Throughout the 18-year history of the Toronto Raptors franchise, a countless number of cult heroes, or players that despite their limited skill set were both appreciated and loved by fans of the club, have donned a Raptors' jersey. This is probably connected to the team’s lack of success in attracting more talented players to the club, but that is an argument for another day.
When engaging in a discussion about the biggest cult heroes in Raptors franchise history it often comes down to two players: the Junk Yard Dawg Jerome Williams, and Morris, "Mo Pete," Peterson. In this instance, Mo Pete gets the nod as he did spend much more time playing for the Dinos in his career than JYD did.
Mo Pete’s popularity in the city of Toronto has a great deal to do with the time in which he arrived in the city. In 2000 Peterson was selected with the 21st overall pick after coming off of a championship run with the Michigan State Spartans. Peterson gave the Raptors a starting shooting guard who could defend and make shots, which complimented the nice mix of talent the Dinos already had on their roster.
In his first season, Peterson was a part of a club that was arguably the best the franchise has ever seen as they were one basket away from making the Eastern Conference Finals—a plateau which the team has yet to reach again since.
In subsequent years, Peterson found himself playing a similar role and eventually became engrained with the team as their defensive anchor on the perimeter and starting shooting guard.
Peterson’s importance to the team, and status as one of the most beloved in franchise history was furthered cemented during the 2004-05 season in which Raptors fans encountered perhaps the biggest personnel related fiasco in franchise history.
I am of course referring to the Vince Carter situation. After Carter essentially ceased putting in effort on a nightly basis and was subsequently shipped out of town for 10 cents on the dollar, Mo Pete became the only remaining player from what at that point could be referred to as the "glory days" in the Raptors’ brief history.
In Carter's absence Peterson came to represent the antithesis of what Raptor fans now hated about the club’s former superstar. Vince Carter may have been a supremely talented individual, but it was his lack of work ethic that kept him from becoming something special and in the end, it was that lack of effort that turned the fans of Toronto against him. Peterson on the other hand, put in a great deal of work night in and night out and carved out an NBA career, one that the fans in Toronto appreciated then, and to this day continue to appreciate.
I would be remiss to engage in this discussion without mentioning some of the most iconic Morris Peterson moments during his tenure with the Raptors. Over the course of his career, Peterson has had his share of what we will call iconic cult moments—basically, moments that any fan of Morris Peterson would absolutely not forget.
Peterson may not have had many significant scoring outputs—his career-high stands at 38—but he come up with certain plays that fans of his will never forget.
To me, although there are many, the three most iconic Mo Pete moments are as follows:
3. The Blindfolded Layup:
This play more or less speaks for itself, but it does help convey Peterson’s flair for the dramatics. He will always be known as one of the better trick shot artists to play for the Raptors
2. The Infamous Buzzer-Beater:
This will stand as probably the single biggest highlight of Peterson's career. During a game with the Washington Wizards in the 2007 season in which both teams were battling for playoff seeding, the Raptors found themselves down by three points with 3.8 seconds left. After having not played a single minute up until that point, Peterson was inserted into the game and promptly made one of the most improbable baskets in team history. The Raptors went on to win the game in overtime.
1. 1. The Kiss:
Unfortunately I could not find any video footage of this, but this is a moment that stands out and to me and sums up why Peterson was so beloved in Toronto. In July of 2007 Peterson signed with the New Orleans Hornets, leaving the city of Toronto where he had played his first seven seasons in the NBA. When he returned for the first time for a match-up between his new club and his former club on March 30th, 2008 Peterson was introduced to the Toronto crowd to a chorus of applause and cheers. During this introduction, Peterson made his way to center court where he knelt down and planted a kiss on the Toronto Raptor logo, showing appreciation for the organization that had given him so much in those first seven years.
Morris Peterson is a player who will always be remembered in the city of Toronto, not for being a superstar caliber player, but for putting in effort on a nightly basis and filling a role for a club that needed what he brought to the table. Mo Pete also gave the fans someone to root for, and perhaps more importantly, someone who seemed to thrive on their support during times in which that is exactly what they needed.