“Where were you when…” moments only come around so often in a lifetime.
Rare as they may be, you’ll instantly know one when you’re living though it.
The evening of Feb. 12, 2000, is one such moment, when Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter veritably blew the roof off of Oakland Arena with, perhaps, the most spectacular NBA Slam Dunk Contest performance of all time.
For Glen Grunwald, the Raptors’ GM at the time, the answer to the “Where were you when…?” question is even easier than it is for the rest of us. He was in Oakland to watch the contest unfold live. And, as he recalls, the unforgettable trip started with a quick trip for Big Macs.
“I was in the arena with my oldest son, Gabe, who was seven years old,” Grunwald, the current president and CEO of Canada Basketball, said over the phone. “We flew out to San Francisco with Vince and Tracy [McGrady] on Larry Tanenbaum’s private jet, and I remember the flight was delayed while Vince and Tracy stopped at McDonald’s, which I couldn’t believe because Larry had great food on his plane, but it shows how young they were.”
Cousins McGrady and Carter — then 22 and 23, respectively — both represented Toronto in that 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. Also included in the six-man field were Ricky Davis, Steve Francis, Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse.
By most measures, each of the participants put on a great show with McGrady pulling off Dominique Wilkins-esque two-handed windmills, Francis channelling Spud Webb with a series of awesome-looking self lobs and Stackhouse busting out a nice 360.
But all of that was overshadowed by Carter, the man the crowd wanted to see, to paraphrase what TNT broadcaster Marv Albert said upon introducing the Raptors forward before his first jam.
“I couldn’t believe the electricity because when I went there I was like, ‘If I never see another dunk contest again in my lifetime I would be fine,’” said Grunwald. “But it was an unbelievable experience. The arena was electric. It was loud and raucous and everyone was excited.”
Look up the word “showstopper” in the dictionary, and Carter’s dunk contest performance in 2000 just might be one of the definitions listed.
He was doing stuff never seen before, including the bounce-lob, through-the-legs masterpiece that famously made TNT’s Kenny Smith, who was judging the contest as well as broadcasting it, scream out to the world, “It’s over!”
While Carter had already developed quite a following prior to the event, his performance put him into another echelon of NBA star.
“That really blew up there,” Grunwald said. “He really caught the attention of the entire basketball world.”
So impactful was Carter’s dunk-contest showing that Grunwald believes it had a tangible influence on the growth of the Raptors and basketball in Canada going forward.
“It really gave us great exposure across North America, including the United States,” said the former Raptors GM. “As you know, broadcasters in the United States don’t get credit for ratings up in Canada even though they might be outstanding. So they lose the home team’s ratings benefit when they telecast the games from Toronto or other places in Canada.
“So that always was a bit of a damper in terms of the number of appearances we got on national T.V. in the United States. But after [the dunk contest], it didn’t matter because people around the world wanted to see Vince play. So we wound up playing on U.S. national T.V. as much as we possibly could.”
The spotlight the Raptors got by being put onto U.S. national television more often also helped Grunwald with his job at the time in terms of attracting and retaining star talent.
“Historically we had had troubles getting players to come to Canada because it was another country and all that,” Grunwald said. “So I think it provided the opportunity for players to get the exposure for their own personal brand building, and it showed that playing in Toronto is a great thing and that we had great crowds, a very good team and a good organization.”
And this all came about after Carter and McGrady stopped at the Golden Arches before departing for Oakland. Who knows? Maybe Carter got inspiration for his franchise-altering slams when he was dunking McNuggets into sweet and sour sauce.