The Early Years of the Toronto Raptors

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Toronto Raptors
TORONTO – NOVEMBER 3: Vince Carter #15 of the Toronto Raptors salutes the crowd after beating the Houston Rockets 95-88 during a game at the Air Canada Centre on November 3, 2003 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)


Toronto has a rich basketball history before the creation of the Toronto Raptors.

The first-ever NBA game was played at Maple Leaf Gardens. There the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knickerbockers (now the New York Knicks) and lost narrowly 68-66.

The Toronto Raptors, the 28th NBA team, was born in 1993. The Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joined the league together in 1995, however, the Grizzlies have since moved to Memphis.

The early years of the Raptors included Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, two ownership groups, and playoff success.

A History of the Toronto Raptors

1995 NBA Draft

The first-ever NBA draft in Canada was at the SkyDome where the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies had the sixth and seventh picks respectively.

The Toronto Raptors selected Damon Stoudamire, a miniature point guard that would surprise everyone in the NBA as a Toronto Raptor.

Mighty Mouse – Damon Stoudamire

Damon Stoudamire was the first heavily advertised player in Toronto. Damon Stoudamire surprised everybody with a rookie of the year award in his first year of the league. He averaged 19 points per game and was close to 40 percent from the three-point line. He followed that up with an even better year averaging just over 20 points per game with the year following averaging just over 19 points per game.

Unfortunately, for Stoudamire and the Toronto Raptors, this relationship ended after just two and a half years. He played for other teams but would not retain the performance he had with Toronto and never made the All-Star Game.

There were many losing seasons for the Raptors in Damon Stoudamire’s time, typical of a new NBA franchise.

There were two highlights though to the Toronto Raptors franchise while Damon Stoudamire was in Toronto.

Toronto Raptors’ Damon Stoudamire

One highlight was the first-ever home opener for the Toronto Raptors. They won their November 3rd home opener 94-79. It took place at the oversized Skydome, where the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts played (the Argonauts now play at BMO Field).

The other highlight was defeating the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls at the Skydome. This was a significant win as they defeated one of the greatest players Michael Jordan, as well as the dominant Chicago Bulls team that he led at that time.

That Chicago Bulls team ended up winning the NBA Championship that season. It was a season in which they broke the regular-season record with a staggering 72 wins. That record as since been broken by the Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors traded away Damon Stoudamire, Carlos Rogers, and Walt Williams to the Portland Trail Blazers for Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, Alvin Williams, two 1998 first-round picks, and a 1998 second-round pick on February 13th, 1998.

Air Canada Centre and MLGL

Bitove was the original owner of the Toronto Raptors in 1995. Maple Leaf Gardens, Limited (MLGL), considered to be the predecessor to Maple Leafs and Sports Entertainment (MLSE) lost out in the bidding process for the Toronto Raptors.

However, in 1998 Bitove sold the Toronto Raptors to MLGL. This was a significant ownership change as it changed the history of the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) forever.

The Air Canada Centre construction started off as a basketball-only venue. However, that all changed when Richard Peddie and MLGL took over.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, like the Toronto Raptors, needed a new arena. Maple Leaf Gardens, the same arena where the old Toronto Huskies played, was built in 1931 and badly needed to be replaced.

The Air Canada Centre was built in 1999. It was ready for their home opener against the Vancouver Grizzlies. This coincided with Vince Carter’s first year as a Toronto Raptor.

Vince Carter became a Raptor player via trade at the 1999 NBA Draft.

The Vince Carter Era

Vince Carter was the first superstar to play in Toronto. He was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1998. The Raptors drafted Antawn Jamison. But in a strange twist of fate, both players were traded at the draft.

Vince Carter’s famous nickname came from the new sports arena in 1999. This arena was called the Air Canada Centre.

Air Canada Carter – Toronto Raptors Basketball

Air Canada Centre’s first-ever home game was a regular-season game against their Canadian NBA rivals the Vancouver Grizzlies.

The Raptors destroyed the Grizzlies, with Vince Carter having 27 points.

Vince Carter was a high-flying machine and a highly gifted player for the Toronto Raptors.

From the NBA youtube website, people can watch Vince Carter’s dunks. It was a big reason why former Toronto Raptors broadcaster Chuck Swirsky called Vince Carter:

“Air Canada Carter”

In 2000, Vince Carter captured the imaginations of all NBA players in the Slam Dunk contest. His dunking prowess gave him and the Raptors their first-ever Slam Dunk trophy.

He also helped give the Raptors their first-ever taste of the playoffs.

NBA Playoffs – Toronto Raptors

New York Knicks

The Toronto Raptors first-ever NBA playoff opponent was the New York Knicks. The same team that faced the Toronto Huskies at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1946. This time, ultimately, would be no different.

They would lose to the Knicks in the 2000 playoff post-season 3-0.

The Raptors were much improved in 2001. They had two all-stars at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington DC. This was the first time that the Raptors had more than one all-star in an All-Star Game.

However, the Raptors were able to win in 2001. The three players who stood out for the Raptors were Vince Carter, Antonio Davis, and Alvin Williams. They and other players on the roster that gave the Raptors their first-ever playoff series win in just their sixth year in the NBA.

This led to the Raptors fated encounter against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2002.

Philadelphia 76ers

Allen Iverson, a superstar in his own right, would tear the Raptors apart. One game he scored (source: Ali youtube account) 54 points against the Toronto Raptors. In another game, Vince Carter scored 50 points. This went back and forth until the very last second of Game 7.

The 76ers would make it to the NBA finals that season, however, they were destroyed by Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

End of the Vince Carter Era

Meanwhile, for the Raptors, it would take until 2016 before they made it out of the first round of the playoffs again.

Vince Carter’s Toronto Raptors would never make the playoffs ever again abruptly ending the great Raptors run.

However, the legacy of Vince Carter lives on as he ushered in the golden age of Canadian basketball.

Legacy of Vince Carter

Vince Carter inspired many Canadians to pick up a basketball. The Raptors have now become a national brand in Canada and Vince Carter played a large part in it.

According to The Undefeated, this was said by Tristan Thompson, NBA Champion, and current Cleveland Cavaliers player:

“Vince was our Michael Jordan.”

The Canadian Men’s Basketball team now has the second most NBA players in the world. According to the Canadian Press,  a record-setting 16 Canadian NBA players were on opening day starting rosters.

Many of them were inspired by Vince Carter to play basketball and usher in the new age of Canadian basketball.

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