You had to know somebody was going to claim this one. As the resident Raptors fan up in here, I figured it might as well be me.
Canadian sports fans are unlikely to admit it, but I think that many of us have an inferiority complex in terms of how their favorite teams and players are perceived by American sports fans and media. We don’t just want you to notice our stars, we want you to praise them. Nay, we want you to covet them. Long-suffering Raptors fans have mostly been unable to swell our chests with pride over a Toronto player who Americans universally acknowledged as a star — except for the two-year period from 2000 to 2002 when Vince Carter was the most popular player in the NBA.
While there are many ways to define NBA player popularity among fans, I’m sure we can agree that All-Star Game voting is a pretty good metric. For three straight All-Star Games from 2000 to 2002, Vince garnered more votes than any other player. For Canadian fans who, in some cases, suspected that most Americans thought we lived in igloos — I choose to believe that most Americans are better-educated about us now, thanks to the Internet, Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber — this was a massively important message of validation. We matter, damn it! Nevermind that Vince was from Florida and went to school in North Carolina. He belonged to us!
If any Raptors fans thought that Vince’s popularity was entirely based on his prodigious skill as a basketball player, they were mistaken. Vince Carter was the king of the NBA over that period because he could dunk like a motherfucker, and this fact was confirmed with great conviction in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Going into the contest, anybody who was familiar with Vince’s capabilities knew that his victory was a foregone conclusion. This was one dunk contest we watched not to find out who would win, but to observe a man who was seemingly put on this planet to propel a sphere through a hoop with ridiculous ease and furious vengeance.
I refuse to believe that anybody reading this blog hasn’t seen his 2000 dunk contest performance before. If you didn’t experience it live, you’ve surely admired it multiple times on YouTube. His combination of grace, power and swagger was awe-inspiring not just to millions of fans but to the players who witnessed it at The Arena in Oakland. The sheer giddiness on Shaq’s face after Vince’s first dunk expressed what we were all thinking: “Oh my god! This guy is unreal!” The crowd reaction to that dunk is best described as “bedlam”.
After a comparatively unremarkable (by his standards) second dunk that “only” earned a 49 out of 50 score from the judges after the perfect 50 he scored on the first dunk, Vince improbably outdid himself on his third slam with a variation of Isaiah Rider’s “East Bay Funk Dunk” that was executed off a bounce pass from teammate Tracy McGrady. If his first dunk sent the crowd to the brink of insanity, he pushed them well over the edge with this truly awesome display.
My favorite part of Vince’s first dunk in the final round isn’t the dunk itself — he merely hung off the rim by the crook of his elbow, no biggie — it’s the dumbfounded reactions of Steve Francis and Michael Keaton. They simply can’t believe what they just saw.
In comparison, Vince’s final dunk was anticlimactic, but it was designed to clinch the contest and it certainly didn’t diminish the impressiveness of the slams that preceded it. None of the 11 NBA Slam Dunk Contests that have taken place since then have come close to matching its impact, and that performance has proved to be problematic for the NBA in the way that the contest now seems irrelevant. That year’s contest was must-watch TV for basketball fans. This year’s event? We’ll tune in if we don’t have something better to do — I bet many of you will just PVR it and watch it later on the off-chance something unexpectedly spectacular happens.
For some Raptors fans, watching these videos is a bittersweet experience because Vince never delivered the glory to our team that this performance suggested was forthcoming. I got over those feelings a long time ago. It’s a real bummer to be a Raptors fan these days, but I can smile as I write this in reminiscence of the only time Raptors fans were the envy of every NBA fanbase. If you think people like me need to “get over Vince”, then I suggest you watch the videos again.