He’s had the same swagger Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan exuded when they slammed the rock. The feeling and the vibe were perfect. Oakland was the next scene where the NBA and the entire basketball world would witness the next form of greatness. It was Vince Carter’s first dunk contest in 2000, and it would change the shape of athletics for the rest of the century.
The expressions on the tapes were priceless. A young, bouncy Carter would throw down an impossible slam, and creeping in the corner were his teammates, peers and confidants freaking out as if they’d seen the end of the world. Shaquille O’Neal’s emotions were tangible from cross-court. He was by the sideline with an old video camera and skullcap poking his lips out in disbelief after only the first dunk.
Carter’s bounce was unmatched, his athleticism inconceivable. And the NBA took notice. The dunk contest had birthed its latest star.
“What the dunk contest proved for me was that that form of athleticism was a form of intelligence,” said Dr. James Peterson, the director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University. “Howard Gardner is a scholar that came up with an idea of multiple intelligences. Vince Carter, for me, is the perfect example of athletic intellect. His brilliance isn’t natural. It’s not an innate ability. He has worked hard and he intellectually manipulates his body to do incredible feats that were on display in the 2000 dunk contest.”
This All-Star Weekend is the 15th anniversary of Carter’s amazing showcase. Twenty-five-year old Colvin Forde kept saying, “He was half-man, half-amazing” when asked about Carter’s legacy. Even at the street level, the effect of Carter’s impeccable skill is still felt.
Some of the dunks were so unreal, that the fans didn’t even applaud. They just sat there in shock. Steve Francis and Jason Kidd were in awe when Carter did the famous “elbow dunk” that innovated video game creators to make similarities in concepts like NBA Street.
Fans can recall Kenny “The Jet” Smith on the TNT broadcast screaming after his first dunk, “Let’s go home, ladies and gentleman!” It was over before it had even begun. But Carter’s impact and tenacious dunking ability sent shockwaves throughout Canada years in advance.
Before Carter came to the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors were a no-name franchise in one of America’s favorite pastimes. Now they sit atop the Eastern Conference and have one of the most talented young rosters in the game. Fifteen years later, Toronto still feels the effects of every rim-rattling Carter slam.
“It put Toronto on the map and gave people something to talk about,” said Kathy Spence, 22, a Canadian United Nations youth delegate and 2015 Miss World Canada Pageant participant. “Prior to that, there wasn’t much buzz about the Raptors. Today, the Raptors have so much home support and positivity surrounding them. It’s now something we live by. We say ‘We the North,’ and it’s something this city lives by. Win or lose there’s still a backing of the Raptors 100 percent. The majority of the games this season if not all of them have been sold out.
“That gives you an idea of the support they have,” she continues. “Vince Carter and that contest are a huge reason why there’s so much support for this team. When you see someone from your own city to do something and accomplish something as he did, it gives you that spark and that fuel to fully want to represent that team.”
Carter’s power, his speed, quickness and creativity, made his dunk contest and his status as a dunker immediately infinite in 2000. A decade and a half later, Carter is still arguably the best dunker the game has ever seen, and the world is still trying to compare young talent to being the next Carter.
There have only been a few dunk contests in recent NBA history that have matched the intensity of 2000: when Jason Richardson battled Desmond Mason in 2003; a 1987 matchup with Jordan and Wilkins and Clyde Drexler; maybe even the 1991 contest when Dee Brown did the “no-look” jam against Shawn Kemp and company.
The list is endless, but the current generation’s reverence for Vince Carter is still legendary compared to what Dr. James Peterson discovered in his youth. It’s rare that a different generation could still have a large amount of respect for an athlete that came during their early childhood.
“The same way that I grew up in the Jordan era, people that grew up in the Kobe [Bryant] and Lebron [James] era have to have their own icons,” Dr. Peterson said. “When you get older, and you stay a basketball fan for more than 20 years, you will begin to appreciate the history. But each generation has a right to revere the icon of their moment. No one could tell me Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird was better than Jordan. For me, Jordan is still the greatest because he was when I came up in basketball.”
Spence concurred. But Carter’s legacy did more for basketball than what was apparent on the golden hardwoods of the Arena in Oakland 15 years prior. Each dunk was a statement. Every twirl became a staple in his legacy. And years later, people still recall the electrifying, high-flying acrobatics that Carter made seem simple.
It didn’t only put Toronto on the map. It reinvigorated the NBA. Everyone wanted to be “like Mike,” but for one February night, years ago, everyone wanted to cram like Carter.
“I remember I was watching the Dunk Contest with my dad at my house,” Spence said. “It was obviously exciting but I was a lot younger, so I didn’t have the full knowledge and full meaning behind it. But it’s not often that you get to see a player from Toronto do things like that. We don’t get a chance to see feats like that very often. Something as influential as that, it’s crazy to watch and crazy to think about it even now, 15 years later.”
Tyler R. Tynes was born and raised in North Philadelphia and currently is finishing his senior year of college at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Tynes is a contributor for Ebony.com. Between reciting killer Kendrick Lamar verses and picking his high-top fade (90’s baby effect), you can reach him on Twitter @TylerRickyTynes.