Or, The Greatest Moment in Canadian Sports History.
There is nothing greater in sports than utter, complete, mouth-wide-open-with-saliva-slow-dripping-down disbelief.
Especially when it’s followed by:
“Fuck me. I’m hard.”
That’s why no moment is more important in Canadian sports history than the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest.
* * *
In the late 90s, Toronto was rapidly becoming the world’s most multicultural city, but for the millions of immigrants stepping foot on Canadian soil, hockey was and would never be truly ours. Most of us hadn’t seen ice in our lifetimes. So, how were we meant to relate to a group of padded white men slapping a puck around with a stick?
Especially when you’re a unibrow-owning, mushroom-cut rocking ten-year-old Persian boy who hadn’t seen snow except for in Christmas books?
When the NBA gave Toronto an NBA franchise, you bet your Tim Horton’s Vanilla Dip donut that was something we could get behind. Jurassic Park marketing gimmick aside, the Raptors were a team we proudly called ours. After years of constant losing, the city was begging for something to root for, anything, to give us some basketball relevance and pride.
Enter Vince ‘Half Man Half Amazing’ Carter.
On the evening of February 13th, 2000, an entire nation of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, various skin-coloured Canadians gathered in front of the television and watched an American change Canadian sports history forever with five dunks.
This is the rough oral history of seven of those Canadians.
* * *
(see all of VC’s dunks here)
* * *
In Oakville, Ontario, seven 16 year-old teenage boys with baggy jeans and bad skin had piled together in a basement to watch the 2000 NBA All-Star Dunk Contest. Pizza Pizza boxes lay everywhere, an absurd amount of garlic dipping sauce canisters scattered around. Any remaining space is filled with sour candy and Jolt Cola cans.
Between bites, James speaks up.
Russell: Think Carter is going to win?
Omid: No contest.
Amac: I don’t know. T-Mac is a dark horse. He can pull this off.
A pizza crust hit Amac’s face.
Steve: You can pull on this D. Actually, bet you $20 Carter takes it.
Mooney: We should’ve gotten more pizza.
JDub: So what’s happening here? They just dunk? Is it like HORSE?
Omid: No. The best dunker wins basically. Now shut up, it’s starting.
* * *
DUNK #1 AKA “LET’S GO HOME LADIES AND GENTLEMEN”
Vince Carter opened the contest up with a dunk that had never been seen before. A 360 windmill,that goes against the grain, from left to right. His jump is so explosive yet so fluid, it’s as if he’s on a trampoline. Kevin Garnett, Dikembe Mutombo and Shaq’s eyes bug out.
Half the boys leap up, holding each other back, while the other half sit quietly.
Duke: That wasn’t that impressive.
Omid: HE JUST REVERSED 360!
Russell: Holy shit he did eh?!
Duke: Wasn’t that impressive.
They watched the first replay.
Omid: HE WENT LEFT TO RIGHT. HOW IS THAT NOT IMPRESSIVE?
Duke: Why are you yelling?
Amac: That’s insane. He just jumped 36 inches.
JDub: This is pretty cool.
Steve: Can we react like KG and Shaq from now on?
Mooney: Yes. Yes we can.
* * *
DUNK #2 AKA “THEY’RE IN AWE”
Carter starts from behind the basket. He takes a step, gathers himself still under the hoop, rises and twists to send home a windmill. He lets out a massive roar, as if to remind people that while he might be human, he’s a goddamn beast when it comes to this.
Dumbfounded, Russell just laughs. Actually, it’s more of a giggle, as if a schoolboy had just walked by Shania Twain.
Mooney: He’s putting on a show. You’re welcome America.
Omid: T DOT STAND UP!
Steve: We forgot to react like KG
Russell: Shit we did eh?
Amac: It’s pretty sweet that even we’re impressed, and we see every one of his games.
Steve: Imagine being there. It’d be like seeing Jesus for the first time.
Omid: Wait… what?
Duke: Do we have any donuts left?
JDub: Bro, why haven’t you left? Go watch the Leafs never win the Stanley Cup.
Omid: True. By the way, Kenny Smith is chate for giving that a 9.
Mooney: Mad chate.
Russell: Man… I’d give my left nut to do that dunk in a game.
Steve: So you’d first give your right nut to not be white then?
* * *
DUNK #3 AKA “IT’S OVAH”
Tracy McGrady bounces the ball off the floor. Carter catches it in mid-air with his left hand, puts it through his legs and slams it home with right. The crowd reacts like no other dunk contest crowd before it, going absolutely berserk. The boys jump around like monkeys. From the couch, to the table, to the roof – there’s a communal losing of the shit. Carter makes the now iconic motion with his hands while mouthing “It’s Over” as if he just did a Mortal Kombat fatality.
Omid (yelling): HOLY FUCKING SHIT. HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
Russell’s Mom (from upstairs): HEY! WATCH YOUR MOUTH YOUNG BOY!
Omid: SORRY MRS.R!
Omid (whispering): … holy fucking shit …
Russell: That’s CRAZY.
Steve: That’s the greatest dunk contest dunk of all-time.
Russell: Better than Dr.J’s?
Russell: Better than Jordan’s?
Omid: Son, he just did an alley-oop version of Isaiah Rider’s dunk.
Amac: The East Bay Funk Dunk right?
Duke: Who’s Isaiah Rider?
Amac: You’re the worst.
Jon: That’s pretty crazy. Can anyone at school do that dunk?
Duke: No. I think Alonso is the only kid in school who can barely dunk.
Jon: Bet I could get close.
Omid: Bro, you can’t even touch the bottom of the net. Pass the Pepperoni.
* * *
DUNK #4 AKA “HAVE WE EVER SEEN THAT BEFORE?”
Carter starts by curiously rubbing his arm. He runs up, takes off, and dunks the ball. But he keeps going, sticking his entire right arm through the rim, and hanging there long enough for the photographers to capture the iconic, bombastic moment.
Omid: Wait, what?
Mooney (laughing): Look at Shaq’s dumb face!
Russell: Just watch the replay.
The replay is shown and the light bulb goes off in the crowd, realizing what they just had witnessed.
Amac (laughing): He put his arm through the rim.
Russell: I didn’t even know that was possible…
Duke: Ok that’s pretty cool.
Steve: Fuck me. I’m hard.
* * *
In fact, there is no need to even discuss the fifth dunk. At that point, like Kenny Smith said, it was over. An entire generation of ballers was born. Forget Gretzky, we wanted to be like VC.
That night, front yard lights were turned on and kids spilled out to their driveway to try their best at recreating the dunks. And we can assume the latest generation of Canadian NBA players in Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Cory Joseph, and Tristan Thompson did.
We sure did. And not one of us even came close. But that didn’t stop us from trying to recreate that dunk contest over and over, bellies full of pizza and minds full of imagination.
Omid Amidi is a writer and ad twonk. He is a contributor at New Albion.