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Q: There are Canadian-born players coming up in the NBA now who grew up watching you in Toronto. Do you understand how you might’ve turned them on to basketball back then? VC: At 21, I was just trying to establish myself, the fifth pick [in the 1998 draft], traded on draft night [for Antawn Jamison], learning things about the game, learning a new city, new country, coming in and then a lockout [in 1999]. Just figuring out because everything was condensed and it was going fast, fast, fast, fast.
So we continued to fight for the NBA to put us on the map, put us in the spotlight, give us a chance on TV or TNT or NBC at the time. I sound old. But give us a chance to really be in the spotlight to show the world what Toronto has to offer. I think for young kids, that is what it was all about. ‘Look at us now, we are on TV, they are talking about Toronto and our city.’ We have something to represent, and then I won the dunk contest and got in the All-Star Game, so now they are talking about the Toronto Raptors. It is funny you hear people — I remember [them saying], ‘Yeah we don’t know much about the city.’ … Now we are starting to get [recognition]. … Antonio [Davis] and I are starting to represent Toronto; now people have to recognize us and it’s pretty cool.
Q: Do you look back and think about the impact you might have had from that dunk contest and what it meant not only for Canada basketball but in terms of where it stands in NBA history now? VC: No, not then. Now I do. I say I didn’t because I wasn’t established myself. I was so caught up in wanting to show everybody what I can do. And I knew who I was representing. But I knew that would take care of itself if I did my job and do what I want to do. I mean, I was fulfilling a dream. I always wanted to be in the dunk contest, and I wanted to show the world, this is what I can do. People had an idea but they didn’t really know. And I had to show them.
Storyline: All-Star Contests
When I was little, I used to tape and study the dunk contest. And that night, that was my moment. So I was living in the moment. So I never realized at the time what it would do for younger kids in the city and the country. As you move on, it’s like, ‘OK, now you are making playoffs and winning games and in the conference, we are playing in big games now’ — that is when you can see how much it meant to the city because now it went from just, ‘Oh yeah, cool, my first year.’ And then second year, it was unbelievable and in years to come, when we went on to the second round, it was nuts in 2001. That was crazy. That arena was so nice.
Toronto Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was ready to pack his bags and contact a real estate agent in December of 2013. He thought Toronto was trading him to the New York Knicks. “That deal was done,” Lowry told USA TODAY Sports about a trade that would’ve sent him to the Knicks, and the Raptors would have received Metta World Peace, Iman Shumpert and a future first-round draft pick. Imagine Lowry as the Knicks’ point guard, which is exactly what they need.