“You don’t know what you got — ‘til it’s gone.”
A common refrain for lovers, rich people, and in our case, basketball fans. And like the melancholy weeks after a break up, you find yourself yearning for the good times. You search for the happy memories, and sometimes stumble upon the bad ones.
So, much like lovers and Enron execs, in lieu of this drought, we’ve had time to reflect on the good (and bad) times of Raptors’ past. Here are a few mentionables:
First would be when Toronto drafted Andrea Bargnani in one of the most top-heavy drafts in recent times. Il Mago showed flashes of brilliance among a smothering fog of ineptitude and some of the worst rebounding averages of anyone over 7-foot in league history. However, what got fans excited in the early years was his soft touch with the ball, especially scoring and finishing — not to mention his shooting ability. He had the ability to flip a switch, a skill not many have. The problem was, that switch was faulty and needed an electrical engineer in order to function properly. (It also didn’t help that Bryan Colangelo apparently had a crush on him and was determined to make him the Raptors’ franchise player.)
Another memory was the 13 game win streak in 2002 that saw veterans like Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams and, yes, Derrick Dial at times, be the backbone of the run. Unfortunately, Chris Childs didn’t carry that gung-ho play into the post-season. You’ve always got to be aware of time and score, Chris! Quick note before we move on: Jerome WIlliams is my favorite Raptor of all time. (I hope I don’t trigger Woodley on this.)
But one memory that is so crystal clear that I can remember where I was sitting, how hot it was outside, and the where my mother was standing was Game 7 of the 2001 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Philadelphia. The whole weekend, the talk was whether Carter would/could actually play after walking the stage for his diploma in Chapel Hill.
Let’s think on that for a moment: A pro athlete flying four hours to receive a diploma, then flying home for a quick shootaround before playing a game. Pro athletes are part machine; they’re practically cyborgs, at least in the way some people think about them. They can go without sleep (search Gary Payton or the 90s Bulls for instance) and still perform at an all-world level. All Carter was guilty of was flying to North Carolina to be handed his diploma.
But I digress. When I saw the shot go up, my heart leapt from my chest into my throat. It looked like it was going in! We were going to win the game, as it was 88-87, after a back and forth battle for the ages. Carter in 2000-01 was a superstar; his name was mentioned alongside Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson et al. There was no debate, he was the most electrifying player in the game.
It banked on the far side of the rim, before Alvin Williams frantically tried to tip up a last second shot — but it was too late. This was only Carter’s third year in the league and he was chastised for an inconsequential trip to his alma-mater.
Going to the ceremony wasn’t a big deal for me. I was happy he got to fulfill a lifelong dream. We all recall the vitriol from newspapers and columnists. The ceremony didn’t affect that last shot — it was just an easy (read: lazy) explanation for why it didn’t go in. Players miss shots — that’s the nature of the game. Did the media hailstorm affect his passion in years to come? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
However, that series was pure entertainment at its finest. I was in 8th grade at the time. I remember the day after Vince scored 51, I was glowing as I walked through my middle school hallways. “Ay Joel, how about Vince?!”
That was unique in my lifetime. I loved every second of that series. Carter and Allen Iverson both scored 51 in that series, back to back. Then there was the physicality, the aggression, Charles Oakley laying absolute jackhammer elbows on people and — lest we forget — Tyrone Hill’s glistening head. It was one of the most entertaining series I’d watched until that point and sits up there even now. All of it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
Redemption apparently comes once every 20 years. Kawhi hitting the last second shot is the moment we’d all been waiting for. A walk off buzzer beater among your home fans. What a relief it is to finally slay the demon that was the 2001 Vince Carter Game 7 miss.
Of course now, in this time of suspension and the coronavirus, even the heartbreak is something to cherish and remember.