Carter thrives on being villain

FRANK ZICARELLI

, Last Updated: 4:26 AM ET

Leave it to Vince Carter to turn a mundane Monday tip into an evening dripping with theatre.

From the moment he was introduced to the same fans who once worshipped his high-wire act, Carter was vilified, the venom and the contempt for Vinsanity growing more personal with every touch of the basketball.

Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary when V.C. and T.O. parted company, leaving plenty of bad blood and bad feelings in its wake.

Four years have elapsed and still Hogtown's hoops fans continue to boo Carter.

We suspect that 40 years may elapse and fans still would boo Carter.

With any divorce comes the expected ill feelings, but enough is enough.

It has been four years when the New Jersey Nets basically exposed then-Raptors general manager Rob Babcock as a poor poker player and a naive executive by acquiring one of the game's elite players for practically nothing.

Four years later, all Toronto has to show for the showman Carter is Joey Graham, who produced a Carter-like dunk last night by driving baseline and flushing home a basket over two Nets opponents.

Say what you want about Carter, his self-capitulation during his final days in Toronto, his brooding nature and lack of passion, but the guy can play and his jump shot is so pure and lethal that Carter could play well into his 40s, if he's so inclined.

No player has been forced to endure the wrath of fans like Carter, whose return trips to Toronto never lack drama.

There was a playoff air inside the Air Canada Centre last night, a rare back-to-back home date not seen since the days of the NBA's lockout in 1998-99, incidentally the year when Carter arrived in town as a wide-eyed rookie.

In an era where players change teams as frequently as teams are changing coaches these days, no player has been treated with so much verbal garbage as Carter.

Jason Kidd makes his return to the Jersey swamps on Friday for the first time since last season's trade to Dallas.

Kidd, much like Carter in Toronto, was the face of the faceless Nets franchise.

He orchestrated his exit, much like Carter, because Kidd's time in Jersey was up.

When Kidd returns, he'll be cheered.

When Carter returns to Toronto, he gets jeered.

There's a litany of stars whose time in their respective towns were over and in the me-first NBA, the elite gets its way because there can be no other way.

Fans hold a grudge against Carter, in part because they're jealous, privately pining for the days when he'd take over a game with his jump shot and his dribble drive.

Fans should never lose sight of the simple fact that no Raptors team, since Carter, has advanced past the opening round of the playoffs.

No player has come close to scoring 50 points in a post-season game since Carter.

But fans have short memories and their image of Carter leads to the abuse that greets his every return.

The catcalls rained down from the ACC stands with the decibel level intensifying as the night unfolded.

The more fans mocked Carter, the more at ease he played, joking with courtside fans following timeouts, offering a handshake to interim Raptors coach Jay Triano and sharing a laugh with Anthony Parker and Graham.

There was an energy inside the building that was palpable, an environment that could only be produced by having a villain on centre stage.

Vince Carter is that villain and he enjoys the attention.

One day Raptors fans will realize that the booing only helps to fuel him.

He'll have off nights such as last Friday's 0-for-13 shooting, but Carter is always a threat because of his offensive ability and versatility.

When the Nets came back from a 14-point hole, it was Carter's feed to Ryan Anderson that gave the Nets their first lead.

He still relies too much on his jumper and doesn't attack the paint like he once did, but Carter can flat-out play.

For someone to suggest otherwise would be foolish.

When the Nets began to take control in the fourth quarter, it was Carter's drive to the hole and subsequent three-point play that helped them escape with a 94-87 win.

Carter finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and countless abuse.


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