As the summer wears on, with training camps and preseason play still off in (what feels like) the distant future, we turn our attention to the past. Join us as we while away a few late-summer moments recalling some of the most scintillating slams of yesteryear, the most thunderous throwdowns ever to sear themselves into our memories. This is Dunk History.
I was on a date, and I missed it.
For three hours, I was completely unaware of what was going down in Oakland Arena during the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. It was Vince Carter’s night, and we were all spectators, with me arriving fashionably late to the party.
Carter was then a 23-year-old in his second year with the Toronto Raptors. He would average 25.7 points per game that season, helping the franchise to its first-ever postseason appearance and earning a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. That weekend in Oakland marked the first of his eight All-Star appearances.
I’m a hockey guy, but growing up in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the New York Knicks. Oak and Mase (RIP) were my guys, but as they got older, the rivalry with the Miami Heat died down and the franchise started its slow decent, my interest in the game was left mostly to the Dunk Contest. I’d watch a random Knicks game if there was nothing else on that night, but I would definitely tune in to the Dunk Contest every year.
Amid criticism due to the lack of star power year after year, we went two years without a Dunk Contest before Carter breathed new life into the event.
The date went well. Not too well, though, considering I was back in my buddy Ryan’s dorm room not too late into the night to watch the replay.
He told me I had to sit down to watch. It didn’t take long for me to get out of my seat.
The build-up to Carter’s first dunk was so nonchalant that you got the impression he'd practiced it in the gym many, many times. Except, as he would tell TNT’s Cheryl Miller afterward, he hadn’t.
He was in full spin when he cocked his right arm out wide and windmilled it, cradling the ball and throwing it down ferociously as the crowd erupted.
Even Shaq, giant camcorder and all, was impressed:
“Let’s go home, ladies and gentlemen,” said TNT commentator Kenny Smith, who was on to something. Carter received 10s from all five judges in the contest, the first time a perfect 50 had been handed out since Cedric Ceballos’ contest-winning blindfold dunk in 1992.
“I have a couple tricks up my sleeve,” Carter told Miller after dunk No. 1. Oh, boy, did he ever.
Dunk No. 2 was another powerful throw-down, this time with Carter coming from out-of-bounds behind the backboard:
It wasn’t jaw-dropping, and it earned him a score of only 49, thanks to fellow Tar Heel Smith. In the grand scheme of history, though, it served as merely the warm-up act to greatness.
For his final act in the first round, Carter called upon his Raptors teammate, cousin and fellow Dunk Contest competitor Tracy McGrady for some assistance, which the new Dunk Contest rules demanded on at least one dunk. T-Mac would stand in the paint and bounce the ball as Carter glided in.
“So I said to Tracy: ‘Just stand here and bounce it and get the hell out the way,’ Carter told ESPN.com in an oral history of the event. "He said, ‘What are you gonna do?’ I said, ‘Just bounce it and back up. About this high.’”
The arena was mostly silent, awaiting what was coming. The only noise emanating from your television was the voice of Mike Fratello, explaining that Carter had stitches on his left hand from a weight room injury.
Carter then approached, took the ball mid-bounce and … as Marv Albert put it, “OHHHHHH!”
This was my reaction, as captured by Ryan:
Everyone in the building that night, from Carter to Kenny Smith to an overly excited Isiah Thomas, knew that at that point, the crowd could go home and we all could turn off our TVs. The contest was over.
The rest of the night — the elbow in the rim (which earned Carter another 50), the just-inside-the-free-throw line glide —basically served as the Dunk Contest’s radio bumper until Carter was awarded the trophy.
According to the rules, McGrady and Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets also had to take part in the contest’s final round. After Carter’s first dunk, though, it became his show. The rest of the characters were only there to give him a breather.
After several rewinds to remind myself that what I saw had actually happened and was not some sort of dream, Ryan and I sat there on his couch bewildered, dumbfounded and amazed. We still talk about that night 15 years later, occasionally texting that picture of my reaction, three hours after the fact, to one another as a reminder of the birth of Vinsanity.
The Dunk Contest needed a savior in 2000. Vince Carter showed up.
More Dunk History:
• Shawn Kemp, Alton Lister and how memory works
• Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and a poster preserved
• Young Wolf Andrew Wiggins goes straight for Rudy Gobert's neck
• Rajon Rondo leaps past Dwight Howard, ascends to All-Star status
• Blake Griffin defines 'Mozgov,' picks up Stoudemire's mantle
• LeBron James rises up and Damon Jones 'gets banged on'
• Dwyane Wade welcomes Anderson Varejao to his 'Kodak moment'
• Paul George's 360 windmill causes stir on press row
• Michael Jordan, Mel Turpin and 'Was he big enough?'
• Von Wafer and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad dunk
• Dr. J 'jams the jinx,' makes Boston Garden sing different tune
• LeBron James takes flight, sends JET to crash landing
• J.R. Smith expresses himself by pulverizing Gary Neal
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 1: Chris Gethard, Hannibal Buress, Jensen Karp and more
• Some of our friends' favorite dunks, Vol. 2: Adam Pally, John Lurie, Daniel Van Kirk, Will Weldon and more
• Dunk History, Season 1: Our 2014 series, collected
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