June 24, 1998: A day that changed Toronto Raptors' history forever.
The franchise was three years young and in search of a cornerstone to take the leap from an expansion team to a contender in the league.
With the No. 4 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, Toronto selected a different North Carolina-product, Antawn Jamison, but immediately traded him to the Golden State Warriors for his college teammate Vince Carter, the No. 5 overall pick in the draft.
At the time it may have just seemed like another trade on draft night - the uncertainty if a player will pan out or not is always lurking and there is no way any fan of the Raptors or the NBA as a whole could have predicted the impact Carter would make. He not only changed the culture of the Raptors' franchise, but the way basketball was appreciated in the entire country of Canada.
MORE: Dominique Wilkins believes Carter helped build Canada's basketball history
December 17 marks the 15th anniversary of Carter's move from Toronto to New Jersey, one of the most one-sided trades in league history. Time heals all wounds and most Raptor fans have long forgotten that moment, so let's take a look at some of the better times VC spent with the franchise that drafted him almost 22 years ago.
1998-99 - Rookie of the Year
Carter wasted no time making an impact at the NBA level. The Raptors' rookie averaged a team-high 18.3 points per game shooting efficiently from the field while also posting 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals a night.
He had a handful of games that foreshadowed the player he would become during his time in Toronto in his first season.
Carter dropped 27 points, six rebounds and five assists in a win in his first battle against the Raptors' Canadian-rival Vancouver Grizzlies. He scored 26 in a win against Atlantic Division-rival Boston Celtics while playing a key role in holding another budding rookie forward Paul Pierce to seven points.
He dropped a season-high 32 points on the Houston Rockets and all-time defender Scottie Pippen and came up clutch with 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in a one-point win over Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin and the Indiana Pacers.
Carter's efforts playing high-calibre basketball for all 50 of the Raptors' games in the 1998-99 season earned him Rookie of the Year, joining Damon Stoudemire as the only two players in team history to earn the honour. It was safe to say that Toronto had found their franchise player of the future.
2000 - Slam Dunk Contest champion
Carter had been dropping jaws with his freakish athleticism from the day he entered the league. It only took a season and a half to earn nicknames like Air Canada, Half-Man/Half-Amazing and Vinsanity.
The 2000 Slam Dunk Contest was an opportunity for Carter to put his hops on display for the entire world to see and he did not disappoint.
Many consider this to be the greatest Slam Dunk Contest performance in the history of All-Star Weekend and it's hard to believe it will ever be topped. He defeated the likes of Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis to be crowned Slam Dunk Contest champion.
MORE: NBA.com revisits their favourite Vince Carter moments
1999-2000 - Career-high 51 points vs. Phoenix Suns
A few weeks after putting the league on notice with his showing in the Slam Dunk Contest, Carter put up a career-high 51 points in a one-point win over the Phoenix Suns. But this game was more than just any other Raptors game - this was the first time in franchise history the Raptors were on National Television in the United States.
On a national stage, Carter delivered one of the best performances of his entire career, nearly single-handedly out-playing the Suns' Penny Hardaway and Rodney Rodgers who had 28 points each.
Carter's 51 points came on an efficient 17-for-32 (53.1 percent) from the field, 4-for-8 (50.0 percent) from three and a perfect 13-for-13 from the charity stripe. He also added nine rebounds and three steals to the box score. This win sparked a streak where the Raptors took 11 of their next 12 games, pushing them into their first-ever postseason appearance.
2000-01 - First playoff series win
In the Raptors to their first playoff series in 2000, they were swept by the New York Knicks.
The following season, Carter was not going to be denied from another trip to the postseason. He averaged a career-best 27.6 points per game and was voted to the All-NBA Second Team. Carter led the Raptors to a 47-35 record, good for the No. 5 seed in the East and a chance to get revenge on the team that swept them the year prior.
Vince had a forgettable Game 1 but prevented the Raptors from going down 2-0 by scoring 22 in a blowout win at Madison Square Garden in Game 2. When the series went back to Toronto, the Raptors dropped Game 3 in part to Allen Houston's 24 points and Latrell Sprewell's 20 points.
Now facing elimination, the Raptors needed a huge game from their superstar and he delivered.
Carter scored 32 points in a close Game 4 win in Toronto to keep the season alive. He played 47 of 48 minutes to force a Game 5 and send the series back to The Mecca of Basketball in a win or go home scenario. With the weight of the franchise's first playoff series victory on his shoulders, Vince played all 48 minutes of the deciding game, scoring 27 points in the Raptors' four-point victory.
They advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers awaited.
2000-01 - Eastern Conference Semifinals: Battling with A.I.
This series didn't take long to provide entertainment.
Game 1 in Philadelphia, Iverson and Carter were already at it. Carter had a clutch tip-in to seemingly put the game away up four with 12 seconds left but naturally, A.I. wouldn't go down without a fight. He buried a 3-pointer, but Vince knocked down a pair of free throws before Aaron McKie missed the potential tying shot at the buzzer.
Carter finished with 35, Iverson with 36.
That takes us to Game 2 in Philadelphia, where there was no way Iverson was going to let the Sixers go down 0-2 at home. Carter had 28 in the Raptors' five-point loss, but there was no stopping A.I., who went for 54 points to even the series.
With the series tied headed back to Toronto, Carter made certain the Raptors wouldn't drop two in a row. He put together an all-time clutch playoff performance scoring 50 points, shooting 65.5 percent from the field while knocking down nine 3-pointers. He dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds and held Iverson to just 23 points as the Raptors destroyed the 76ers by 24.
Now leading 2-1, the Raptors had a chance to defend home court and take a commanding lead in the series but botched it. In the lowest-scoring game of the series, Iverson's 30 points outlasted Carter's 25 points as the Sixers came away with a five-point win.
A.I. carried that momentum back to Philadelphia where he scored 52 points in a 33-point blowout win over the Raptors to put Carter and Toronto on the brink of elimination.
Trailing 3-2, the series went back to the Air Canada Centre where Carter and the Raptors were trying to keep there Eastern Conference Finals hopes alive. With the way in which the first five games of the series had gone, you knew Carter was going to step up to the task - he went for 39 points to will the Raptors to a 12-point win to force a Game 7.
In what might be the most heartbreaking game in Raptors' history, Iverson went for 21 points and a career-high 16 assists to overcome Carter's 20-point effort in a one-point Game 7 win back in Philly. Carter's extremely tough mid-range jumper to win the game as time expired was off the mark as the Sixers won the series and eventually went on to the NBA Finals.
This series, along with the four other aforementioned moments and more that were not mentioned, help write the story of a player who changed the culture an NBA franchise and an entire country.
MORE: Muggsy Bogues believes Carter and the Raptors put basketball in Canadians' DNA
Vince Carter's impact played a major role in making Canada Basketball the budding prospect it has become today and without him, who knows where the Toronto Raptors would be today.
Tonight might be Carter's final game in Toronto, but the memories and impact he left on the city, franchise and country will last forever.