In celebration of the Toronto Raptors' 20th season, we'll be taking a look at some key moments in the team's history. What was the context of the moment? What was its significance? And what song were you listening to as it happened? Welcome to the XX-Files.
March 8, 2000: The Toronto Raptors play the Los Angeles Clippers in the Staples Centre. Toronto wins 95-94.
The 1999-00 version of the Raptors was a strange beast. The starting lineup was essentially comprised of three shooting guards--Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Doug Christie--who also doubled as their three youngest players, at 23, 20 and 29 respectively, at the time. After that is was useful veterans with tough sounding names: AD, Oak, Willis, Muggsy, and, uh, Dell.
But of course that's burying the lede. In 2000, Carter wasn't merely Carter; he was on his way to becoming Vinsanity. And this anonymous game against a terrible Los Angeles Clippers team would only add to that legend. But more on that in the "Significance" section.
What I remember most about the game is radio play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky's call. I don't know about you, but I remember having a hard time getting on board with Chuck's sometimes squealing delivery. He was a long way away from the assured TV confidence that broke out the salami and cheese. Still, seeing as this was a west coast game (on a school night), Swirsky's radio broadcast was all I had. And before I even got to see the images, that's really all that was needed.
(Fast forward to 2:55 - and past those terrible times Carter killed the Raptors as a Net. It kills me this is the best clip I can find.)
Raps win, 95-94. I don't believe it either, Chuck.
So it turns out the number one song that week was "Amazed" by Lonestar. Now, obviously the song is garbage, but watch the video anyway and focus on my main man on guitar. This guy is having the time of his life.
The parallels are easy: in 2000, Raptors fans were that dude with the guitar. And with Carter, we were watching someone who was Half Man, Half Amazing.
Before Serving Sara put an end to the idea for good, back in March of 2000 people were still convinced the idea "Matthew Perry, bankable leading man" was going to work. I give you, your number one movie: The Whole Nine Yards.
Admittedly, this is a flick that's still good for a laugh. There are a lot of funny people here (Bruce Willis, Amanda Peet, Kevin Pollak, Harland Williams, and yo, RIP Michael Clarke Duncan) but your enjoyment depends on one thing: how much comedic mileage you are willing to get out of Perry. Given that they eventually did make a sequel in 2004, I guess it was a lot. Perry never reached the highest heights but, much like Carter, he's still plugging away.
In 2000 the Los Angeles Clippers were not a good basketball team. This has been a true statement for much of the organization's existence. Anyway, that year the Clips were a few seasons removed from their last playoff appearance (1997) but still some ways away from their next one (2006). The team ended up finishing 15-67, good for last in the league. Their best player was Lamar Odom and the franchise was banking on the potential of Michael Olowokandi. It was not a big deal to get a win over the Clippers.
But for the Toronto Raptors, in the hunt for their first ever playoff spot and looking for a then-franchise record seventh straight win, it most certainly was.
While the streak was destined to end in the Raptors' next game against the Sacramento Kings, this felt like a turning point. Toronto now had a player in Carter who could make the huge plays down the stretch that would help them win the previously unwinnable games. The franchise had been looking for a superstar, and boy howdy, did they ever get one.
It bears mentioning that a week before this game, in Boston, Carter hit another buzzer beater to beat the Celtics. At the time, fans could see that as an aberration, but then came this Clippers game. And then, just for good measure, Carter went off for 37 points against the Houston Rockets and won that game on a last second dunk. (Don't worry, these shots are all in that above clip.)
Toronto was on Cloud Nine. We were amazed. And I contend that the Clips game was the moment we knew. Our team was going to the playoffs, and we had a special player in the man they called Vinsanity.