A decade­plus of Vince

The Compass - - SPORTS - Ni­cholas Mercer

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.

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