Decade’s Best: Dunk

by Brad Graham

While every list is subjective and every argument has value, there is one discussion, the conversation involving the greatest dunk of the decade (which doubles as the best ever) that finds itself with a definitive answer.

The Dunk of the Decade started its difficult, Frodo Baggins like journey back on September 23, 1993, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the Games of the XXVII Olympiad to the city of Sydney (ahead of Beijing, Berlin, Istanbul and Manchester, respectively).

This IOC’s decision triggered a series of events that would ultimately lead to basketball’s greatest individual highlight as well as a little international shaming, a quasi bizzaro character / anti-heroics from a famed NBA star and a new age of performance sneakers. This all happened of course unbeknownst to the talented 16 year old sophomore named Vincent Lamar Carter from Mainland High School, Daytona Beach, Florida, who was just 16 years old at the time.

Soon after September 23, ‘93, The Dunk began its difficult walk, carried by Carter’s pogo legs from Daytona Beach, Florida, north a couple of states to safer and greener pastures (the University of North Carolina) where it would rest for three years before being called up to scale a larger, more chaotic and tumultuous landscape (the NBA).

While the 6-6 swingman attending classes (and was being prepped for the NBA draft), there was plenty happening across the Pacific (and down a bit), on the other side of the globe, where ground was broken on the official Sydney 2000 Olympic site 10 miles west of Sydney’s CBD.

While Vince went about his basketball life, National Teams were being assembled and sculpted for battle; Olympic ticketing ballots were issued (this blogger landed tickets to two double headers, both of which included Team USA games); and the 10,000 seat makeshift basketball arena known simply as the “The Dome” (designed to be used for the Tournaments preliminary rounds) was on its way to becoming Carter’s other house of highlights. The wheels were well and truly in motion.

Finding its way home was no easy task. Any number of hurdles could have prevented The Dunk from realizing its destiny. Looking back, Team USA selections were made under a cloud of controversy with certain NBA stars (who shall remain nameless) electing not to participate. In their place, Grant Hill, Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning became late additions, filling Team USA’s final three roster spots. The now famous 12-member Fellowship, led by then Houston Rockets Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, snapped together like Lego bricks (but this set contained more than a few missing pieces… that’s another story).

This Fellowship united under the Stars and Stripes in August, 2000 for their training camp; were issued passports; flew 20 plus hours to some giant island in the South Pacific; landed in Hugh Jackman country (aka Australia); cleared customs; competed in a series of Rugby style exhibition games; checked into the Crowne Plaza; ran through their sets at training and prepared for the spotlight of Olympic competition.

Note: Carter managed to sneak The Dunk into his team issued backpack before hiding it in his newly grown mini ‘fro. This allowed him to slip it by team officials and IOC delegates at every checkpoint.

Then Monday, September 25th, 2000, hit. What started out as a seemingly ordinary Sydney afternoon quickly became the Olympic afternoon to remember. It was here, Day 11 of competition when The Dunk would find its way home and Carter’s journey into the bowels of Mordor (or possibly towards the Dark side, if you don’t mixing metaphors) was complete.

It was here that the aerial exploits of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Shawn Kemp, Harold Miner, Julius Erving, David Thompson, Clyde Drexler and every other notable high flyer was realized. It was on this afternoon, where National pride comes complete with endorsement, against an unsuspecting French National Team that Vince Carter did what only the sporting Gods can – he found a new ceiling in an age when everybody believed they’d seen it all before.

Basketball chatter before the 2000 Games revolved around VC. He was the talk of the town, my town. He was the single reason so many joined the Olympic ticketing ballot. He was the reason so many basketball fans flew in from all over the country… simply put, he was Mick Jagger to Team USA’s Rolling Stones.

What’s seldom realized is that up until the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia’s starving NBA fan base had little in the way of top shelf hoops. While domestic pro hoop production was sufficient, via the National Basketball League (NBL), your average junkie’s desire to see NBA quality athletes was only afforded in the shape of an occasional NBA Jam Session (which attracted headliners Scott Brooks, Greg Anthony, BJ Armstrong and later Jason Kidd) and even then one could hardly call these showings a riveting representation of NBA play. All that changed on that one September afternoon, none complained again, ever.

Being in that building, hearing the roar of the 10,000 strong crowd, trying to make sense of what just happened; being there as every head ignored the game to watch the jumbotron hoping to witness a replay of the highlight; being a part of the collective gasp, ouchs and amahs that followed; fumbling for your brick sized mobile phone so you can call your buddy to splaff on about what you’ve both just witnessed; disregarding 12 years of expensive Catholic School education as you repeatedly say “Oh my f**king God, can you believe that,” while desperately trying to think of a better way to articulate your thoughts about one of the greatest moments in basketball but can’t; all that and more is the reason that this dunk, The Dunk, tops the list.

It’s long been this blogger’s believe that The Dunk, is Carter’s gift to basketball. Every rim rattler he put down at UNC; every NBA show stopper; every High School, pre-season, Summer League and All Star cram was simply part of the lay up line that was slowly building up to this one miraculous moment.

The old VHS tape of NBA Super Slams Vol. 2 says it best “The Dunk is basketball’s purest shot, it’s the games most direct form of self expression”. Vince Carter personified this with one amazing Neil Armstrong style leap.

This dunk redefined the move that defines basketball.

If the usually reliable Gary Payton had completed an easy lay-up; if that rushed outlet pass had of been held back and not picked off by Carter; if poor Frédéric Weis had already begun his movement down the timber, if… if… if… none of this would have happened.

Unlike the ’92 US Olympic “Dream Team” who’s highlight package is memorable but not mesmerizing, the 2000 edition of the Senior Men’s Team came through on the Olympic Games’ ethos, delivering the greatest showing on the planets biggest stage. Not only was basketball history encapsulated but so was the plight of the Olympic moment.

What’s funny is no one remembers that Carter was just one of the 10,651 athletes in attendance. Or that his dunk, The Dunk, was just two of Team USA’s 505 tournament points. Or that his showing only helped secure one of the United State’s 36 gold medals. Or that Vin Baker was on the team and in the game. Or that it was VC’s teammate, Antonio McDyess, who ensured the 12-point Team USA win, 106-94, with his 20 points and 11 rebounds. No one bothers to talk about VC finishing with the third highest scoring average for the Games, or the fact that he led Team USA with 14.8 points per. None of that matters because it all lives in the shadow of Carter’s leap frogging brilliance. Jason Kidd would later told reporters that it was “One of the best plays I’ve ever seen.” Agreed.

Fittingly, no one remembers the awkward conversation the 7-2 Freddy Weis had to have with his family following the game (maybe that’s for the best), in fact, all anyone recalls is how Vince Carter collected his dunking PhD, spat in the face of physics and disobeying the laws of gravity… and for good reason.

The Dunk, elevated him to a class reserved for Michael Jackson’s Moonwalking; Tiger Woods’ tee shot; Morgan Freeman’s voice overs; Chris Rock’s stand-up; Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting; and Aretha Franklin’s singing.

Every sport, at one point or another, witnesses an apex, a showing without human boundaries, in basketball that play, thanks to The Dunk belongs to Vince Carter. There’s a reason why the French media dubbed Carter’s poster on Weis “Le Dunk De La Mort” (The Dunk of Death).


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.