Vince Carter is the Essential YouTube Sports Library. He’s the undisputed king of dunking past and present—until Blake Griffin takes the crown from his head in February.
The Essential YouTube Sports Library is our guide to all the must-see sports clips pulled from the Web’s video wilderness. But there’s more to this than just a handful of dunks, crazy catches, or gruesome injuries. We’ll try to draw out the larger importance of each video and find the sporting truths to be mined from all the Lady Gaga–saturated highlight reels. That, or we’re just trying to rationalize spending so much time looking at cool videos.
Half Man, Half Amazing never really wanted to see how high and how far his talent could take him. In the air? Sure. But in terms of his career? Not so much. No one in recent sports history is more famous for his “Wow!” moments and equally less equipped to be a vital member of a winning team than Vince.
But maybe Vince’s athletic mastery and grace are ends in themselves. Outside of the dunk contest, these feats don’t happen inside the so-called “Theatre of Heroism.” Without that distinct sense of moment—a Game 7, the fourth quarter, overtime—they matter to us, to the fan, far less innately than how they directly affect the game’s outcome.
It’s not the fan’s right to tell an athlete how to live his life, organize his priorities, or do his job. We can’t expect him to accept the idea that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” At the same time, it is the fan’s right to decide what virtues he wants to see in his athletes—competitiveness, confidence, leadership, maybe even sportsmanship. And it’s his right to stop being a fan if complacency, fear of the moment, petulance, or selfishness shows up in their place.
Whether any of this matters to Vince, we can only guess. Like when he flew from Philadelphia to North Carolina and back again on the morning of the biggest game of his life, so he could walk at his graduation. Whether or not the UNC trip actually affected his game is irrelevant—he missed the game-winner and has wilted in the clutch too many times since. The fact that he took the trip in the first place is not. It’s a perceived lack of effort, an apparent unwillingness to actually fulfill all that potential we imagined for him.
And that’s where Vince has and will always fall short. His dunks are All-Galaxy, but does it really matter that he banged on Zo, Deke, Greg Ostertag, and “Big Country” Bryant Reeves in back-to-back-to-back-to-back games in February of ’02? Not unless you remove them from their context—which is why the “100 Dunks of Vince Carter” is essential viewing. Other than the ball and the basket, the dunk-contest dunks are divorced from basketball’s true, competitive form. It’s closer to, as the WWE would say, dramatic “sports entertainment.”
Vince’s only moment of consequential isolated transcendence—and with Vince, all of them are isolated—happened in the Olympics (9:00 in the video), sport’s supposed world stage. It’s Vince’s only in-game dunk that wasn’t just “another Vince Carter dunk” a few days later.
Carter jumps over Frédéric Weis, a 7-foot-2 Frenchman, in a monstrous display of athletic ferocity, ending Weis’ NBA career before it even started. And it happened spontaneously, in the moment, off an interception in the backcourt. Really, it’s fitting that it happened in the Olympics—an overblown competition with no more than some pseudo-importance.
Will we remember Vince Carter for anything other than his dunks and unfulfilled potential? In 25 years, when some precocious young version of me types “Best Dunks Ever” into the YouTube app on his iPad-enabled contact lenses, will he be able to tell the historical difference between Vinsanity and James “Flight” White if a hoarse, gray-haired Stephen A. Smith isn’t walking him through it? Will there even be a difference?
I think we’re already at that point. Vince Carter’s dunks are more valuable—separated from their context, strung together over a Kanye West instrumental and the theme to the Bourne Identity movies—than they ever were, anywhere else.