It’s impossible to mention the Slam Dunk Contest and not have the face of one man conjured up like its high-flying, gravity defying genie. Vince Carter solidified his place in the NBA and in the Contest’s history with his 2000 performance. It would become something of a double-edged sword, with Carter swearing off for a time the very thing that made him so mesmerizing for so many to watch. Before he retired, Carter returned to dunking and his legacy is traceable in pretty much every Dunk Contest entry since, as well as on the floor in real-time bounce.
As part of this year’s NBA All-Star weekend, Carter teamed up with Paul George and AT&T. The two were scanned using 3D technology to be put into a custom-built video game that fans can play online and in person over the weekend as AR avatars.
Dime caught up with Carter over the phone to talk about the collaboration, his stance on the Dunk Contest’s past and present, making peace with his part in the history of the dunk itself, the surprising takeaways from his post-playing career as an analyst for ESPN, and that 2014 return to Toronto, when he finally got a standing ovation.
Well first, I want to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day.
Thanks, same to you.
What was it about AT&T’s Playmaker AR Arcade game that appealed most to you?
Well first of all, I’ll say this, I’ve been a longtime customer with AT&T, so it was a no-brainer for me. As a kid, growing up, playing video games, and then as a professional having the chance to be in a video game — it’s just a great opportunity.
I saw some of the behind the scenes footage you and Paul George did for your avatars, can you tell me a bit about that process?
It was a pretty cool process. I didn’t know what to expect walking into it. For me, personally, I hadn’t been in a uniform, in jersey for a really long time. And to put the Raptors jersey back on and understanding what this avatar’s going to be for, and the big picture. Like I said, pretty cool situation, particularly now being retired away from the game a couple years and getting to relive some fun moments and be a part of something like that with a guy like Paul George — who’s playing well, is an All-Star, and very in right now.
It would be impossible not to talk to you about dunks and with this project, the All-Star game, so, I don’t know if you clocked it, but this is the first Valentine’s that hasn’t fallen on All-Star weekend in a while. Little bit of backstory — my husband and I have watched the Dunk Contest together for Valentine’s since we met, we also have matching Dunk Contest tattoos.
It’s a dumb tradition, but it’s ours. But I mention the tradition, because I started to think about the tradition of dunks. The first dunk in the 1930s, to the move being banned by the NCAA, to Dr. J and Kareem popularizing it in-game, the first dunk contests and then of course yours in 2000, which I think captivated so many people, including myself. Dunks themselves take on elements of past dunks as callbacks, or put twists on classics — and now, you are such an undeniable part of that tradition forever, and I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
I’m thankful for it. I’m one with it now. At one point it was, I don’t want to say uncomfortable, but it was just like, no way. You’re talking about history. When you talk about situations or moments for those who are around can relive, or talk about all-time leading scorer, people can think back to where they were when Kareem broke the record, and now people will think back to where they were or what they were doing when LeBron broke the record. So, now when you talk about dunks and your name is thrown around with the elite, a lot of people say the best — I leave it up to them for debate — but that’s a great feeling.
For me, particularly because being a part of the Dunk Contest, being in the NBA, was it. That’s the goal of every player who’s there. But while doing so, I also wanted to be a part of the Dunk Contest. That’s something I used to watch, I used to tape it, I used to study it. I used to try and figure out why guys are doing particular dunks, what are they trying to get out of it? Then I got my opportunity. So, I wanted to make the best of my opportunity. I felt like I was prepared for it. And I wanted people just to see how crazy my imagination was outside my athleticism. My imagination heightened my athleticism, if that makes sense. You have the god-given athleticism, but you allow your imagination to flow with that, you can take it to another level and I was able to do it that night.
It makes perfect sense. Cause correct me if I’m wrong, you had some ideas and then you just decided to go from, basically scratch as soon as you got to that Contest, did you not?
Yeah. Which is a scary thing if you think about. Because if this doesn’t work out, [laughing] we’re not having this conversation about it.
Absolutely true. On a less serious note, I was curious if you sit in any firm camp when it comes to the Dunk Contest? You know, there are people who are strictly no props, people who love the props, people who think it should be one attempt only, people who think the format should change. Where do you fall?
