How Vince's day went

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

If ever a vehicle was a candidate to be egged by boiling Raptors fans, this was it. On this, the morning of Vince Carter's much-ballyhooed return to the Air Canada Centre, reporters arriving at the arena for the New Jersey Nets shootaround are greeted by an ironic sight.

As media members make the right turn from Lakeshore Ave. on to Bremner Blvd., which runs along the west side of the ACC, the first thing they see is a Raptors cube truck with Vince's huge mug splashed all over the side of it in brilliant white and purple.

Oops. Someone forget to repaint the thing?

Someone forget that Vince is now a New Jersey Net?

If so, they might be the only people in Toronto who did.

Let the circus begin.

10: 30 a.m.

The zoo officially has arrived.

Vince Carter is scheduled to speak before the Nets shootaround, and the press has arrived in droves. Nine television cameras (which some Raps beat writers claim is a new record) and about 60 reporters patiently wait inside the dimly lit hallway for the Nets No. 15 to address them.

Jim LaBumbard, the Raptors all-star director of media relations, points out that credential requests from outside Toronto have not been significant. "But ticket requests, that's another story. They've been amazingly high." The game has been sold out for a month. Little wonder. Public hangings always draw a huge throng.

10:50 a.m.

Grinning from ear to ear, Carter emerges from the Nets locker room. Cameras immediately begin to flash. "Quick, get those shots of Vince walking down the hallway," Carter jokes as he approaches the scrum. His mood quickly sours, however, when Sportsnet's Barry Davis immediately opens the proceedings by reminding Carter of his early-season vow not to dunk any more. "How come you are always dunking?" Davis asks three times, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Next question," Carter barks.

11: 00 a.m.

"I didn't bail on the city," he insists. Try convincing the 20,000 leather-lunged lunies who will be packed into this same building eight hours from now collectively wishing him to fail in the worst way.

2: 24 p.m.

Scalpers already are sprinkled along the west side of the ACC. "I just got $650 for a pair of courtsides," one engaging entrepreneur says. "It seems things are picking up the closer to game time we get."

4:30 p.m.

Seated in the BellMedia Centre, veteran television director Paul Graham prepares to go over the game plan with his crew from TSN. This is no ordinary game, and Graham knows it. "We have two cameras positioned for his arrival - one where the bus parks, the other in the hallway that leads to the Nets locker room," he says. "We'll also have two cameras isolated on him the entire night. And I've instructed the cameras to keep on the look out for signs." No problem Paul -- there will be plenty to choose from.

4:42 p.m.

Safe from the wrath of the gathering mob outside, Carter hops off the Nets team bus and begins high-fiving ACC personnel in the underground parking lot. Wearing a blue Dr. J New York Nets retro jersey from the now defunct ABA, Carter continues his love-in as he bops down the hallway, even giving Dave Bohan, the security man perched outside the visiting locker room, a quick hug. "Vince always called me Gretzky because he thinks I look like him," Bohan says. "He's a great guy."

5:20 p.m.

While a number of his teammates have wandered out on to the court, Carter prefers to stay in the locker room. He does take time out to pose for photos with a kid in a wheelchair.

6:00 p.m.

The ACC and its surrounding parking lots are nuts as the gates open. People are bitter at Vince, and it shows. Many are wearing the white bibs with the No. 15 on the front that the Fan 590 is handing out. A group known as Vince Haters Anonymous is selling T-shirts which read: Half a Man-Half a Season. There are so many banners, you'd think you were at a WWE event. Vince Carter starring in Jersey Girl blares one. "Air Canada is built like Jets-go! says another. Or how about: "Vince:Time for a diaper change. Our favourite? The one held beside young Taryn Goldberger, 2, which says: Vince: My mommy is teaching me to try my best every time. "We figure the sign says it all," Taryn's mom Glenn Goldberger said.

7:50 p.m.

Vince is serenaded by boos as he steps on to the court. He is booed whenever he attempts a layup during a pre-game drill, then is cheered whenever he misses. Tough crowd. They even jeer the public address announcement stating fans should not throw anything on the court.

Meanwhile Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, decked out in a dapper cream-coloured suit, jukes his fists as he emerges from the Toronto locker room. Let the bout begin.

7:10 p.m.

The jeers are deafening as Carter is introduced to the crowd. He keeps his head down as he high-fives his Jersey teammates.

Welcome back Vince.


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