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Vince Carter Soared With Iconic Sydney Dunk, But The Rest Of The World Was Rapidly Catching Up

By Karen Price | Sept. 25, 2020, 12:40 p.m. (ET)

Vince Carter leaps over Frederic Weis of France at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Sept. 25, 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

 

Twenty years later, everyone still remembers Vince Carter’s Olympic dunk.

Rightfully so.

After all, it isn’t every day that you see a basketball player practically sprout wings and leap over a 7-foot-2 center on his way to the hoop.

And that’s exactly what Carter did on this day in 2000 in Team USA’s preliminary-round game against France at the Sydney Games.

“It’s generational. It’s a generational play,” said Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Carter’s U.S. teammate that year. “You think of (Michael) Jordan’s play mid-air in the NBA Final where he has it in the one hand and reverses to the other hand. Those are generational types of plays that you remember.”

In this case, the play came in the second half of a game against France with the U.S. well in the lead. After Gary Payton missed a layup and the ball started to go back the other direction, Carter moved in for a steal. A couple of steps later he was in the air, and the next thing anyone knew he was sailing up and over Frederic Weis’ head.

Alonzo Mourning wasn’t playing in that game, having flown back to the U.S. to see the birth of his child. Had social media been a thing back then, his phone would have started blowing up the moment it happened. Instead, the first he learned of it was watching SportsCenter.

“I just jumped out of my seat in amazement,” he said. “I was in awe. It obviously speaks to the athletics of Vince. We knew he was capable of doing some athletically freakish things, but when we saw that we were all blown away. He jumped over a seven-footer. He literally jumped over him.”

The U.S. ended up winning the game 106-94 and finished the preliminary round 5-0. The tournament wasn’t as easy as Carter’s dunk might have made it look though. Even as the U.S. team filled with NBA All-Stars and future Hall of Famers worked its way through Sydney, reality was setting in that the rest of the world was catching up and the days of the Dream Team dominating en route to the gold medal were over.

I just jumped out of my seat in amazement. I was in awe.

Alonzo Mourning

No team had come closer than 22 points to the U.S. in 1992 or 1996, yet Team USA defeated Lithuania by only nine points in one preliminary-round game, and Russia stayed within 15 in the quarterfinal. The semifinal game against Lithuania was the closest yet.

After going on a 20-4 run in the second half, Lithuania began to believe it had a shot at pulling off an upset that would have stunned the sports world.

“We had a better defense than they did and we made some serious defensive plays down the stretch,” Mourning said. “I had to make two big free throws to give us a little bit of a cushion, that’s what stands out to me. They were well-coached and a challenging team. Very disciplined, and they’d been together longer than us. Not saying we didn’t play well, but they were a club team and they’d been together a while. Ultimately we had to make winning plays down the stretch.”

In the end, Lithuania’s 3-point attempt sailed wide at the buzzer and the U.S. won 85-83 to advance to the gold-medal game. Team USA played France again. While Carter didn’t take flight over anyone’s head this time, it wasn’t the nail-biter that the semifinal game had been. The U.S. won 85-75 to bring home the gold medal.

Team USA celebrates the win during the men's basketball gold medal game against France at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Oct. 1, 2000  in Sydney, Australia.

 

It was (a feeling of) relief, because it was,” said Mourning, who along with Payton, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen of that 2000 team has since been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Kevin Garnett will join them as part of the 2020 class, while Carter, who retired after the 2019-20 season, could soon join them.

“It was a challenge to get it,” Mourning continued. “We didn’t expect it to be a breeze, but if you look at the Olympics in the past it was a breeze so we were kind of leaning on that part. But I’m going to tell you, that kind of set the tone of how it was going to be for us now.” 

Abdur-Rahim remembers that for not being a team before the Olympics, the group really came together and became close.

“Some guys are close friends of mine to this day,” said Abdur-Rahim, who now serves as president of the NBA G League. “To me the thing that sticks out is probably the non-game things, just how much fun that group was together and how competitive we were, the 1-on-1s after practice and how competitive those were. Almost every night we went bowling because Payton and (Ray) Allen were really good bowlers, so that’s the type of stuff you remember.”

For Mourning, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years.

That was his lone Olympic appearance, and he still remembers the feeling of getting the gold medal and what it was like to represent the U.S.

“When you think about the time that we’re living in right now, when there is a great deal of racial unrest, there’s still that understanding that regardless of the color of your skin or what your religion is and what your culture and background is, you still represent the mass of people that from an historical perspective is a lot bigger than you personally,” he said. “It comes down to you think about Wilma Rudolph, you think about Jesse Owens, the list goes on of Olympic athletes that had to overcome so many different obstacles but still wore that name on their jersey, on their chest, proudly. So yeah, it’s a lot of different feelings when you’re standing on that gold medal stand and dip your head and they put that medal around your neck. A lot of different emotions.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.