Happy All-Star Sunday! We’re back with the final edition of #NorthernNostalgia. In honor of Kyle Lowry being voted an Eastern Conference All-Star starter we take a look back to another historical moment in Toronto Raptors history. With the tipoff to the 2015 NBA All-Star game just hours away, we pay homage to a moment in All-Star history that warmed the hearts of millions around the world.
It was the season of 2002-03. The Seven-foot-five, twenty-two year old Yao Ming from Shanghai, China had been selected first overall by the Houston Rockets. Freshman phenom Carmelo Anthony was gearing up to take his Syracuse Orange to the NCAA championship game to seal his place in history. Finally, the greatest basketball player to ever lace them up – Michael Jordan…was leaving the game for good.
The fate for the Raptors this season was much more dire around All-Star time. The Raptors held a record of 14-34 at the All-Star break and Raptors forward Vince Carter was once again named a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Let that sink in for a moment. Now put that into perspective with how hard all of Canada had to push in order to get our very own Kyle Lowry into the game. This is by no means a complaint to the structure of the All-Star voting system, but a testament to how incredibly large Vince Carter’s impact as an NBA icon was.
For three consecutive seasons, Vince Carter led the league in fan votes for the All-Star game. Carter’s vote totals held him in higher regard than sure-shot first ballot Hall-of-Famers like Jason Kidd, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan…Michael Jordan. He finished third to Kobe Bryant and cousin Tracy McGrady in overall votes for the 2003 NBA-All Star game in Atlanta, Georgia. A game that would go to double-overtime with Kevin Garnett taking home the MVP in 155-145 West win. This game had many memorable moments, but none more memorable than hype leading up to big game involving Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter.
With Michael Jordan saying his goodbyes and making his peace with the game of basketball; many in the media and around the NBA community made it clear they believed Vince Carter should give up his starting position in the NBA All-Star game. Vince Carter, a fellow North Carolina Tarheel took flak for weeks leading up to the game having played in only 12 games all season and had yet made his decision or his intentions clear. Carter was being vilified for having the starting spot the fans voted him in for, something he had no control over.
It wasn’t until moments before the game that Vince Carter had decided to relinquish his starting spot in honour of Jordan’s final All-Star game, and ultimately Jordan’s final season. With unavoidable comparisons based on his college alma mater and playing style during the early parts of his career it only seemed natural that Air Canada should take a step back for the heir apparent himself, Air Jordan. Carter finished with a lackluster performance in the All-Star game finishing with only 9 points in 25 minutes.
Michael Jordan on the other hand had his opportunity to go out in a shot heaving blaze of glory. A standing ovation for the ages, a torch-passing speech for the next generation of NBA superstars, Mariah Carey, and let’s not forget that last second turnaround fade-away Michael Jordan signature jump-shot in overtime nearly sealing the game.
As for Vince Carter, he went on to eclipse 2-million fan votes for the very next season. Once again becoming the leading vote-getter for the NBA All-Star game. All of this occurring while VC donned the purple, black and white. Vince Carter was the true “Global Ambassador” of the Toronto Raptors by spreading his dunking joy to the kids all around. So in honour of All-Star weekend lets take this final edition of #NorthernNostalgia to remember Vince Carter’s “Canadian” gesture to honour the final All-Star appearance of the legend himself, Michael Jordan.