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.

Comments (14)

  1. I made the mistake of going through Vince’s 2000 Dunk Contest Performance today, basically reminding me of where the bar has been set. Nothing that happens tonight will amaze me.

  2. Vince was just special. Nothing that anyone ever does will replace the bar he set.

  3. Vince was great. But the performances of Mcgrady and especially Francis where also some of the best ever – this will often be forgotten talking about this sdc…

  4. kenny smith still pisses me off whenever i see clips of this dunk contest. should have been all 50′s

  5. Sappy pedestrian dribble. You’re better than this…wait, no you’re not.

  6. I think J-Rich could compete with Vince.

  7. Seriously, we’re still talking about this? Dude, I never liked your work, but you’re showing that you’ve got nothing left in the tank. I really hope that you don’t get paid to do this and it’s more of a community service kind of thing.

  8. Don’t let the state of the Raptors influence your writing. You seem to digress with every losing season. Please, smoke something or take a vacation. Your articles are absolutely stained with your sorry ass outlook on life. I am so glad Andrea Bargnani was having the season of his life. It burns, don’t it?

  9. this still gives me chills when i watch these clips… I was a bright eyed 12 year old when I saw this back in 2000… the garbage that was last night’s SDC is disgusting…

    Let me ask these foolish follower NBA players a question… were there any gimmicks in the legendary dunk off competitions? No there weren’t. I understand your agent is telling you to use props to potentially get a promotional contract or for some stupid reason you think that is what is required to get “oohs and aahs”, but it the SDC is just turning into a messy copycat shitshow now… I’m actually bothered by this lol

    I think they need to go go back to the late 80′s tournament format and just modernize it:
    - put a frigging incentive (say $1M to the winner’s charity of choice)
    - Put some structure into it, 1 dunk with a prop + 1 dunk with assistance from a teammate
    - NBA produces a list of 40 dunkers and 5 to 7 players chosen by the fans then have first round with 2 dunks, semis with 3 dunks and finals with 2 dunks
    - get rid of the foolish NBA Shooting Stars crap no one wants to see crappy WNBA players and flabby old explayers play bump

    Rant over… goodbye

  10. Since that Dunk contest I haven’t enjoyed any of the following. What’s with all the props these days. Look at how clean all these raw dunks came in and today we see Westbrook, Wall and Rose do better stuffs in the ASG, RSC and Skill Challenge than are happening in the Dunk Contest. The creativity is just totally gone. Vince’s 1st in the 2nd round still baffles me every time I see it. Every time it’s – time out, what did he just do there? And he took the whole audience with him.

  11. Catching up on TBJ stuff here, and what jumps out at me from this?

    I here “Still Dre” playing in the arena. That came out in 2000?

    Damn. I am OLD.

    Nice post Scott.

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