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Toronto Raptors

Heat Check: What does Vince Carter mean to basketball in Canada?

#VC Canada

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, but the story coming out of that game was centred around Vince Carter who may have possibly played his last NBA game in Toronto.

From beloved superstar to villified foe and everywhere in between, Carter's place in history as seen through the lens of Canadian basketball fans is complicated and runs the full gamut.

Ask five different fans about Carter and you may get five different answers.

With that in mind, we asked five different basketball experts in Canada, both young and old to give us their take on what VC meant to the game in this country.

Carlan Gay - NBA.com (@TheCarlanGay): When I think about Vince Carter I think about a pioneer in the Canadian basketball landscape. I often joke with people that Vince is one of the reasons why I have the job I have and while it may be a joke on the surface it's probably one of the biggest factors.

I was a teenager when Carter made his debut and was the face of the Raptors. Like many Canadian basketball fans, I was probably a bigger VC fan than I was a Raptors fan. I remember where I was when he electrified the crowd in the Dunk Contest - and when he led Toronto to their first playoff series win. I also remember where I was when he went to battle with Allen Iverson in that epic seven-game series against the 76ers. I remember how much the city loved him and how much the city cared about basketball even in the midst of a Maple Leaf playoff run.

MORE: Best moments of Vince Carter's career with the Raptors

Like many others, I was crushed when VC was finally traded, but time has healed those wounds and in hindsight, I can appreciate what having a star like Vince did for basketball in this country.

He's not the single reason why basketball is where it is in Canada, but he definitely had a hand in getting our game mainstream in Canada. Vince Carter was our Michael Jordan, he helped turn Canada from a hockey country to a sporting country - that will always be his legacy in Canada to me.

Eric Fawcett GatorCountry.com (@Efawcett7): For so long Canadian sports media only knew how to glorify one kind of athlete: the nose-to-the-grindstone hustle player, preferably undersized, and they had to be perceived as an underdog when taking on a bigger market team like Los Angeles or New York.

Vince shattered that mould and taught Canadians that it was possible to love a player that wasn't just an everyman with an exceptional work ethic, but a true personality that dominated with flare and creativity.

VC gave the nation their first real taste of a superstar. He wasn't 9-5; he was primetime. Carter wasn't meat and potatoes; he was champagne and caviar. His passion for the game made basketball must-watch television up north and inspired a generation of Canadians to pick up a ball to try and emulate his dunks on 8-foot driveway hoops, and that impact will be felt for a long time.

Drew Ebanks On Point Basketball (@DrewEbanks): Vince Carter. That name brings out the best feelings and sometimes not so good feelings about Mr "Half Man Half Amazing" and his time in Toronto with the Raptors.

The dunks, the excitement were sky high and took the NBA by storm. He was simply a phenomenon. But his soft nature also rubbed people the wrong way at times. Make no mistake, Carter helped in a huge way to shape the love of basketball that the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and other parts of the country have for the game. Many fans though are still put off by the end of his tenure here and his messy departure from the Raptors.

Still, I have no doubt that his jersey will be in the Rafters one day. He definitely deserves that honour for being a vital part in making Canada a basketball hotbed in a hockey-crazed country.

Jason Thom NPA Canada (@_jasonthom): I vividly remember the end of the Vince Carter era in Toronto and it's a memory that I won't forget. But instead of being soured by that, I see Vinsanity's tenure almost as a barometer on how far we have come as a basketball nation.

Now, it's normal to see more basketball nets in front of houses in some cities in Canada than hockey nets. We've gone from Canadians playing small parts on a handful of college teams to starring on the top teams across every conference. From having one NBA Canadian born All-Star over an entire decade to having multiple All-Star calibre players a year.

I am not of the belief that Vince Carter is the sole reason for all of that growth, but we can pinpoint his time in Toronto as the starting point for what has become the new norm for the sport in this country thanks to the hard work of our players, coaches and programs across this country.

MORE: By the numbers on Vinsanity and the Raptors

Julian McKenzie Freelance Journalist (@jkamckenzie): I'm a relatively young basketball fan, so most of my memories of Vince Carter came from after he was traded to the New Jersey Nets. Seeing him tell the media he could've played harder in Toronto was a huge deal, it was all over TV. Fans were heartbroken and mad after he left. And I bet they were all crying when he hit that game winner against the Raptors in 2006 with 0.1 seconds left, capping off a 42-point night. But I'm really glad, for the sake of Raptors fans, those hurtful memories are all but gone now.

There's no lack of fond memories: making the OG purple Raptors jersey look cool, the Frederic Weis moment at the Olympic Games (I watch that video all the time on YouTube), the gravity-defying in-game dunks, and of course the 2000 Slam Dunk contest, arguably the greatest performance in the history of the event. Carter has cemented his place as the greatest Raptor in team history.

He plays a role in the success Canada basketball and the Raptors are seeing now, as he inspired a generation of players to play and strive to be as great as he is.

Elias Sbiet NorthPoleHoops.com (@Elias_NPH): When you think Vince Carter you think about the Raptors, Vincanity, best dunker of all time, clutch in the playoffs - "Air Canada" himself. He built the culture and craving for our sport in Canada. Basketball would simply not be at the stage it is at or heading in the direction that it's moving to if it wasn't for his presence up North.

Looking back on the first time the Raptors made the NBA playoffs; that was a defining moment regarding what he meant to the city of Toronto, the country and young dreamers that watched him. I'll go as far as saying that he is the reason that I have a career in one of the fastest growing industries in Canada.

Plain and simple, if the trade was not made on June 24th, 1998 to acquire Vince Carter from Golden State the game would not be the same up here and we would not have as many NBA players as we do.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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