For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more. 

We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.

The coolest play in the coolest sport in the world is the slam dunk. We love it so much we named our magazine after it, and we’re hardly alone in our obsession/fascination. And as neat as they can be in contrived dunk contests or glorified exhibition games that may also go by the names “streetball” and “All-Star Games,” the greatest dunks of all happen in games. And NBA games are the highest form of the game in the world. And now, for everyone from the front to the back to hear loud and clear: VINCE CARTER IS THE GREATEST IN-GAME DUNKER IN HISTORY.

The run he went on during his truncated Rookie of the Year campaign in 1999 through the Sydney Olympics in 2000 [Doug Collins: “He jumped OVER HIS HEAD”] and maybe another season or two in Toronto had never been seen before. “Fine,” you say. “Dunkers have evolved. Elgin to Doc to MJ to Vince. Of course someone at the turn of the millennium was iller than a dude from the ’70s.” Yeah, well, no one has done it like that since either. And it’s been more than two decades! Go through the SLAM archives and read the SLAMadamonths from back then. They were almost all Vince, and only Russ could make the monotony seem fresh. Or if YouTube’s more your thing, here’s a PSA that will be old news to longtime SLAM and SLAMonline readers but new to many of you: Go to YT and search for “Matt Adam’s Infamous Vince Carter Mixtape” and sit back. Nine-plus minutes of joy, and irrefutable proof of the in-game dunker assertion I made earlier.

If Figs and SPT told me to write 250 or so words about VC’s inclusion on this exclusive list, I’d call it a day and feel my work is done. That’s how memorable and impactful Vince Carter’s run as the GOAT dunker was.

Alas, they need more words, and he actually impacted the game three other big-time ways. 

The first is that he saved the NBA in Canada. When Carter got traded to the Raptors on Draft night in 1998, they stunk and their colleagues in Vancouver were even worse—and on the fast track to moving to Memphis. Carter’s arrival on NBA courts, fresh off a terrible lockout and the retirement of Michael Jordan, was a boon to the entire League, sure, but it had actual resonance in Canada. “The most exciting player in the NBA plays in Toronto,” was not a sentence anyone—let alone Canucks—ever expected to utter. He the North, indeed. Not to keep giving you video-watching assignments, but there’s literally a documentary about this: The Carter Effect. Stream and learn.

Another incredible fact about Carter that deserves major props is that he played the third-most games in NBA history. More than Stockton and Malone. More than KG. More than LeBron (at least when you read this). The only players who’ve played more games than Vince Carter are Robert Parish and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who are ineligible for this list because they didn’t play in the SLAM era (the Chief did barely, but you get the point). So at 1,541, Vince Carter is the games-played leader in SLAM history. Further inexorable proof of his relevance and also a stat that you never would have fathomed in those early days when he was literally jumping over defenders. Because as you’d imagine, that style of play came with injury risk, and for much of his career, VC was labeled injury-prone. But he got better at avoiding contact, got better at shooting from distance and morphed into a locker-room favorite who could provide some pop off the bench until he was 43 years young. 

Last but not least, VC deserves eternal props for his impact on the sneaker game. He played in fly Nikes and Jordans at UNC before becoming the rare NBAer to rock Pumas as an NBA rookie. By his second year in the L, he was having issues with Puma and had a stretch of de facto free agency. This led to him wearing the AND1 Tai Chis for the 2000 Dunk Contest. No shade to those shoes, which are classics, but it says here that Vince’s iconic wearing of them is the reason the shoes have lived on to this day. VC circled back to Nike for the balance of his career and rocked pure heat. To quote the famous campaign and one of the more genius SLAMadamonths in Russ’ oeuvre: “Boing.” 

Photo via Getty Images.

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