TORONTO – Steve Nash and Vince Carter, a Canadian hero and public enemy respectively, joined forces on Friday to lead the Phoenix Suns to a crushing 110-92 over the Toronto Raptors.
Nash, the greatest basketball player Canada has ever produced, returned home to wild cheers while Carter, once the toast of Toronto, was mercilessly showered with boos by the fans he deserted almost six years ago.
When Carter, who had 17 points in the win, was introduced, the ACC rafters rattled with boos, then when Nash followed him into the spotlight and the building rang with cheers.
"It's always fun to be back, I enjoy playing here this is where it started for me," said Carter. "It's like home, you remember all the spots on the floor that were good for you.
"What's a boo? How can you hate me? What did I do? It's just the nature of sports."
The comparison between Nash and Carter is stark.
Carter, a player who never quite lived up to his immense potential and Nash, a player who exceeded everyone's expectations but his own.
An unknown mop-topped, soccer-loving kid from a country that produces hockey players, Nash defied all odds, constructing what is almost certain to be a Hall of Fame career, highlighted by back-to-back most valuable player awards in 2005 and 2006.
For all the love lavished on Nash on Friday, there was equal distain for Carter, who left Toronto in 2005 yet remains the player fans love to hate.
It was not always so. At one time early in Carter's career 'Vinsanity' ruled in Toronto, his dunking prowess remains the stuff of highlight reel fascination.
Praised as "half-man, half-amazing," Carter was all flash and spectacular ability.
But Carter always seemed to lack the grit and determination that might have made him one of the NBA's all-time greats and finally sulked his way out of Toronto and fans' hearts, stalked by claims he had quit on his team.
Nash also quit on Canada, ending his international career after the 2000 Sydney Olympics rebuffing repeated overtures to return to national duty.
But despite his refusal to again suit up for his country, Nash remains "Captain Canada" to Canadian basketball fans, admired and respected as much as NHL great Wayne Gretzky.
In his 15th season and 37 years-old, Nash has shown no signs of slowing down averaging 16.8 points, 11.3 assists and 33.3 minutes a game.
"Some guys want to push me out of the league but I feel like I'm going to play past next season anyway," said Nash, who had an off night against the Raptors scoring seven points and dishing out 11 assists.
"I've always said I want to play for Phoenix and play out my contract. If they want to rebuild and move on I'll accept that but I want to play for this team."
While Nash, a health and fitness fanatic, meticulously prepares for each season, Carter's work ethic has been routinely been questioned.
Carter exploded onto the scene claiming rookie of the year honors and appeared in eight consecutive All-Star games.
Since leaving Toronto the 34-year-old's career has been on steady downward arc with stops in New Jersey, Orlando and Phoenix.
Still, Carter remains capable of producing some genuine magic when motivated as he did on Friday, opening the game with a rim-rattling reverse dunk that triggered another shower of boos.
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