The NBA Needs to Honor Vince Carter at the Slam Dunk Contest

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Remembering Vince Carter’s legendary 2000 slam dunk contest efficiency, which brought the event again to life and impressed generations of gamers after him to aim physics-defying feats

A want listing of 2020 slam dunk contest members would doubtless embrace names reminiscent of Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, plus Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon for old time’s sake. There’s one identify that Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Younger would add: his teammate, Vince Carter. Though Carter, now in his document 22nd and remaining NBA season, can still get up there, he is no ageless marvel. He’s 43, to be actual, and was drafted in 1998—the same yr Younger was born. And it’s that very yr, 1998, that the NBA suspended the dunk contest after it had spent a decade on the decline. Electing not to maintain the competitors at Madison Square Backyard, the NBA’s premiere stage at the time, was a testomony to its dwindling relevance. Everyone knows the narrative from there: After the 1998-99 NBA lockout robbed fans (and the town of Philadelphia) of an All-Star Weekend in 1999, Carter—a first-time All-Star and one of the exciting gamers in the league, very similar to Young as we speak—revived All-Star Saturday Night time’s marquee event and solidified himself as a star in 2000.

What Carter did at Oakland Area 20 years ago was not only his most spectacular feat in a yr during which he additionally hurdled a 7-footer en route to a gold medal, but in addition the crowning achievement of his career. And that’s saying something. Carter isn’t merely a former dunk contest champ, he’s an eight-time All-Star who’s 19th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The 2000 slam dunk contest can be referenced when he's inevitably enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts, and it was the primary second of satisfaction for the Raptors, just some years removed from expansion-team purgatory. Carter’s performance isn’t merely part of his own hagiography, it’s NBA historical past. It was a boon for the league, a second not simply on par with Jordan and Dominique Wilkins’s legendary duel or 5-foot-7 Spud Webb defeating teammate Dominique Wilkins, however maybe one thing larger.

A scarcity of star energy and creativity effectively killed the dunk contest in the course of the 1990s. Carter, nevertheless, was an ascendant star who attacked the rim the way Basquiat did a canvas. His dunks have been bold, creative, and polarizing. He has now performed in four totally different many years, and lots of of his basic dunks remain as ingenious as we speak as they have been when he first pulled them off 20 years in the past. Even in the present day, it is the picture of Carter, elbow deep within the rim, that looms over the competitors in this millennium. Because of this—whether or not it’s with a quick video played in the United Middle earlier than the contest or perhaps a full phase as a part of TNT’s coverage—Carter deserves a formal tribute. As he bids adieu to the league he’s given his greatest for over half his life, we should always recognize him for hoisting the dunk contest from its grave and into the fashionable period.

After turning into a phenomenon through the 1980s, the dunk contest peaked within the ’90s when Isaiah “J.R.” Rider made good on his draft day promise. It was 1994, and Rider, then a rookie guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, gained the competition earlier than his house crowd in Minneapolis with the same between-the-legs dunk he used to win the NCAA dunk contest a year prior. The “East Bay Funk Dunk” can be replicated for the remainder of the last decade: Rider tried it again whereas defending his title in 1995, and it successfully gained the contest for the late Kobe Bryant in 1997 as his prom date, Brandy, cheered him on. Part of why the NBA ceased the dunk contest is because every thing had been carried out. Carter managed to raise the East Bay Funk Dunk (in the Bay, no less) with his own take on it in 2000, and that was removed from his most impressive display of the night time. But as Carter informed the digital camera immediately afterward, it was over. He owned the night time after his first dunk, a one-handed 360 windmill where he spun the incorrect means. That dramatically elevated the degree of problem, but Carter made it look straightforward.

Beyond Carter’s complete fuck you to science, his power was infectious. His bounce was just totally different, from the primary three steps he took pre-dunk, to the three hops he took after landing it. He was alive and, by extension, so was the dunk contest. In the years earlier than the contest was suspended, it had confronted a scarcity of enthusiasm. There was a singular vigor to every part Carter did that night time, and that power reverberated around Oakland Area. Carter was excited. Judges, Carter’s peers, and, principally importantly, followers have been excited. (It makes you marvel whatever occurred to Shaq and Kevin Garnett’s camcorder footage from that night time, as a result of there’s no approach the courtside commentary wasn’t superb.) His displaying was so outstanding that stellar performances by Tracy McGrady (who entered the contest begrudgingly, understanding it was futile) and Steve Francis are largely forgotten. Carter’s brilliance restored curiosity within the dunk contest amongst NBA followers and players alike.

