VC Week: Vince’s legendary Dunk Contest kicked off his awesome career

With less than 20 seconds left in the OT game between the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks last March 12, 2020, Vince Carter checked into the game. He took a hand off from Trae Young and drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key.

After that the buzzer sounded, both for that game and for the on-going season.

With the NBA season in limbo, that might have been VC’s last game in the league. Or, he could be back, dunking like he always has been, when the season resumes.

Either way, it feels like a good time to celebrate a full career from Half-Man, Half-Amazing.

Photos from Getty Images / Graphic by SLAM PH

More than 20,000 fans, players and legends watched intently as a young, bald-headed Vince Carter, donning the classic purple and black Raptors jersey, surveyed the Oakland Arena floor on a rainy February evening in back in 2000. The same group of people just witnessed 6’2” Rockets guard Steve Francis tomahawk one through the hoop, with force off, the bounce; an empathic dunk awarded with a score of 45 and an electric applause. But somehow, they were expecting something lightyears better when Carter took the floor. After all, this is the man they’ve eagerly waited to watch in this competition since he entered the NBA.

Even before Carter’s first dunk in the contest, he had already revived what was believed to be a dying event of the NBA All-Star Weekend. Nobody wanted to join the dunk contest anymore. In the competition’s height during the 80’s, legends like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Clyde Drexler were mainstays, competing almost every year for the crown. But the 90’s saw the gaping lack of star power in the dunk contest, giving the NBA no choice but to pluck the contest from the All-Star Weekend side events in 1998.

When Carter entered the league a year after, a lockout shortened the 1998-1999 season, with the 1999 All-Star festivities as the sacrificial lamb of the shortened season. It was almost as if watching VC in the dunk contest was never meant to be.

It was impossible for a generational dunker like Carter to not be part of a Dunk Contest in his career. Persistent clamor from various NBA circles and fans to see Carter participate prompted the league to give the event another shot in the 2000 All-Star Weekend. It was setting up to be quite a comeback for the competition, with the league handpicking some of the best rising stars: Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis, and Vince Carter.

Carter, the reigning Rookie of the Year, had also just been selected to play in the 2000 NBA All-Star game as a sophomore. He was probably the brightest star among all the contestants. Carter went on to post averages of 25.7 points (fourth in the league), 5.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists that season, good enough for All-NBA Third Team honors. At 45-37, Carter pulled the Toronto Raptors, the league’s laughing stock out of the basement and on to their first playoff appearance. He was well on his way to legendary status, and it all started with a dunk.

Photo from Getty Images

Carter gave the basketball a light bounce at half-court, like an eagle unsheathing its claws for the kill. He took a couple of looks at the rim and then made his way towards it. The arena was filled with silent excitement. Carter was airborne after a singular step in the paint, the ball in his right palm. He vaulted into the air and twisted his body to get it spinning.

“Here is Vince Carter with his first… STUFF,” exclaimed Marv Albert, as Carter threw down a windmill off a spin with unbelievable violence.

The arena broke down. Pandemonium ensued. A bunch of kids were caught on video jumping wildly and holding up a 10 sign. Dikembe Mutombo raised a hand up in awe. Shaquille O’Neal was frozen in place, eyes wide open, camcorder in hand. Kenny Smith was screaming “LET’S GO HOME!” But nobody really wanted to go home. That was only Carter’s first dunk. Poor Larry Hughes, poor Ricky Davis, poor everyone else who still had dunks to execute. The following entries by those players were nowhere near the sheer verticality, grace, and power that Carter had set the bar upon. It was almost unfair.

Lucky for the fans, Carter had much more in store. Unlucky for the other contestants, everybody else was just dunking for second.

VC went on to ravage the rest of the first round, with each succeeding dunk defying whatever laws of science and basketball there was. For his second dunk, he duplicated his slam from the first one, except this time, he took off from behind the freakin’ backboard, retaining the same mechanics, motion, and power.

The final round was merely a formality. What everyone was watching was quite possibly the greatest night of dunking ever seen from any player. His last two dunks: the one where he sticks his forearm through the rim and a two-handed slam from (almost) the free throw line, albeit incredibly impressive dunks for everybody else, was child’s play for Half-Man, Half-Amazing.

Photo from Getty Images

The dunk of the night though, came at the end the first round.

Carter tapped his cousin and teammate, McGrady, to be the one making the pass for his final dunk in that round. After sharing a few words, McGrady bounced passed the ball to Carter who was propelling towards the hoop. When the ball got to the right height, Carter got hold of the ball and cooly put it between his legs and powerfully slammed it home. Carter pointed to the rafter, to the frenzied audience who had just witnessed one of basketball’s greatest moments.

VC was overflowing with swagger after his first round performance. He proclaimed “It’s over,” and waved off the rest of the field. It was indeed over for the other participants, but for Carter, that was just the beginning.

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