MLSEL's toy explodes in its face

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

AWAY FROM all the noise and all the anger, what is left is a most debilitating lesson for the Toronto Raptors. A setback they can never let happen again.

The Vince Carter example won't go away -- we can't let it go away -- no matter how many signs are printed and how much screaming is heard.

Not if the Raptors are to gain anything from this pathetic experience other than a couple of measly draft picks who turn out no better than Rafael Araujo.

This was a mess made by ownership, directed by the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., enabled by the general manager of his time, Glen Grunwald, and created by a cozy atmosphere that chairman Larry Tanenbaum truly believed in. Thinking he was doing the right thing. Hitching his franchise to a flawed star, misunderstanding that the real world and sport have so little in common.

The trouble is, the people who run MLSEL still have difficulty distinguishing between their successful day jobs, their business world and a culture they seem unable to understand.

The fingerprints of blame pointed solely at Carter last night -- booing him all the way to a 39-point night and another Raptors defeat -- but at least for one night, the Toronto fan had something to care about.

The fact this Raptors franchise is in shambles again, the fact it takes the most despised athlete in Toronto history to get this crowd to care, is somewhat sobering on its own.

The hope is that MLSEL will learn from this: That is the only hope. But there is nothing tangible that leads one to believe the culture of pampering athletes and expecting little from them is about to change.

All you have to do is go back to Aug. 3, 2001 to try and understand. That wasn't just a $93-million US day for Vince Carter, it was the day Tanenbaum truly became an NBA owner. Not a sporting winner, just an owner of some repute.

He had spent so much of that summer trying to convince Carter this was the place to be, this was his team, his future, his home. Of all the deals Tanenbaum had been part of in his life, this one was different. This one felt like no other. That he was making a difference.

He had no idea it would turn out like this. He had no idea that when he rewarded Carter with a lifetime of riches, he all but made him a part of ownership. From that August day on, Carter wasn't just a player. He was part GM, part board member. He flew in private jets. He went to dinner with the owners. He was their friend, someone they could show off.

The very toy that wound up blowing up in their faces.

They gave Carter the franchise keys to their car and he drove the team over a cliff. All by himself. He got his money and stopped running. He played only when he felt like playing. He needed to be consulted on everything from team meals to draft picks to trade talks.

It became all Vince all the time until he got tired and bored and disinterested. Which happened to coincide with a change in direction. Suddenly, the Raptors had changed the rules on him. Suddenly, they had hired a general manager who wasn't his choice.

It was really no different than trying to discipline a child. After letting the infant get away with everything, they started saying no. The infant cried and typically rebelled.

The rest is unfortunate history. A history the Raptors can't afford to repeat -- not with this Carter mess getting worse by the moment. Carter scored a million points last night, the Raptors lost, the fans ran out of boos, Eric Williams and Aaron Williams didn't play and Alonzo Mourning was scoring points for Miami.

There are three games to play. This season can't end soon enough.


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