After Vince missed his game-winning attempt in Game 7 against the 76ers, he went to the gym that night and made that shot 10 times. I suppose this is where I mention no one was probably guarding him in the gym and there wasn’t 20,000 plus fans screaming at him.
The players generally did not think Vince’s graduation on the day of the game was much of a distraction. Let’s all learn to love Vince again, that jersey retirement ceremony is just a few years away.
Even Jose Calderon was confused about how the Raptors handed out red shirts for their series against the red-colored jersey wearing New Jersey Nets. His quote, "It was great but bad at the same time because everybody was wearing red and New Jersey came out in red. That was the funny part of it but what I remember, too, was the city was amazing. The whole arena, the atmosphere was unbelievable. It was the best, cheering from the anthems to the end of the game. It was really, really good."
This headline photo. Okay, fine, let’s hate Vince a little more, that ceremony’s still a few years away at least.
But the article also reminded me of the often forgotten 2001-02 season, the year after the great playoff run of 2001.
You see, after losing to the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs, there was a lot of concern about whether the Raptors would be able to keep the core of the team. Just the year before, Tracy McGrady had opted to go to Orlando and become a number-one option instead of teaming up with his (distant) cousin Vince for the next decade. So, as it always goes in Toronto, all the talk was about how players didn’t want to play in Canada and whether the 2000-01 season would be just a flash in the pan high point for the franchise.
Glen Grunwald, general manager at the time, put all that to rest in the off-season. He started by trading Charles Oakley (more on him later) and handing out contract extensions to core pieces Antonio Davis (5 years, $64 million, and a couple of concerns about the metric system), Alvin Williams (5 years, with incentives up to $42 million) and Jerome Williams (7 years, $40 million).
But the biggest move came in August, when Carter agreed to a 6-year extension with the team. In the same week, the team traded for Hakeem Olajuwon. The Raptors was in win-now mode, and after a promising playoff run, all of these moves seemed to solidify their status as a rising Eastern Conference power.
Before we move on, a word about Oakley. It’s a shame the Raptors moved on from him after the 2001 playoff run. He was the most vocal guy on the team in calling out Carter’s poor performances during the playoffs, and ended up getting into a spat in the media with Carter’s mom, which I assume is part of or the main reason why he was shipped out of town.
He was a key part of the team’s growth, and while his declining on-court play probably would have taken away from his value as a veteran and a physical presence on the court (think: Kendrick Perkins with the Thunder now), I think we moved him too early, even though Keon Clark was ready for a bigger role with the team, and we did sign Olajuwon to replace him, actually, wait, that last part did not work out at all, yes we totally could have used Oakley in 2002.
Okay, back to the main program.
The 2001-02 team rolled into the All-Star break at 29-21, and there was optimism that an uneven first half would give way to a playoff push as the Raptors looked to secure a spot in the top tier of the conference.
Except, they lost 13 straight games to start the unofficial second half of the season and were at 30-38 on March 19th after a 32-point road loss at Minnesota. That would be the last game of Carter’s season, he had knee surgery and it seemed like the season was lost. The team was four games out of a playoff spot with just 14 games to play, just lost their superstar for the season, and had lost 17 out of their last 18 games.
Then, one of the weirdest stretches in Raptors history happened. Without Carter, the team won nine in a row. Morris Peterson and Antonio Davis stepped up and miraculously, the team finished 42-40 and entered the playoffs as the seventh seed in the East. They became just the third team in league history to make the playoffs after losing 12 or more games in a row during the season. The team played so well that articles like this wondering whether the team was better off without Carter was common place.
The first round series against Detroit was winnable, but the Raptors started by scoring nine points in the first quarter of Game 1, finishing with 63 points and left Detroit down 2-0 in the series. Just like the regular season, the team bounced back and won both home games at the Air Canada Centre, and even had the lead at halftime of the deciding game (five game series back then). Of course, all of this is forgotten because down by three, Chris Childs tossed up a desperation shot in order to draw a foul and a four-point play because he lost track of the score, and the series was over.
Strangely, if the 2001-02 team had managed to get back to the second round — the same result as the previous season — it would have been incredible, considering the circumstances to close out the season. But the key takeaways from that season was the team taking a step back, Vince’s reputation as a superstar player taking a huge hit, and the lasting memory of Childs putting up that shot to end the season.
Turns out, it was also the last time the team would make the playoffs during the Vince Carter era. In the seasons that followed, players like Rafer Alston, Voshon Leonard, Jelani McCoy, Maceo Baston, Lamond Murray and Milt Palacio would be brought in and the team sank back to mediocrity.
Now I wish I didn’t remember. Back to the present.