People always talk about “where were you when” moments. Sometimes they can be associated with immense positivity. Others can be intrinsically linked to tragedy. Often, these moments have a wide spread impact on on our global society, weaving themselves into our social and historical makeup. However, my “where were you when” moment is a personal one. But not personal in the sense that I was the only one that experienced it. In fact, I’m sure that plenty of people recall this moment with equal or greater fondness than I do. But on February 11, 2000 my life as a sports fan changed forever. Vince Carter won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and single-handedly converted me, and an entire nation, into basketball fans.
That night Carter unleashed a series of dunks that had never been conceived by another NBA player: the against-the-grain 360 windmill, between the legs (innovated by JR Rider as the “East Bay Funk Dunk”) but caught out of a bounce pass and the now infamous honey dip (Carter dunked the ball and hung from the rim by his elbow). The first two dunks blew the roof off of the Oakland arena, the last dunk left the entire crowd in awed silence. Carter was anointed as an NBA superstar in his first full season in the league and the Raptors had their first true centre piece. The next night Carter made his all-star debut having lead the NBA in fan voting and garnering a, then, record 1.9 million votes. His nightly dunking exhibitions (punctuated by his slam dunk contest performance) had earned him the nicknames Half-Man Half-Amazing, Vinsanity and Air Canada. At the end of the year he was selected to the All-NBA third team. Carter was a force in the league and the Raptors were a playoff contender. To me, a lifelong hockey fan, Basketball was the epitome of fast-paced, mind bending athleticism and the home town team had the best example of that in the league. I had posters on the wall, jerseys galore and Vince Carter cards stuffed in every drawer.
Over the next three seasons Carter’s time in Toronto would reach all time highs and lows. The 2000-2001 campaign saw him lead the league in all-star voting again and he made the All-NBA second team. More importantly, Toronto made the second round of the playoffs for the first (and only) time in franchise history. The final two years of Carter’s tenure would be marked by injuries, criticism and disappointing team results. By December of 2004, Carter had been traded to the New Jersey Nets amongst allegations of playing at half-speed. The Toronto sports community felt betrayed by the man they once adored. In Carter’s first game back in Toronto he was booed, loudly. People carried signs depicting Carter in a bonnet, accusing him of being a cry baby. They relentlessly booed him from warm-up to the final buzzer. In fact, it was so visceral that it has become another “where were you when” moment in my life. I was conflicted. Carter had definitely slacked in his final games with the Raptors. It hurt to see your idol play anything but his hardest. But it hurt equally as much to see (and hear) him be booed. That night, watching the game on the 20-inch TV in my room, I jeered my favourite athlete. Carter would be booed, in Toronto, in a similar fashion for the next decade.
Carter has gone onto have a Hall of Fame career but his time in Toronto stands as the best he has ever played. As age caught up with Carter he could no longer perform the gravity defying dunks that became his historical NBA calling card. He transformed himself into a reliable role player and currently sits 25th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He also ranks sixth all-time on the NBA’s 3-point field goals made list, a testament to the all around scorer he has become. Last year, the Raptors celebrated their 20th anniversary. As a member of the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, Carter was honoured with a video tribute. By the end of the video, Carter was in tears as he received a standing ovation from the crowd. The city seems to have forgiven Carter, and can now come to understand the impact he has had on basketball in Canada. Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Nick Stauskas, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Ennis are all GTA-born NBA players that have been dubbed the “Vince Carter Generation”, owing to the fact that they grew up watching and imitating Carter. Canada’s sudden boom in basketball talent can be traced all the way back to that February 11th night in 2000 when Carter awed and joined the NBA’s elite.
On February 21 I attended the Memphis Grizzlies/Toronto Raptors game. In the back of my mind I knew it could be the last time Carter played in Toronto. He is 39 years old (ancient by NBA standards) and is currently having the worst statistical season of his career. Although he didn’t start the game, Carter received a rousing ovation upon entering it. He would go on to score 16 points, the most he has scored in Toronto since 2011. For me, watching him float around the perimeter for an open shot or acquiesce to other players when he had the ball, wasn’t the same as watching the slashing, dunking Carter that I adored as a kid. Still, something felt so comfortable about watching him in the setting of the ACC. He seemed natural on the court, knowing his spots on both ends of the floor. It was almost like he was playing on his home court. As a fan of Carter, and the Raptors, for the last 16 years, it was the perfect 360 experience, much like so many of Carter’s high-flying dunks.
Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton via USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Lipson is a writer and reader that has a passion for weight lifting and pro wrestling. He is an expert couch surfer and will never turn down a slice of pepperoni pizza. If you like failed sitcoms and awkward pauses, follow him on twitter and instagram.