When you’re a kid, especially back when sneakers weren’t as big as they are now, that day your parents are buying you a new pair is as sweet as Christmas, your birthday, or any other holiday on the calendar.
In 1998, all my grade school varsity teammates wore their Nikes and adidas. Their Crazy 8s. Their Air Garnetts. And of course, most iconic from that time, their Air Jordan 14s.
As for me, I wore a pair of Pumas.
I particularly remember the day my folks bought me that pair. We went to SM Makati. I had that shoe on my left hand and the FILA Grant Hill V on my right. The white FILAs would easily stand out more. Yet, I chose the black Pumas with the number ’15’ stitched on the pull tab.
Playing in the Milo BEST SBP tournament as well as their basketball clinics, I wore the Puma Vinsanity paired with socks which I artistically wrote ’15’ on with a permanent marker.
The year those Pumas hit the market was Vince Carter’s first year in the league. His shoes may have slipped under the radar and flew beneath attention, but his game certainly did not. In fact, VC almost literally flew into fame.
Carter had a pretty well-rounded game. But his leaping ability and what he did with it were things that went past what science had proven at that time.
In the 80s and the 90s, we saw Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan fly. But what Carter brought to the table, or should I say brought to the air, was something different. It looked way beyond human capabilities. And because of that, Air Canada was born.
Throughout his first year in the league, Vince tried to convince us that humans were above science. That either gravity was merely a theory or that he had found a way to eliminate that negative force.
Jumping seemed limitless. Dunking looked so easy. And flying, it felt, was possible.
VC rose high enough to earn Rookie of the Year honors in his debut season. He continued to elevate his game in the following years.
2000 was a huge year for Carter. He was given the privilege – perhaps somewhat an obligation, too – to entertain the Oakland crowd at the 2000 NBA All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest.
Living up to expectations, entertain the crowd was exactly what VC did. In large part thanks to him, that was arguably the best slam dunk contest the NBA has ever seen in its history.
Carter pulled out all the stops. Every round, he had people saying, “Why’d he pull out his best trick now? There’s another round, right?” And every round, the previous one wasn’t his best yet.
That same year, VC was given full control of the pilot’s seat in Toronto when the Raptors traded away his cousin Tracy McGrady. Before, when he reached for the sky, it was for him alone. For another highlight dunk. But that time, his aircraft had to carry passengers – his team.
But also in the year 2000, he had to make room for more inside his human aircraft. Not only was VC tasked to lift his NBA team. He was also taken into the USA Men’s Basketball Team alongside the NBA’s best for the Olympics. The entire country had hopped on his back.
But of course, that did not stop Vinsanity from happening. In fact, on the biggest stage of sports known as the Olympics, while carrying the hopes of an entire nation, VC reached the highest point of the sky that he ever did.
6’6″ American Vince Carter jumped over 7’2″ French Frederic Weis.
Fifteen years have passed and people still remember that as the “le dunk de la morte” (The Dunk of Death). It quite literally was. It was the death of Weis’ NBA career. The Frenchman was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1999 but didn’t get signed. After what happened, there was no chance he’d get an NBA stint.
It was literally the peak of Vince. He admitted fooling around with his Toronto teammates after practice, trying to re-enact the scenario but failed to jump over his peers who were barely seven-feet.
Vinsanity went on. But of course, at one point, age started to creep up to him.
He was no longer a one-man show. He was no longer that aircraft that had seats for an entire team. He could not carry them on his own anymore.
From the lead role with the Raptors, his prominence slowly but continuously deteriorated as he moved from team to team. From Toronto to New Jersey to Orlando to Phoenix to Dallas and to his current team, Memphis.
As he moved along, his game transitioned as well. As difficult as it is to imagine, VC wasn’t dunking on everyone anymore. Instead, his teams relied on him to knock down trey bombs. Instead of breaking down his man and taking him to the rim, he’d be waiting on the side, ready to shoot soon as he got an open look.
However, that doesn’t mean that the air in Vinsanity is gone. The youth and the explosiveness may have wilted a bit, but not the hops.
At 38-years-old, Vince can still get as up in the air as high as the young’uns.
— P3 (@P3sportscience) September 30, 2015
Amazing what a good off season of training can do.. pic.twitter.com/DzpfcbTVcB
— Chattin Hill (@chattin_hill) October 1, 2015
That’s just proof of the immortality of Vince Carter’s hops.
But more than that, watch how players go hard at the rim today. Watch how Russell Westbrook goes HAM when he dunks, then check out the swagger after he does. Watch how LeBron James swoops and skies through thin air when he finishes on a fastbreak jam. Watch Andrew Wiggins and the next crop of superstars defy scientific forces even more than previous guys did.
That, I believe, somehow proves the immortality of the flavor that Vince Carter has brought to the game of basketball.
Sure, we can trace it back to guys before him. Nique, MJ and Dr. J. But for the more current generation, those three put together, when up in the air, was Vinsanity.
Vince Carter rearranged how the game was played. Players became fearless and intrepid. VC rearranged the beliefs of the world. Again, gravity wasn’t such a strong force after all.
VC’s hops are still there. They probably will still be around for a few years. He’ll probably stuff a few of them down in the years he’s got left in the league.
But even when his leaping ability have faded, even when he begins to need a wheelchair to get around, his legacy as one of the nastiest dunkers the world has ever seen will live on.
Thumbnail by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images