Prior to the emergence of YouTube and other streaming video services around the mid-2000's, diehard basketball fans were at the mercy of network television and official NBA Entertainment VHS and DVD releases. Even the streetball craze kicked off primarily as a result of And1's mixtape campaign, which involved literally giving away VHS tapes at Foot Locker. If something basketball-related occurred and was not broadcast through one of those mediums, it may as well have not existed to anyone outside of those who were there to witness it firsthand.
That brings us to Vince Carter. Scrambling for ideas for his first final round dunk attempt in the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Carter thought back to a Gary Payton charity event a year prior, when he was jumping high enough to drop the ball down into the hoop. As Carter explained to SportsNet years later, he took this concept and modified it on the fly, deciding he was going to hang from the rim by his elbow.
Many fans both in the arena that evening and sitting on their couches at home were shocked into silence by Carter's dunk. An audible murmur in Oakland slowly yielded laughter as onlookers came to terms with what they'd just seen. For 99.9999 percent of basketball fans, this was the first time they'd ever seen someone conjure up the revolutionary concept of hanging on the rim by one's elbow.
Carter's elbow dunk, eventually referenced as the Honey Dip, went mainstream and yielded hundreds, if not thousands, of imitators over the years who have attempted to replicate and build upon what they saw Carter execute in 2000.
With the absence of wide-spread video streaming services, the chances of Carter seeing that footage prior to 2000 (or anyone else outside of the Philippines) are slim. But the video's existence did raise an interesting notion: Just how long has the elbow dunk been around and what's the earliest proof of its existence?
In 2016, the NBA's official YouTube channel infused a new submission into the debate.
Subtly tucked right in the heart of their "Ultimate Slam Dunk Contest Mixtape" was a two second clip from the warmups prior to the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, showing Cleveland's Roy Hinson casually completing an elbow dunk of his own. This footage was not shown during the actual contest broadcast and had been presumably sitting in a vault for 30 years before the league's typically on-point mixtape team unearthed it. Contrary to Bryant and Carter's attempts, Hinson's elbow dunk was off one-foot, more similar to Blake Griffin's honey dip in 2011.
Hinson, Bryant, and Carter all experimenting with elbow dunks, presumably without knowing about each other's attempts prior, would seem to suggest that there's a pretty good chance that the elbow dunk may even pre-date '86, whether it occurred on the streets, during summer ball in a college gymnasium, or even in an unfilmed NBA layup line (Jameel Pugh also lays claim to being an elbow dunk originator).
Ultimately, it wasn't until 2000 that Vince Carter introduced the dunk to the mainstream, but a tip of the cap goes to the Hinson for thinking outside of the box 14 years prior.