This may be the most impressive individual highlight reel in NBA history. Once it’s accounted for that the overwhelming majority of the sport’s best athletes and showmen play in the NBA, it’s conceivably the best reel in basketball history.
Ranking these is obviously a contest of opinion, since there’s nothing more subjective than deciding whose dunks are the coolest – and, moreover, there’s plenty of cool plays that aren’t dunks.
It’s evident where the NBA think Vince’s Raptor mixtape stands, since it was put together as a promotional tool for the All-Star Weekend in Toronto. Rather than a short film on the franchise’s history or a grab bag of incumbent All-Star (and dunk machine) Demar DeRozan, they’ve used Vince. There’s an eyebrow raising oddness to it, given he hasn’t played there for over a decade and left on awful terms. There’s also a fitting sadness that sums up his whole career: while his peers are getting farewell tour All-Star starts and statues (very excellent statues), someone made Vince a YouTube video.
Maybe the craziest part of the above 4:40 – aside from around 35 dunks that would qualify as most guys’ all-time best – is that it’s all from Toronto. Vince, after all, has been on 6 teams.
Dunks not included, among many others, are the time he atomized Alonzo Mourning and the time he went back to Toronto and won the game with a reverse alley-oop while being berated.
There was his famous stint as a US Olympian, too, when he annexed France and consigned Frederic Weis to a lifetime of second class citizenship. There would need to be an entire YouTube channel dedicated to Vince with hours of footage to truly capture how spectacular his athletic prime was. (FYI: here is an entire YouTube channel dedicated to Vince with hours of footage.)
Vince is now 39 and is the Association’s fourth oldest player. Smashing on 7 footers hasn’t been his game for a while; he’s gradually moved further away from the basket and can now be considered a 3 point specialist. During his time in Memphis he’s attempted as many threes as twos.
As far as progressions go, it’s somewhere between an inevitably of getting old and a waste. Why would anyone who jumps like his legs are combustion powered decide to shoot a boatload of threes? It’s not a recent phenomenon, either – as early as 2001 he was top 10 in the league for attempts.
The retort, on Vince’s behalf, is that he made a whole boatload. He’s now sixth all-time in career makes with 1,897 and a decent chance to catch Jason Kidd for fifth before he retires. Strikingly, the NBA’s greatest dunker is its sixth-best long distance shooter, if you’re willing to accept consistent production as the catch all criteria. Regardless of criteria, it isn’t up for rational debate that Vince is an excellent shooter – that many makes at .372 has Kobe and LeBron beat. It has Wade and MJ beat into submission.
You’re reading a basketball website, so it can be assumed you’re not willing to accept any criteria that places Vince on a list with those players – along with Bird, Dr. J, Scottie and others – as the best wings to ever play. It’s irrefutable that Vince was a legendary athlete and will go down in history as a knockdown shooter. It’s equally irrefutable he won’t be remembered, as a player, as legendary or historic. That equation, when reviewed as individual pieces and as a whole, is mind melting.A total of eight All-Star appearances. No MVPs. No All-NBA nods. He did win the Rookie of the Year, but so did Emeka Okafor, Mike Miller and Tyreke Evans. Unless you count Dunking on everybody’s Mum as an NBA statistic, he has never led the league in anything (and won’t).
At time of writing, Vince has not won a championship or appeared in the Finals. Given Marc Gasol now has one load bearing foot, this season likely won’t see him capture one or the other. It doesn’t make sense that going by raw evidence alone – film and numbers – Vince manifests as a turbo charged J.R. Smith. Don’t laugh. J.R has yammed on plenty of heads and has 1604 threes (at age 30.) One season he averaged 18 a game on the best Knicks team since Ewing left. Somehow, he’s a safer bet to leave pro hoops with a ring, too.
Sports are not all raw evidence, though. Vince will never be confused with J.R. Smith because J.R. Smith has always been J.R. Smith. Vince, on the other hand, was the most popular player in the world in the early 2000’s, leading All-Star voting 4 times in 5 years. Conflating popularity and performance sometimes doesn’t present the truth well, unless you’re dealing with a mythical Jordanesque figure when the popularity is because of the performance. Vince wasn’t Jordan, but he wasn’t all SportsCenter highlights and contrived personal branding either.
He was good and on the verge of being great. He revived basketball in Canada. He revived the dunk contest. There was an entire decade where you could rely on Vince for 20 a night. He dropped 50 in the playoffs. He started for the 2009-10 Magic, who paced the league in wins, before falling over in the Conference Finals. His résumé wouldn’t look inadequate if it weren’t held up against his highlight reel like an x-ray placed against a backlight. Unfortunately for Vince, it has to be. Watching him do inhuman things immediately evokes thoughts that he’s been, well, disappointing.
That disappointment, while valid, will never tarnish the entertainment and awe of watching the footage itself. It was those plays that created the hype and expectation that Vince ultimately couldn’t live up to. At the end of his career, when he’s arguably a Hall of Famer, he still can’t live up to it. When your highlights are that good, maybe there’s no shame in being remembered for them.