Toronto Raptors

On This Date: Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors make their U.S. national TV debut

#Vince Carter FTR

Playing on national TV has long been a stamp of approval in the NBA. The teams that are expected to have the best records, have the most star power or be the most compelling often end up with 20-plus nationally televised games a season.

Saturday marks the 21-year anniversary of the Raptors making their U.S. national TV debut.

For most Raptor fans old enough to remember, it was a day for fans of the north to say we're here and we're not going anywhere.

It was also a chance for Vince Carter to announce to the world that he had arrived.

It was only 14 days earlier that Carter dazzled the NBA universe with his flawless dunk routine at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Oakland. The world had by now seen the highlights of Air Canada Carter flying around in purple, red and black - devastating opposing defences with acrobatics the league hadn't seen since Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins - but he was more than just a dunker.

The dude had game.

Raptors fans who were able to watch him on a nightly basis knew it, but the world would soon find out in dramatic fashion on a Sunday afternoon in late February.

Back in the early 2000s, being on NBC's Sunday afternoon coverage of the NBA was everything. They were the only games a lot of basketball fans would see outside of their home markets.

For the Raptors, who were now in their fifth season in existence and had already traded the first face of their franchise in Damon Stoudamire, it was a milestone. Not only was it a chance to showcase a talented team on the rise with one of the league's most electrifying players, but it was also a chance to show that the city of Toronto and the entire country of Canada was more than just a hockey nation - basketball could live there, too.

19,800 sold out the then Air Canada Centre for that Sunday afternoon clash and they were loud from the opening tip to the final buzzer - and Carter gave them plenty to cheer about in between.

Vinsanity showed off the entire repertoire that day. The signature fall-away jump shot with the right leg extended. The size up from the triple threat position where he would either blow by you or knock down a jimmy in your eye. The straightaway deep 3-point bomb that never ever touched the rim. A 360 layup that would make every other mere mortal just take their "H" in a game of H.O.R.S.E.

He even completed a double-pump 360 breakaway dunk that didn't count because he got fouled before he crossed half court, but it was still good enough to make almost every YouTube Vince Carter mixtape there is.

He did it all with the swagger of a man who was no longer on the cusp of being a star. He was the biggest star.

The white wrist band on his elbow, the number 15 jersey that always seemed like it was blowing in the wind and the AND1 Tai Chi's on his feet - a shoe that every kid growing up in Canada wanted in that era.

NBC's Tom Hammond and the late great Steve "Snapper" Jones spent a lot of the game chuckling about the ridiculousness of Carter's game.

VC was unstoppable that day, no one on the Phoenix Suns could guard him. He either scored or they were forced to foul.

Carter finished with a career-high 51 points, becoming the first-ever Raptor player to hit the 50-point mark. He added nine rebounds, three steals and shot 53% from the field. The Raptors were able to squeak by the Suns with a 103-102 win, a big win against a team that had won 10 of 12 coming into the nationally televised showdown.

In 2020, the NBA made the game available on YouTube in its entirety, you can find the broadcast below.

"I was excited," Carter told NBC's Ahmad Rashad after the game. "Chance of a lifetime and an opportunity for the Raptors to put ourselves on the map and just become recognized in this league."

Carter often gets credit for what he did for Canadian basketball in his time in Toronto. Some say he deserves it, some say it's a bit overstated.

Wherever you stand on Vince's place in the growth of the game as a whole in Canada is one thing, but there's no debating that as far as the Raptors' franchise is concerned, Vince Carter is the pioneer.

And even though we knew in Canada, the rest of the world truly found out 21 years ago.

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