In February 2000 Vince Carter put on one of the greatest one-man show’s ever seen. He dominated the NBA Allstar Weekend dunk competition to such a degree that it’s still spoken about with reverence 20 years later. Half Man, Half Amazing indeed. Then a few months later on the other side of the world with USA emblazoned on his jersey he did something even more spectacular.
Did Vince Carter dunk over a 7-foot player at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney? Yes. On 25th September 2000 during a group game in the Sydney Olympics Men’s Basketball competition. NBA-star Vince Carter jumped clean over French centre, Frédéric Weis and dunked the ball. This play would be felt around the world and remains iconic to this day. Carter was listed as 6ft6 tall and Weis 7ft2. In France the moment is known as “Le dunk de la morte”.
There’s so much surrounding this. What led up to the moment? Was it planned? Did it really end the career of Weis? Is it truly the best in game dunk ever?
To begin, let’s start at the end. Or at least the moments immediately after Carter landed from his legend creating dunk. You see Carter, then 23, immediately erupted in celebration. This isn’t a soccer match. This isn’t how players usually react when they score a basket. It was a sign in itself something special had just happened. For Carter’s part in it, in that moment he wasn’t even aware of exactly what he had just done. While in flight he felt he had taken off a little early, unaware that he had sailed clean over Weis’ head. He was stretching and straining just to get the ball to the rim and save himself from potential embarrassment. It was only later that he understood the gravity of the moment when he saw himself on replays. The next person to react was Kevin Garnett. The Team USA Power Forward and eternal hype man, ran over so fast and got so close that Carter almost punched him in the face while flexing after the dunk. Garnett amped everyone up by pushing and jumping with Carter, soon the whole stadium followed suit. Weis would later recall hearing and seeing his own team mates celebrating the play, even though it was against their team. This is one of the great things about sport and specifically Basketball. Sometimes the drama and beauty of a moment can transcend all boundaries, even those between opponents locked in a fierce competitive match. Some things are just to great not to celebrate. Across the world the commentators were heard going bananas, English and French language alike. I personally remember downloading a grainy clip on my School computers that morning to get my first glimpse of what everyone was talking about.
Vince Carter vs Ray Allen
Leading up to the Olympics Carter wasn’t even in the squad. He was young, just in his second year of NBA action and far from the house-hold name he was to become. Early in 2000 he was de-selected from the USA Squad in favour of Ray Allen. This perceived snub would give Carter the anger many felt he needed to start to realise his potential. This desire to prove he belonged saw him put on the best performance ever seen in the Allstar weekend dunk contest before putting up a franchise high 47pts against Allen’s own Milwaukee Bucks team. It was an injury that let him slide into the spot for the Olympics, where he would team up with Allen to help guide Team USA to a perfect 8-0 record and the gold medal. Carter would lead the team in scoring with 14.8 points on 50% shooting.
Frame by Frame
Like so many of the greatest moments in Basketball, this dunk didn’t come from some elite set play drawn up to take advantage of Carter’s athleticism. Carter hadn’t sat on the team bus that morning and said to his team mates, “I’m going to jump clean over that big centre they’ve got”. It was born of a broken play, mistakes. If many things had happened slightly differently in the seconds before the dunk then it would never have happened and that opening round game between the eventual finalists would be long forgotten by the world and those involved.
It started with USA point guard Gary Payton missing a layup. This was grabbed by his team mate Vin Baker, but he was blocked by Weis while attempting the put back. This positioned Weis as the furthest man back for France as the rest of the USA team dropped, ready to play defence, France’s Yann Bonato, who had snared the rebound threw a lazy spinning, round the back-outlet pass. Carter, an elite defender, read the situation and sprang forward, easily intercepting the pass. At this point Weis was the only French player in a position to affect the play. Carter was travelling at full speed toward the rim. Weis froze in place. Confident his gigantic 7ft2 body would deter Carter from the rim. At this point Carter could have passed to one of 3 team mates, unguarded in the paint, all (in theory) in a better position to score than him. But legends aren’t born by taking the easy path. He loaded his leg’s and went up. At it’s peak he held the ball higher than the square on the backboard. He split his legs, leaned in and threw it down. The arena erupted.
On the other side of the world Weis’ middle school basketball coach was probably watching on, shaking his head and muttering “Frédéric, je vous ai dit de garder les mains en l’air”. (Frederic, I told you to keep your hands up)
Before Vince Carter had started his third season in the NBA he had built his legacy both as one of the best show dunkers of all time AND as THEE best in game dunker of all time. Great offensive players rely on the fear a defender has of them. For the rest of Carter’s NBA career (still going as at time of writing!) defenders would constantly fear his leaping ability around the rim. Weis famously (and jokingly) dismissed the dunk as “just 2 points”. But for Carter, the fear defenders have had of him from that one play has probably been worth at least 2 easy points in every game he’s played in since.
Weis, who had been drafted by the Knicks and was in disputed contract talks with them during the Olympics would never make it onto an NBA court. Featuring, and aggravating a back injury, in Summer League. He would go on to have a successful international and European club career, retiring in 2011.
The French team recovered from the dunk of death, to reach the final match of the Olympics. Ultimately losing to the USA again and winning a silver medal. Weis recovered well, far from his career being ended by Carter, he was a central part of that silver medal winning team.
Not before or since has any player, during a competitive basketball match jumped clean over a player of Weis size to finish with such power and poise. Make no mistake. This is the greatest in game dunk that has ever been caught on camera.
In my personal view, it was almost topped in the 2016 NBA Finals when Lebron James barrelled to the rim in the closing moments of Game 7. As he rose to finish a ferocious dunk over multi time defensive player of the year and nemesis Draymond Green – that would surely have sealed the title win, Green had the smarts to foul Lebron. Robbing the world of what would have been one of the most iconic moments in all of sports, as Lebron would have sealed a first title for Cleveand by posterising the best defensive player on a record breaking 73 win Warriors team. Maybe if Weis had had the same idea, we would see Vince Carter much differently than we do today and the world would be a much sadder place.