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Jackie MacMullan
May 01, 2000
Courting DisasterIn a playoff-opening loss, the Raptors had to cope with a bizarre lawsuit and awful shooting
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May 01, 2000

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Courting Disaster
In a playoff-opening loss, the Raptors had to cope with a bizarre lawsuit and awful shooting

Raptors Forward Vince Carter sat facing a sea of microphones and notepads in the wake of Sunday's 92-88 road loss to the Knicks in the opener of their first-round playoff series. Which oddity would he like to address first? Why had he missed his first 12 shots, or why had Toronto coach Butch Carter tossed an air ball of his own two days before by filing a defamation suit against former Raptors and current Knicks forward Marcus Camby?

Taking the easier question, Carter said his shooting woes were caused by Latrell Sprewell's defense and by his having become "a little overexcited." But even if Vince had buried 12 straight, he wouldn't have stolen the headlines from his coach. When asked on April 19 by the New York Daily News about critical comments Butch had made while coaching him in Toronto, Camby said Butch had told him he would be part of the Raptors' foundation; the team traded him a few days later. Camby called Carter "a liar" and claimed none of the Toronto players liked their coach.

While Camby was at practice last Friday, his girlfriend was served with the lawsuit at Camby's Larchmont, N.Y., house. The suit demanded $5 million in damages. The following afternoon Carter said he would consider dropping the suit if Camby apologized.

When New York coach Jeff Van Gundy informed the Knicks about the lawsuit last Saturday, the players burst out laughing. NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik wasn't amused. His statement read, "A coach suing a player over his public comments seems unprecedented and highly inappropriate." Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald, who signed Carter to a four-year, $8 million extension in December, said with a pained look, "I'm just not going to comment right now." Even Butch's brother Cris, a Vikings receiver, was virtually at a loss for words. "What do you want me to say?" Cris said. "He's my brother."

Carter's preposterous actions seemed to have little effect on his young team. "It's like when you beat up your little brother in the house. That's O.K.," said Toronto guard Dee Brown. "But when your little brother goes out and someone else starts beating up on him, well, now we've got a problem. We stand behind Butch on this. Have we had some things with our coach? Yeah, who hasn't? But we keep it within."

"It doesn't bother us," added another Raptor, smiling. "We already know Butch is nuts."

In mid-March, Carter publicly criticized Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Raptors and the eponymous NHL club, for favoring its hockey team and neglecting its basketball team. Carter was also in the news two weeks ago when excerpts from his upcoming book, Born to Believe, a collaboration with Cris in which each brother wrote a dozen chapters without showing his work to the other, claimed Indiana coach Bob Knight had used racist language while chastising his players, a charge Knight denied. (Butch played for Knight in the late 1970s but has a strained relationship with him.)

Why did Carter look to the courts for justice in his dispute with Camby? Maybe it was psychological playoff warfare, as the Knicks suggested. Maybe it was a way to drum up interest in the brothers' book. Or maybe it was, as Butch conceded, in part a ploy to deflect pressure from his young stars, Vince, 23, and Tracy McGrady, 20.

None of it had anything to do with why Vince hit only 3 of 20 shots. The Knicks used two defensive schemes to smother him: They double-teamed him with Crewel and Patrick Ewing, and they shaded Carter to the right, knowing he's more effective when he goes left. With Game 2 set for Wednesday, neither Carter was backing down—Vince on his promise to keep shooting, Butch on his promise to keep suing. As for a Camby apology: Forget about it.

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