Grad cap kept Carolina on his mind

Vince wasn’t smiling quite as brightly later that afternoon.
Vince wasn’t smiling quite as brightly later that afternoon.
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Despite their best efforts, and some ugly purple headbands, the Toronto Raptors were forced into post-season extinction by Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, who advanced to the NBA’s Eastern Conference Final.

In the wake of defeat, media and fans alike have continued to debate Vince Carter’s controversial decision to attend his university graduation on the morning of Game 7. While supporters applaud his emphasis on education, critics suggest his actions denote a serious lack of commitment to the franchise that places their hopes and dreams on his shoulders.

Being both a university student and a world-renowned basketball star, I can identify with both points of view. Ok, maybe I can relate to the former a little bit more than the latter. After all, it’s common knowledge that if it weren’t for being 5’10’’, slow, and unable to shoot, I would have had a hell of a career.

But back to Mr. Carter.

There are a few things that bother me about his decision. First, if education is such a priority, why did he choose to leave school as a junior? It seems to me that if he wanted to play basketball while receiving an education, he would have stayed in a North Carolina jersey for one more season, void of the pressure that comes with playing pro ball. His graduation day would not have interfered with athletics and he would have been revered, much the same as Tim Duncan, who opted to stay at Wake Forest and get his degree.

Secondly, UNC has three different graduation ceremonies every year. Vince could have easily scheduled his classes so that he would have graduated in December, a time when the Raptors were fighting off Ontario winters and mid-season boredom, not Dikembe Mutombo’s inside presence and Iverson’s crossover.

However, Carter could have silenced all the naysayers had he played the way the Raptors needed him to in Game 7. Instead, his diploma-seeking jaunt to the Tar Heel State seemed to sap some of his usually boundless energy.

Vince scored an underwhelming 20 points, only four of which came in the all-important fourth quarter. He was a disappointing 6 for 18 from the field and looked very tired and out of sync at times.

Still, the Raptors almost emerged victorious. If number 15’s last-second shot had gone in there would be no issue. Unfortunately for Vince and the Raps, it didn’t, and he will be forced to spend the summer, and all of next season, shrugging off questions about his desire, dedication, and commitment.

Not only does his decision raise questions about the heart of the biggest athletic star in this nation, but it also creates some serious issues for Canada’s soon-to-be-only NBA franchise. When I had the opportunity to interview Raptors head coach Lenny Wilkens last year, he emphasized the importance of not giving star players special treatment. He stressed that one of his central goals is to treat everyone equally.

“I think that as a coach...the most important thing is that you be consistent,” Wilkens said. “You can’t have rules that exist for star players, and separate rules that exist for the twelfth guy.” If this is true, does that make it acceptable for Carter’s teammates to also put their outside interests ahead of the team? What happens the next time Charles Oakley finds himself short a chef in his downtown Toronto restaurant? Is he allowed to swap his jersey and headband for an apron and a tall white hat? Can Antonio Davis miss a roadtrip to home-school his kids in an attempt to reverse the damage they suffered in school learning the metric system while singing ‘Oh Canada’?

The answer, in all likelihood, is of course not. So why is it acceptable for Vince to leave just hours before the biggest game in franchise history? The Toronto Raptors had a great season—there is no disputing that. But if they want to improve on this year’s success they better make sure they have their priorities in order.

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