A decadeplus of Vince
It is known amongst basketball junkies as le dunk de la mort or the dunk of death and it might be the most famous dunk in international basketball.
The date was Sept. 25, 2000 at the The Dome in Syndey, Australia when Team USA and Team France met in a round robin game at that year’s Olympic Summer Games. With just over 16 minutes left to go in the game’s second half, the dunk happens.
French point guard Antoine Rigadeau attempts to throw an illadvised behind-the-back outlet pass to a streaking teammate. Bounding off the floor, the ball appears destined for its intended target and possibly a French transition basket.
However, Vince Carter has other plans. At the last moment, the six-foot-six-inch shooting guard snatches the ball away with his mammoth hands and turns towards the French goal.
Taking two powerful dribbles, Carter col lects himself and explodes towards the rim. Then Frederic Weiss, France’s Eiffel Tower of a basketball player — all seven-foot-two-inch, 260 pound of him — shifts his feet as subtly as a giant can and aims to take the offensive foul.
That’s when it happens. The NBA’s reigning slam dunk competition champion rises up, hurdles Weiss (hurdles!) and jams the ball through the hoop. The bench exploded, the arena exploded and the basketball world exploded. Never before had a player jumped over a seven-footer. They’d been dunked on before but never like what happened that day.
That day, Vince and Frederic were playing the children’s game leap frog for the world to see.
It produced two very different outcomes for the two players involved. Vince became an NBA superstar while Weiss, a first round pick of the New York Knicks in the 1999 draft, was reportedly told by the Knicks not to report to the team and never played in the NBA.
The summer of 2000 was the height of Vince Carter hysteria in the NBA and Canada. Playing with the Toronto Raptors, Vince led the team to the playoffs and effectively ruined every dunk competition after his show stopping performance in February of the same year.
He was the hottest player in the NBA. Carter — half man, half amazing as he was known — had a profound effect on this young sports fan, as he did for many in this country. If you were a hardcore basketball fan, you knew the sport was great. But, Vince made the casual fan stand up and take notice.
For all intents and purposes, Vince Carter made children care about a sport played during the winter months that wasn’t hockey. He made it cool to go play basketball in the neighbourhood park or work on your dribbling in the street.
If you grew up a Canadian basketball fan in the late 90s into the early 2000s, Vince Carter was probably your favourite player.
You may have watched other players — like Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal – but Carter made you pay attention. There he was performing heart stopping 360-degree windmill dunks in a game or catching passes he shouldn’t have been able to and dunking them on defenders.
Many of today’s Canadian NBA players got into the game because of Vince Carter. They wore his No. 15 and bought those terrible looking Nike Shox because of him.
Now there was a time when Carter may have been the most hated man in Canadian sport. It was September 2004 and he had just asked for a trade from the Raptors. He got his wish later that fall when he was shipped to the New Jersey Nets for a package of players.
For a period, Carter was booed mercilessly when he returned to Toronto. But, time heals all wounds and earlier this season he received a standing ovation from fans when Memphis, his current team, played in Toronto.
Last Monday, Vince turned 37. He is in the twilight of his career but he still has that broad smile and some semblance of the leaping ability that made him an icon.
It has been 16 years since Vinsanity took hold of our psyche.
Really, it’s been time well spent.