

“Vince is the reason I fell in love with basketball… it makes you proud to be Canadian.” – Tristan Thompson

“Just to be able to put on this Raptors jersey, playing for my hometown, playing for Canada, playing in front of fans that, you know, grew up and I can share the same experiences [of] being able to watch guys like Carter. I remember going in my driveway, where there used to be a little hoop and then trying to imitate all the dunks that he was doing. The rim wasn’t 10 feet – it was way lower. We didn’t even realize that sparked a run of Canadian players getting drafted. We didn’t realize how big it was at the moment. Every year, there’s Canadians coming into the league.” – Cory Joseph

“When you’re in and out of the tunnels now, you see all these fans hanging over the railing on the side asking for autographs and I remember doing that asking for Vince’s autograph… the impact he had and how many kids he affected is pretty tremendous.” – Kelly Olynyk

Nik Stauskas shared a story about how he was shooting hoops the morning before he went to a Raptors open practice. “I had a feeling I was going to be asked to come on the court,” he said in the documentary. He manifested his own destiny that day. He came on the court, connected on four shots and Carter gave him his props. “It’s honestly so crazy to look back at it now and see that it really was Vince. Like, it was Vince that started all of this for us.”

The reason for his departure is still a hot topic for the Raptors community. There are always people talking about how he didn’t want to leave, and there are others who say he gave up. At the end of the day, Canadian basketball wouldn’t be where it is today if Vince Carter never donned the purple, red, and black. That’s the ripple effect.

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