It's hear no evil for Vince

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

"They love me, they love me not, they love me, they love me not ..."

Vince Carter did not lie awake in his downtown Toronto condominium last night, plucking the petals off a flower in silent consternation. In fact, if Carter is even remotely worried about getting booed tonight, he isn't showing it.

Carter, the Raptors' marquee player, will be playing his first game in front of the home fans at the Air Canada Centre since he publicly asked to be traded.

By all accounts, Carter has been a model citizen at training camp thus far. But when he trots on to the court this evening for an NBA pre-season game against the Philadelphia 76ers, some Raptors fans with leather lungs are expected to let him have it.

The booing may not be widespread, but surely there will be some.

"I have a job to do as a basketball player, to play basketball," Carter said yesterday following practice.

"I have to come out here and put points on the board for my team, run the offence, defend my guy ... I have a lot of things to worry about. And if I sit here and worry about (getting booed), then I'm not doing my job. As of right now, my job is to come out here and play ball, and be happy doing it, which I am."

How happy Carter really is, deep down, isn't known.

He certainly has not renounced his trade request. But he has vowed to play hard for the Raptors as long as he's here, and he appears to be doing that. On a day-to-day basis throughout camp, Carter made good on his promise that his own situation would not be a distraction to the team.

Carter's teammates are one thing, but tonight marks the first time he'll come face to face with a Toronto crowd since he voiced his displeasure with the franchise.

FAIRLY FORGIVING

However, Carter and the Raptors played an intrasquad game before a completely adoring crowd of about 1,200 at Brock University in St. Catharines last Saturday.

Carter admitted he's sick of playing against his teammates.

"They're great guys, but sheesh," he said. "I'm ready to see a new uniform."

So, what will happen tonight?

Generally speaking, Toronto fans are fairly forgiving of pro athletes, as long as they're still wearing this city's uniform. It's when a player leaves -- regardless of the circumstances of that departure -- that he instantly becomes a target for verbal abuse.

There are exceptions, of course. Larry Murphy got booed while he was a Maple Leaf. And former Raptor Jerome (Junk Yard Dog) Williams got cheered when he made his return to Toronto last season. But basically, it boils down to a simple equation: Toronto good, everything else bad.

That said, feelings truly were hurt among the local hoops populace when Carter asked out. Reactions were notably hostile, as if a sacred trust had been broken.

But did that trust actually break, or did it just stretch a little? Some have surmised that with one Carter dunk, or one Carter smile, or one Raptors win, all will be forgiven.

Regardless, if there's any tension in the air tonight, Carter insists it won't be initiated by him.

"I enjoy playing the game of basketball," Carter said. "It brings me pleasure and makes me feel free. I think people appreciate what I do on the floor, and the way I play, regardless of what happened in the past, or in the present, or what can happen."

And if some people still boo Carter?

"Well, some people won't," he said with his trademark shrug. "That's how it goes."


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