When we first started discussing our "Favorite All-Star Moments" series in a meeting, we asked everyone to announce their faves.
But before anyone could answer, I blurted my most memorable: Vince Carter in the 2000 Dunk Contest.
I don't remember if anyone accused me of stealing their favorite moment or not, and I don't remember if anyone's face registered disappointment, but even if they had, I wouldn't have cared. Sorry, guys, he's mine.
Carter's performance at The Arena in Oakland has been seared into my conscious since that rainy February weekend in the Bay Area for many reasons including the fact that I was covering my first NBA All-Star Weekend.
Yet, the reason I most remember Carter's performance was that I broke one of sportswriting's cardinal rules: No cheering in the press box.
All sportswriters learn the rule before they set foot in a press box. You're their to report, not root. If you want to root for a team, buy a ticket. So, for goodness' sakes, no cheering in the press box.
I hadn't done it before and I haven't done it since. But on that Saturday, Feb. 12, I cheered in the press box. Lustily, happily and guiltlessly did I cheer.
Since 2000, I've been fortunate to cover five All-Star Weekends. I've seen plenty of things in those weekends that have made me go "Daaaaaaaamn!": T-Mac to himself in the 2002 All-Star Game in Philly, Jordan's farewell in 2003 in Atlanta (that, and Mariah in The Dress), J-Rich off the glass and between his legs in 2004 at STAPLES and Josh Smith hovering above the grand Kenyon in Denver last year.
But nothing, nothing, compares to Carter in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest at The Arena in Oakland. It may have been my greatest "Wow!" moment in all of sports. I had never seen a combination of athleticism, innovation and showmanship like Carter put on that night.
At the time, I worked for FOXSports.com. I begged and pleaded with the powers that be to go to Oakland for that weekend. (Really, who begs to go to Oakland?) But I was an NBA junky and I sold it as we needed people to be there for the Weekend, and most important, the game on Sunday. But I had only one true reason I wanted to go:
The dunk contest.
After not having a contest in 1998 (Why? Some had thought the competition had grown stale: Michael Finley's "cartwheel" in 1997 anyone?) and in 1999 (lockout), the NBA resurrected it for 2000.
With the first contest in two years and with young fliers like Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady, and Carter in the competition, the hype built quickly. By Friday, that's all anyone could talk about and I wrote a 1500-word preview for FOX, which has, much to my chagrin, vanished somewhere into the Ethernet.
Most of the hype rightfully centered around Carter. He had been named the 1998-99 Rookie of the Year. In his then-short time in the league, Carter had given us dazzling glimpses of his dunking genius. He stunned folks in Indy one night with a double-pump 360 -- IN TRAFFIC -- against the Pacers and every once in a while on the break, he would make the difficult Terrence Stansbury "Statue of Liberty" 360 look ridiculously easy.
He was, as nearly every headline writer in the country reminded us, The Air Apparent.
So by Saturday, the anticipation was killing us. Randy Kim (formerly of FOXSports.com and this very NBA.com) and I took our seats on the opposite end of the arena from the dunk contest. We wanted 2Ball and the 3-Point Shootout (which I love) to be over with as soon as possible.
After Jeff Hornacek and Natalie Williams won 2Ball (my recap for that has also vanished) and then Hornacek doubled up by winning the 3-Point Shootout, the game was on. Not only could you hear the buzz, but you could feel it. You could see people on the edge of their seats.
Carter didn't disappoint. From his first dunk, the 360 reverse windmill to his second, the reverse windmill from out of bounds to his third and final first round dunk, the iconic, between-the-legs windmill it was clear that the Slam Dunk Contest had become less of a contest and more of a coronation.
The dunking dauphin became a king right before our eyes. And like a loyal All-Star Weekend subject, I broke all sportswriting propriety and cheered.
Not only did we break the "No cheering" rule, we shattered it. We stood up. We high-fived. We said "Holy [Cows]! Did you see that?" As we whooped it up, I looked over at the writer sitting next to us, ESPN.com's Eric Karabell. He looked at me like I was nuts. I looked at HIM and thought: "Ah, forget it. I'm cheering. I don't care. Oops, gotta watch the replay. Whoooooooooooaaaaa! Did you see that? It's better in slow motion! Whoooooo!"
Carter then moved to the ridiculously athletic in the first round to the sublime with his last two dunks, first with the "Up to the Elbow" slam. TNT cut away to Steve Francis, who's jaw dropped, the same look Francis probably had last year when he heard the Magic traded Cuttino Mobley to Sacramento.
Carter then followed it with a two-handed dunk from just inside the free throw line. Another jaw-dropper. After that, the contest was officially over even though Carter famously, and correctly, declared it done after his third dunk in the first round.
So, let's recap real quick: Five dunks that no one had ever seen before. All nearly perfect. All smooth. Not once did a ball rattle around the rim. The judges jumped over the table. His peers swooned. Not only that, he made the difficult seem easy.
Folks, that's genius. And when I see that, I'll cheer every time.