OAKLAND, Calif. -- Last night's NBA.com Slam Dunk Championship seemed preordained.
Vince Carter, the heavy favorite going into the final event of the NBA's All-Star Saturday festivities, put on a terrific show before a raucous crowd and even excited some judges. He wound up beating Houston Rockets rookie Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady, his second cousin and Toronto Raptors teammate, in the final.
After two spectacular dunks in the opening round -- including one in which he put the ball between his legs in midair and another in which he hung his arm through the rim -- Carter's dunks in the final round seemed almost routine. Francis overtook McGrady for second place on his final dunk, a two-handed reverse tomahawk that received 48 of 50 possible points.
Asked whether he thought he was fighting an uphill, if not slightly fixed battle, Francis said: "In a way I did. I think they had some reasonable judges who weren't just going to give it to him. I kind of made him work for it in the end. He's definitely incredible."
Carter said that his between-the-legs dunk, which had Isiah Thomas jumping over the judges' table and another of the judges, Kenny Smith, bowing respectfully, was thought up with McGrady at practice one day. McGrady helped by delivering the ball in just the right spot on the court.
"I made up some things on the fly," Carter said.
Carter has been trying to distance himself from his reputation as a dunker. He smiled when that was mentioned last night. "This doesn't help it," he said. "I don't want to be just a dunker in game. In slam-dunk contests, I'd love to be called a dunker."
He finished the competition by taking off just inside the free-throw line and soaring with two hands for a dunk. It was reminiscent of the dunk the legendary Julius Erving made in a losing effort to Larry Nance in the first slam-dunk competition back in 1984.
Someone asked Carter whether he was trying to copy Erving.
"Yeah, sort of," Carter said. "But I wasn't too happy with it."
Neither was Francis.
First impression lasting?
Francis dreams of the day when he'll be voted onto an NBA All-Star team by the fans, or selected as a reserve by the coaches. Considering the impact he has made as a rookie for Houston, that day doesn't seem too far off. Maybe next year in Washington.
The former Maryland star was the only player to participate in three of the four competitions.
Francis finished with 13 points and 11 assists in 28 minutes of the Schick Rookie Challenge, helping the rookie team beat the second-year players, 92-82. Among his six baskets were three terrific dunks.
"Just trying to showcase a little," Francis said.
Francis also competed in the 2Ball event with Cynthia Cooper, the three-time WNBA Championship MVP from the Houston Comets, but the pair did not make it out of the first round. Jeff Hornacek of the Utah Jazz and Natalie Williams of the Utah Starzz won the event.
Francis said he is aware that next year's All-Star Game will be at the MCI Center, close to his roots in Takoma Park. "If I do happen to get in, that will be great," he said. "But if I don't, I'll understand."
The NBA announced last night that it had come to a four-year agreement with its referees. The contract, which was to expire at the end of this season, will run through the 2003-04 season.
Deputy commissioner Russ Granik also said that Dennis Rodman's living situation will have to change. Rodman had rented a guest house on the property of Mark Cuban, who recently bought the Mavericks and signed Rodman to a contract. Such an arrangement is against the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.
Also, commissioner David Stern did not mince words when discussing the future of the Rockets, saying they are certain to move to a new city if they don't get a new arena by 2003. Voters in Houston turned down a referendum to publicly finance half the cost of a new building.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/13/00