I remember back in the late 90s one day I was talking to my homie Jeff about something. He said something that has always stuck with me - he said “Toronto hates itself.” Looking at that today, it sounds like an insane statement. At that time though, it was perfect. It represented what I felt when I was at home or anywhere else. There was definitely a bit of self doubt in the city. It made sense because a lot of people really weren’t aware of us. I was in Brooklyn once and a guy asked me where I was from. I said Toronto, and you could tell he had heard of it before, but it could have been on the other side of the world for all he knew. You could tell it wasn’t on his radar at all.
Back then, I think the assumption about Toronto was that it was a safe, boring place. The backup option if you couldn’t immigrate to the US. To add to that, being a cultural mosaic, as opposed to a melting pot like the US gave rise to this attitude from some first generation Canadians (and maybe some immigrants, too) that their ancestral homeland was better. They might not be as safe, or have the earning opportunities of Canada, but they were richer, culturally.
So then, what changed?
Well, first I should add that I think we were wrong all along in our perception of the city, both locally and from people outside of it. We already had a lot going for us - there were clubs and bars in different areas catering to different subcultures, good food all over the place, beautiful people, and a music scene that had potential, even if financial support for artists wasn't so readily available (imagine how much bigger the likes of Saukrates, Infinite and others could have done in their careers if they had more exposure). The problem was just that we border a huge, very influential country. It's easy to get overshadowed in a situation like that and lose some appreciation for the things you have that they don't. If I dress a bit differently, or have different slang, how do you determine if it's corny or cool?
So I feel that's where we were - different, but not sure yet whether that difference was corny or if it was cool. Then came Vince.
When he was drafted, the Raptors had just finished their third season. We had some very good players before him - Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, T-Mac, but this is the first time we had a guy who was a star on and off the court. He wasn't just a guy who was good at his job, he was a nightly highlight reel guy who could also take the weight of having so many eyes on him. Everyone would watch Sports Center to see what he did that night. It wasn’t long before people were wearing Vince Carter jerseys far outside of Toronto. They might have been wearing it for the name on the back of the jersey, instead of the city on the front, but he was still getting our name out there.
Then came that dunk contest. After Vince hit that through the legs dunk he said “it’s over.” But that shit was really the beginning for us. Inside Lounge, the club he co owned, came in 2001. This was the king of the dunk, the coolest shit you can do in the game (so no doubt one of the coolest guys in the league at the time) saying, ‘this is a cool place to come and party.’ Unlike a punk ass Kenny Anderson or BJ Armstrong who refused to even report to the Raps when they got acquired, here was a guy who wasn’t just earning money here, but embedding himself in the city. And not just a guy, he was the guy.
I see Toronto in two periods - BC and AC. Vince is the guy who looked at the culture we had built here and made us realize how dope what we had built here was. He was that outside cosign we needed at that moment. Nowadays of course we don’t need validation from anyone. The city knows its worth, and no outsider can shake that, but Vince opened the floodgates.
He put us into the consciousness of people all over the fucking WORLD. BC, people who lived an hour flight away from us barely knew who we were. AC, I only meet people now who have been to the city (and love it) or want to go. I never having to explain where I’m from beyond just saying “Toronto” now. I’m writing this in Kuala Lumpur. I was in their Chinatown this one morning and passed by a stall selling sports jerseys. Basketball jerseys were in the front, and guess which two were most prominently displayed - Jordan and that OG purple VC.
Now with his career winding down, I want to do my part to honour a guy who didn’t just energize a team, but a whole city with his dunks and his swagger. The After Carter SS19 capsule collection is inspired by the guy that did so much to show the world what we had to offer.
The capsule is dropping June 1st at The Come Up Market, 1605 Queen Street West! Market is open from 1-7pm. Pull up!