by Doobie Okon
Dwight Howard’s Superman throw-down (2008). Jason Richardson’s off-the-backboard-between-the-legs stuffing (2004). Gerald Green’s blown candle (2008). AI to Iggy — from behind the backboard (2006). Amare to Nash to Amare — off the backboard and off Steve’s head (2005).
These are only a handful of the jaw-dropping, memorable dunks we’ve seen in this decade’s span. But while many slam participants have highlighted our television screens with their prowess and creativity over the last ten years, one must look all the way back to the new millennium’s inaugural competition as the overall greatest.
Not only was the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest the most exciting of the decade and quite possibly all-time, it was also the most important. Decreased variety amongst dunkers led to dwindling popularity in the late 90’s, and the League responded by removing the dunk contest during the 1998 all-star weekend. The competition didn’t return the following season due to the lockout so 2000 proved to be a year where the NBA would need to win back its increasingly critical fans. A couple of Raptors and a Rocket helped in a big way on February 12th, 2K.
Vince Carter was not the first individual to completely dominate a dunk contest and would certainly not be the last. What’s amazing about 2000 is that Carter needed to be other-worldly because both his teammate Tracy McGrady and rookie Steve Francis turned in brilliant performances themselves. A trifecta of pure entertainment emerged that night in Oakland and as a result few dunk contests have come near its legendary status.
Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis and Jerry Stackhouse round out the field of six. All three come up WEAK in the opening round.
T-Mac’s initial dunk is the contest’s first memorable one, with a self pass from beyond the arc that Tracy catches in reverse, pumps the rock between his legs and stuffs it behind his head. Stevey Franchise proceeds to match McGrady’s score of 45 by launching a perfect pass from half-court, going sky high to get it and slamming it down all it with one hand. Impressive stuff from the 6’3” former Terrapin.
However, Vince’s first attempt proves to be so effortless that it’s probably the most underrated dunk of Carter’s night. A memorable reverse 360 from the left side that he finishes with a windmill all the way from the right. So difficult. So powerful. And Vince makes it look unbelievably simple. Perfect score for a perfect dunk.
McGrady has Carter lay a straight-up bounce pass that Tracy windmills with two hands. I actually think his first dunk was better, but the judges gave him a 49.
Francis comes out with swinging with his second attempt as he sets up another long self pass that he has to reach back to his ankles for and puts it down with authority. Perfect score. Nice dance from Jerome Williams and a phenomenal hat on Jamie Foxx.
Vince’s second dunk is basically a variation of his first, only he starts out from behind the backboard, jumps under the net only to spin out facing the rim mid-air, and oh, then finishes with another nasty windmill that looks too easy for any human. Kenny Smith robs Carter of another 50.
At this point, it is mathematically impossible for Stackhouse, Davis, and Hughes to catch the other three, but the finalists stay aggressive none-the-less. T-Mac lands a perfect score on a sweet 360 variation of his first attempt while Francis fails on a pass from fellow Rocket, Cuttino Mobley.
While some may thought Carter would play it safe here, he instead delivers one of the most stunning images of his career — this time, McGrady lays up a lateral bounce pass that Carter snatches, quickly swaps hands betwixt the legs and stuffs it home. After pointing up at the sky, Carter mouths to the camera and the country, “it’s over…it’s over…” Yeah, it’s close.
Francis begins with a nice two-handed scoop from the side of the basket, yet nothing special.
McGrady has another spectacular dunk with a self-pass beyond the arc which he two-hand windmills through the rim. Much like his teammate, T-Mac’s performance looks very easy on this night.
But if you want to truly capture Vince’s first attempt of the finals…just look at the reaction of the other NBA players. Shaq, Francis, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas, even Michael Keaton — all stunned in disbelief. While the world was waiting for another dazzling move from Carter, he instead decides to show us simply how high he can jump. What follows is a monstrous right-handed throw-down that ends with VC’s full forearm inside the rim. At first glance, it catches everyone off-guard as being extremely ordinary, but at a second, closer look, the ooohh’s and aaaaah’s from the crowd explode. Un-be-liev-able strength — that had to sting.
Vince finishes the contest with a two-handed slam from about two feet inside the foul line — probably his worst attempt of the night which is saying something. The decision is easy as Carter hoists the trophy, a fitting end to one of the NBA’s most exciting nights in recent history.
Carter would later go on to comment, “I hate to say this, but I made it all up that night….spur of the moment.” Now, imagine if he had prepared some?
Apologies to the 2008 and 2005 contests — the other great dunk competitions of the decade.
Apologies to Dwight Howard — as much as Carter dominated 2000, Superman came close in 2008. Freak of nature.
Apologies to Jason Richardson — JRich had as many memorable, creative and potent dunks as VC — over a span of three contests. The off-the-backboard-between-the-legs is one of my all-time favorites.
Apologies to Andre Iguodala — to this day, the true 2006 victor.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.