Sixteen years ago Thursday, Vince Carter changed the basketball world. It was the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, and a sophomore Carter, still in the early part of his ascension to superstar status, put on the single greatest performance in the history of the event.
The bar wasn’t just passed or raised, it was melted and rebuilt in Carter’s image. It’s hardly been threatened since, though Zach LaVine’s 2015 performance certainly led to flashbacks. Carter owned that dunk contest, and every one since has been evaluated with Carter’s performance as the benchmark, pushing others to try brave new (or stupid) things.
It made Carter a star. It helped make fans of plenty of Canadians who were still acclimating to basketball. It put the Toronto Raptors at the forefront of NBA excitement. It’s a night worth remembering, over and over and over.
Dave Zarum of Sportsnet put together an oral history of Carter’s Dunk Contest performance, and it’s a must-read for Raptors fans, even those who are still salty toward Carter for his exit. Here’s an excerpt, with Carter discussing changing his plans at the last moment:
I became another beast. Heading out onto the court I had my routine, but once I got to the layup line—and maybe I was over-analyzing—I just suddenly felt it wasn’t good enough: a lot of catching it off the backboard, you know, nothing really special. Standing there, looking at the field, and the respect I had for the other guys in the contest, I felt it wasn’t good enough.
Right before I grabbed the basketball from the referee for my first dunk, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I really didn’t know. So I thought, What do I want to accomplish with the look? I’m looking for creativity, hang-time, and all the things I had been studying many years before. All of these years are coming into one night, one moment. And here I am, minutes before it’s my chance to show the world, and it’s just like, Oh gosh, what should I do here?
I got the idea: 360 windmill. It was spur of the moment. I hadn’t really considered doing that one because, weeks before when I was trying it, I was barely making it. When I incorporated the 360, particularly the first couple of times I tried, I kept falling away from the basket. I wasn’t getting enough height. That’s why I scrapped it initially.
But behind every dunk I’m looking for that wow factor, that degree of added difficulty. To do the windmill with an extended arm like that is hard enough, but now to go the opposite way while doing it? There’s the challenge. I felt like, If I could pull this off I’ll be good for the rest of the night.
It’s a really good, fun read. So check it out.
And if you’re still in the mood for more, it’s always a good idea to go back and re-read Zach Harper’s excellent long-form on that same Dunk Contest from last year.
Oh, and also…Vince for Dunk Contest judge this weekend, please and thanks.