The purest exhibition of sheer athletic talent that exists in sports, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest served as a launching pad to stardom for the likes of Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. But by the year 2000, following a string of unimaginative and unmemorable contests, the event had lost its lustre, so much so that it wasn’t even held in 1998 and ’99. Enter Vince Carter, the Toronto Raptors’ 23-year-old superstar-to-be. With an unrivalled blend of grace, power, creativity, hang-time and showmanship, Carter, a first-time all-star, had been lifting fans out of their seats with his dunks since he debuted in the NBA the previous season. Fans and media alike called him the greatest in-game dunker since Jordan, bestowing upon him the heavy nicknames “Air Apparent” and “Air Canada” for his feats above the rim.
So you can imagine that expectations were high when Carter entered his name in the 2000 dunk contest. Though he was joined by his cousin and fellow Raptor, Tracy McGrady, as well as Steve Francis, Ricky Davis, Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes, it was Carter’s name on the marquee. No contestant had more to lose than Vince. If he didn’t win against that field, he’d fail to live up to the hype. And if he won, well, wasn’t that the whole point of this thing anyway?
What nobody could have known was that the three finalists would combine to put on arguably the greatest showing of all time, and that Carter’s performance would go down as the gold standard in contest dunking, just as jaw-dropping 15 years later as it was on that Saturday night in Oakland.
Check out the latest issue of Sportsnet magazine for the complete oral history of Vince Carter at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest.
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