How can you not love Vince Carter? At age 40, he’s not only a productive member of a playoff-bound Grizzlies team; he’s still capable of gravity-defying feats, like this stunning 360 layup he pulled off against the Raptors last month, not to mention an equally-impressive pair of blocks on a single defensive possession against the Spurs just a week later.
He’s not quite as springy as he once was, but his legacy as the greatest dunker in NBA history will remain intact for a very long time, and big part of that was his ground-breaking performance at the 2000 Dunk Contest.
Today, in anticipation of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, we take a look back at that performance and attempt to rank each dunk in order from great to greatest.
5. The Reverse Windmill From Under The Basket
The reason this dunk gets ranked last is because it’s basically a scaled-down version of the dunk he did to kick off the contest. It’s a windmill going in the opposite direction, although it’s more of a 180 than a 360. It’s difficult to understand why he followed up his opening dunk with such a strikingly-similar one, except maybe just to prove that that first one wasn’t just a fluke. Carter got a 49 for this, as TNT’s Kenny Smith was the lone judge who didn’t award him a perfect score. In hindsight, he was justified in that assessment, as Carter had set the bar so incredibly high with his initial dunk.
4. The Two-Hand Jam From A Foot Inside The Free-Throw Line
NBA fans up to this point had seen plenty of dunks from the free-throw line, as Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, Brent Barry, and others had showcased their long-distance leaping ability on several previous occasions. But one thing they’d never seen is a two-handed dunk from the charity stripe. If anyone was capable of pulling it off, it was definitely Vince Carter, but alas, he couldn’t get enough lift to make it happen and ended taking off from a full foot or two inside the line. Still, it’s an impressive dunk, but it didn’t quite live up to the expectations.
3. The East Bay Off The Bounce From T-Mac
This was the most difficult decision in this ranking, by far. I’m a sucker for all variations of the East Bay Funk Dunk, and Carter made it even that much better when he put the punctuation mark on it with two iconic poses: the pointing toward the heavens and the berth of Kenny Smith’s classic dunk contest mantra, “It’s Over!” We’d seen between-the-legs dunks before, but to my knowledge, we’d never seen one executed off the bounce or off an alley-oop. He gets minor points (as in a fraction of a point) deducted for not getting it on the first attempt, which was mostly McGrady’s fault for giving him a bad bounce. Still, every other dunk was executed perfectly on the first attempt.
2. The One Where He Sticks His Whole Damn Arm Through The Rim
The reason this one gets the nod over the previous jam is that we’d truly never seen anything like it before. In fact, it was so bewildering that no one watching could tell exactly what he’d done until the replay. There’s a recurring line in the HBO series Westworld when the robot cowgirl from the 19th century is presented with a photograph from the future: “it doesn’t look like anything to me.” The point is that her brain is unable to process something that is so far beyond her imagination and realm of understanding and capacity for language.
That’s what this Vince Carter dunk was like for everyone watching. What the replay revealed was a feat of strength and athleticism that was almost too much to comprehend. The broadcasters couldn’t do much more than just laugh at the sheer absurdity of it, while the cameras panned around to the stunned and incredulous expressions on the faces of Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Francis, and Jason Kidd.
1. The 360 Windmill Going Against The Grain
There was so much hype surrounding Vince Carter going into this event, that it seemed impossible he would live up to it. I still vividly remember watching this live, and even on TV, you could feel the electricity inside the building as Carter casually took the court and cued up his first dunk of the contest. He gave it a brief walk-through first, jogged back to halfcourt, then proceeded to throw down what – at least in my humble estimation – is the greatest dunk in dunk contest history.
Everything about it is just pure perfection. We’ve certainly seen dunks with greater degrees of difficulty, but few, if any, can even come close to its aesthetic glory. Carter claimed at the time that he’d only done the dunk two or three times before but could tell immediately that it was going to be something special when he came out of the spin and found himself staring directly at the rim before hammering it home.
Once again, it elicited some of the best crowd reactions we’ve ever seen: Shaq’s wild-eyed amazement while clutching his handicam, Dikembe Mutombo’s right hand raised in hallelujah, C-Webb’s outburst of ecstatic joy.
Other players have tried to replicate it since. Paul George did it in the dunk contest a few years back with the arena lights turned off and, astonishingly enough, he finished off a fast break with it during an actual regular-season game. But no one will ever be able to adequately recreate the majesty of Vince Carter’s most iconic jam.