I’m more of the old school mindset. I thought the gimmicks and stuff watered it down a little bit. The one thing I did not like, and I’m glad they got rid of it immediately, was the wheel. Because I feel like a Dunk Contest is for people to go out there and show what they can do, and not what other people feel like they can do. And what I mean by that is when you talk about a wheel, guys get exposed. You’re talking about a two foot jumper, a guy who’s great at jumping off of two feet, picks a dunk on the wheel that requires a one foot jump that they’re not able to do. And you don’t get to see the best of the athlete because of it.
So, I thought it was a bad idea. I didn’t like it. There were some cool dunks on there but it should’ve been on the wheel, or not even the wheel, but options to pick from that fit in your wheelhouse — no pun intended. I like just actually back and forth. You dunk, then I dunk. I know they had a couple of dunks in a minute, or something like that, it’s just like, what are we doing? That’s not how the history of dunks go, that’s like trying to rewrite history. Like somebody going back in time to rewrite how hip-hop started — it started in the park, battle raps. That’s kind of the same thing. Dunking started like you go dunk, get through your line, throw the ball to the next person like ‘Alright, what you got?’ And that’s how people fell in love with it.
I’m with you on that. I want to switch over to your job as an analyst because in the same vein as this AR game, you’re seeing and interacting with the game at a different level now. What’s been the biggest surprise for you since you began your work as an analyst?
That’s a tough one. This is going to sound crazy, like I’m trying to make a joke, the biggest surprise is man, I can’t believe — I guess it’s spoiled, hmm, maybe — but I can’t believe how uncomfortable it is to sit at these tables. Because they’re not making these tables for Reggie Miller, Grant Hill, 6’7, 6’8, Chris Webber at one time, 6’10. They’re not making them for these guys. You go to some of these arenas and try to sit at these tables and you try to sound comfortable on TV, and that’s the biggest surprise and toughest task because sometimes I’m sitting there squirming and uncomfortable [laughs]. It makes me laugh because I just think of some of the arenas I’ve been in, like, this is not going to work. How?
Other than that, I think it wasn’t honestly a lot of surprises because of my preparation prior to. Meaning, nine years prior to retirement, I was doing just this. After the season was over I would do studio work at Turner, and then in the playoffs, during the Finals, I would do work with ESPN — sideline reporting, studio stuff, and everything. So I had some experience and preparation so I knew what to expect. So it wasn’t like anything caught me off guard. The biggest challenge, and this is not even a challenge, I get the chance to work with some of the greats in the play-by-play world. For me, I’m like, man, don’t mess this up. And they always ask me, you good? Anything I need to do? I’m like, you’re Mike Breen. You’re Mark Jones. Like, what? I’m making sure I’m doing what I need to do to make this flow. So that’s been, if you would, the challenge personally, internally, was just flowing with some of the greats. I’ve only been in it for a couple years but I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of greats so far that we hear every day, every week.
I was at the Memphis-Toronto game in 2014 where you got the tribute and the boos turned to a standing ovation.
It was honestly like seeing history change in real-time. It was really powerful, I definitely cried. But it struck me as such a full-circle moment, going from being the sweetheart of the city, to so disparaged for a long time, and that coming back around to a very deep love, acknowledgement and appreciation from the fanbase. As an athlete, I wondered, do you get many moments like that?
Ooh, man. A select few. Obviously the superstars, when they come back home, and things like that, but not often. I knew about it, I knew it was happening, but I didn’t know how it was going to feel. You can’t prepare for that. Particularly in those situations, where do you go Google that? You can’t go look up, former player who had this moment. I had a unique situation like none other [chuckles]. There hasn’t been a player who has gone through that. It’s been funny over the years, when people talk about oh, they’re going back to their old team, or former team, and the boos should be crazy. I’m like, aight, if that’s what you guys call crazy. [laughing] Just cause I know what that really looks like.
And to go from that to that moment — ah man — was just … I felt like I was in my little bubble. It was just me sitting out there by myself in the arena watching this film, the tribute. They asked me, I remember them asking me all these questions about did you see the crowd, I had no clue. I just felt like I was standing in the bubble by myself, reliving some great moments. And when I actually came to, if you would, and paid attention, hearing people cheer when it was over. It was like, Oh man. What’s going on? [laughing] It was just a cool moment.
I still get chills when I think about it.
Nothing wrong with that.