Although Carter never returned to the competition, rising stars did. Baron Davis entered in 2001 and made the first of two All-Star teams the following yr. Francis returned in 2002, the same yr he made the first of three consecutive All-Star groups. Amar’e Stoudemire participated as a rookie in 2003, then once more in 2005, when he made his first of six All-Star groups. The competition was fittingly often known as the Sprite Rising Stars Dunk Contest by then. John Wall gained in 2014, in the future before enjoying in his first All-Star Recreation. He went up towards Paul George, who was about to play in his second consecutive All-Star Recreation. With out Carter’s star-making turn in 2000, it’s potential you wouldn’t have any of the aforementioned examples, or Dwight Howard grasping for the stars as Superman in 2008, or Blake Griffin jumping over a Kia in 2011. He made household names need to be within the dunk contest once more, which made individuals need to watch it once more. Carter’s impression on the dunk contest is monumental, notably among those that adopted in his large footsteps.

“I see all the [camera] flashes go off and I’m considering, ‘Rattling, this is what I used to observe all the time.’ And Dominique, Spud was there. Jordan. Dr. J. All of these individuals I’ve watched,” Carter told The Undefeated in 2018, recalling the moments after profitable the dunk contest. “Now I’m in the circuit doing it for the subsequent kid, the subsequent dunker.”

The current average age in the NBA is 26. The place Carter grew up idolizing Dr. J, MJ, and Wilkins for what they did within the dunk contest, at this time’s gamers grew up dissecting Carter’s every move in the identical approach. They weren’t alive when Jordan and Wilkins faced off in Chicago in ’88, however they’ve grown up in an period when Carter’s presence rightfully looms over the dunk contest. The proof is in the contest itself. Then-Raptors swingman Terrence Ross won in 2013 on a tribute to Carter, donning a reproduction of the jersey the legend wore the night time he turned a legend. Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell did the same in 2018, shedding his personal jersey in favor of a Barney-era Carter jersey before replicating Carter’s first dunk from the 2000 contest, referred to as “the Superfly,” and his mannerisms—right down to the “It’s over.” “I figured it was solely proper to pay him a tribute,” Mitchell, who referred to as Carter “one in every of [his] favorite dunkers of all time,” told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

Aaron Gordon, who went head-to-head with Zach LaVine in the perfect dunk contest in current history, picked Carter over Jordan, Erving, and Wilkins to compete against LaVine, Ross, and himself in his dream dunk contest. Hornets ahead Miles Bridges, whose energy and explosiveness are harking back to Carter at occasions, lists the 2000 dunk contest as his favorite despite his youth. “In 2000 I was solely 2 years previous, so I just watched the reruns,” he told The Undefeated earlier than competing in last yr’s contest. “That’s my favorite one because Vince Carter and T-Mac are undoubtedly in my prime 5 for gamers and I loved watching that one.” It took only a handful of dunks to make Carter a generational icon.

How do you correctly repay a savior? As a result of that’s what Vince Carter is. The dunk contest (and, to an extent, the NBA) owes him rather a lot. He made it matter once more, and that made him canon. What he did in the 2000 dunk contest is likely one of the first landmark popular culture moments of the 21st century—just contemplate how it’s been name-checked via the years in hip-hop. Grizzled Gen Xers like Onyx, millennials who caught it in real time like Bow Wow and Toronto native Drake, and Gen Zer Roddy Ricch (who, like Trae Younger and Miles Bridges, was born the yr Carter was drafted) have all made reference. So earlier than Carter receives the inevitable tribute from the Raptors in his remaining recreation in Toronto on April 10, he should get a league-sanctioned commendation at the dunk contest this weekend. If it’s not with a video, perhaps he can serve as a decide. There’s definitely precedent for a retiring legend to preside over a dunk contest: Michael Jordan, beret and all, was a judge in 2003, the yr he walked away for good.

Vince Carter ought to obtain one thing comparable, if not more official. Carter, like Jordan, is 6-foot-6, however the shadow he forged over the dunk contest is immeasurable.

Julian Kimble has written for The New York Occasions, The Washington Publish, The Undefeated, GQ, Billboard, Pitchfork, The Fader, SB Nation, and lots of extra.