Blame (Air) Canada.
The story begins back in 1998, when the league scrapped the Slam Dunk Contest due to a lack of interest. The following year, a 204-day lockout resulted in the cancellation of the annual All-Star festivities, robbing us of a chance to witness one of the more exciting events on the NBA calendar.
But at NBA All-Star Weekend 2000, two days before Valentine's Day, Vince Carter made us fall in love with the Slam Dunk Contest all over again.
In a performance widely regarded as one of the greatest ever, Carter regaled basketball fans with a dazzling display of dunks that many of us had never seen before.
His opening dunk—a ridiculous 360 windmill flush—was just a harbinger of things to come. Soon after that came a modified version of J.R. Rider's memorable "East Bay Funk Dunk" with some assistance by his then-teammate (and cousin) Tracy McGrady.
And then there was the "honey dip"—a feat so amazing that it took a few seconds for those watching to actually process what they had just seen.
(It should be noted that as impressive as those dunks were, none of them are even close to what he would do later that same calendar year.)
Shortly after his final dunk in the first round, the former Toronto Raptors swingman waved his hands in front of his chest in the classic "it's over" motion. None of us had any idea at the time that he was also signaling an end to the Slam Dunk Contest as we knew it.
Long before there was "Linsanity", there was "Vinsanity." And long before his aerial display in a building now known as the Oracle Arena, Carter had a reputation for SportsCenter-quality dunks that dated back to his time at the University of North Carolina.
Of course, any 6'6", 220-pound, uber-athletic basketball player who attended college in Chapel Hill, N.C. will inevitably be linked to Michael Jordan.
Just ask Jerry Stackhouse.
While Carter would never live up to those lofty expectations (through little fault of his own), his eight All-Star nods highlight a very impressive resume.
His Hall of Fame credentials can—and will—be debated for years. What can't be questioned is that for one February evening, Vince Carter restored glory to a competition that was once the crown jewel of All-Star Weekend.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Carter's victory changed the game forever. Every dunk that was done in successive years paled in comparison to what we saw that night from the man known as "Half-Man, Half-Amazing."
These days, the Slam Dunk contest is just a shell of its former self, a far cry from the epic battles of the late 1980s. Carter set the bar so ridiculously high that recent competitors have resorted to all kinds of props and skits in an effort to impress the judges.
Yesterday, Paul George wore a glow-in-the-dark jersey, while Chase Budinger embraced his inner Billy Hoyle in a nod to the movie White Men Can't Jump. A year ago, Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia Optima while being flanked by a gospel choir. Yet despite these theatrics, there is so much apathy surrounding the dunk contest that many are suggesting that the NBA eliminate it altogether.
Twelve years ago, there wasn't the need for any gimmicks. On February 12, 2000, there was just a man, a ball and a blatant disregard for the laws of gravity.
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