As Vince Carter bids adieu to the NBA, attention has turned to the Toronto Raptors, and if the franchise he should retire his No. 15 jersey.
Looking back at his Toronto tenure, Carter’s career was complicated.
He was the city’s first NBA superstar, his high-flying theatrics made the Raptors must-watch TV on both sides of the border, and he’s unquestionably responsible for at least part of the growth of basketball in Canada. On the flip side, however, the end of his time in Toronto was disheartening. He essentially forced his way off the team and then admitted to not pushing himself as hard as he could have with the Raptors.
Most of the argument for retiring Carter’s jersey has to do with his impact off the court. He lifted the Raptors into their first successful era and made basketball cool in a “hockey country.”
On the court, he was at times one of the best handful of players in the NBA, but he only once finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and only made two All-NBA teams, one 2nd team and one 3rd team. In the playoffs, Carter’s Raptors made it out of the first round just once.
Looking around the NBA, there are two pretty good comparisons for Carter’s Raptors career: Carmelo Anthony with the Nuggets and Blake Griffin with the Clippers.
Carmelo Anthony comparison:
Anthony spent 7.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 24.8 points per game, while leading the Nuggets to seven playoff appearances. He, like Carter, was the face of an era for the franchise, though he was never able to get over the hump and into an NBA Finals. Ultimately, they both left on bad terms and a portion of both fan bases still harbor resentment over the way things ended.
I asked Nuggets fans for their opinion on potentially retiring Anthony’s jersey and the responses seemed to be strongly against it.
“Melo was almost always known for being a selfish player and was only concerned about his stats,” one Reddit fan wrote. “I never faulted him for wanting to leave Denver, but it was how he left that was the issue. He had no qualms burning every bridge and nearly destroying the franchise’s ability to bargain with teams. … Melo made his bed, now he gets to lie in it.”
“I don’t think we should retire the #15 in the traditional sense, but his jersey probably deserves to hang in the rafters,” another fan wrote. “We went to the playoffs every season he was here. Obviously not JUST because of him, but he was the best player on all those teams, and we probably don’t make the playoffs without him on those rosters. … I think people really just don’t like the way he left, which is understandable. But really we should thank him for that, considering what we ended up with because of that trade and how quickly he declined.”
There are, however, two differences between a potential Carter jersey retirement and an Anthony jersey retirement. The first — and most important — is Carter’s impact on Canada, something Anthony could never have done in Denver. The other difference — brought to my attention by Nuggets fans — is the fact that Nikola Jokic wears No. 15, complicating the idea of retiring Anthony’s No. 15.
Blake Griffin comparison:
Griffin spent 7.5 seasons with the Clippers, averaging 21.7 points per game, while leading Los Angeles to six playoff appearances. He, like Carter, lifted his franchise out of irrelevancy and made a name for himself in the dunk contest. Ultimately, neither truly lived up to the extremely high expectations fans had for them and couldn’t reach an NBA Finals. Unlike Carter, however, Griffin’s exit didn’t leave fans resentful, which made a big difference when I asked Clippers fans if the franchise should retire Griffin’s number.
“Really wish there was a way to find out the exact number of new fans he brought in,” one Reddit fan wrote. “Also, no way do CP3 & Doc end up here without him. Sterling might still be the owner, for all we know.”
“Absolutely,” another fan wrote. “BG marked a turning point for the franchise; before, we were a below average team that really didn’t do much except a 2nd round appearance in 2006. Besides that, we were awful. Blake turned that around, and he made Clippers basketball exciting to watch again. … And his entire time here, he never moped about being on the Clippers, he never threatened to leave. … He deserves his jersey retired – I just don’t think he’d want it.”
Sports Illustrated’s Clippers reporter Farbod Esnaashari said Griffin will always be THE Clipper for Clipper fans.
“That, coupled with his success on the team, makes Blake immediately worthy of a jersey retirement,” Esnaashari said.
Ultimately, the question comes down to whether his off-court impact outweighs the messy breakup. Carter will forever be remembered for changing Raptors basketball, much like Griffin for the Clippers, but Raptors fans will have to get over his exit. Otherwise, he risks the same kind of treatment the Nuggets may give Anthony.