G Leaguer Mac McClung touches the sky, dominates in Dunk Contest

Mac McClung of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots during the slam dunk competition of the NBA basketball All-Star weekend Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (Rob Gray/AP Photo)

Mac McClung of the Delaware Blue Coats, the G League affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers, put on a performance for the ages on his way to his first victory in the Slam Dunk contest on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

The dunk contest hasn’t gotten as much hype as it used to in the days of Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon. Fewer stars are taking part in the event, and this year’s field reflected that.

Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans, Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks, and KJ Martin of the Houston Rockets were the other competitors.

However as the event played out, it became clear it would be a one-man show. McClung, the 6-foot-2 guard, seemed unstoppable, almost daring the judges to give him anything less than a perfect 50.

Despite only playing in the G League and not being heavily scouted out of college, he’s been a cult hero of sorts in the basketball world with his high school dunk mixtapes going viral.

“I’m truly blessed and grateful for the NBA giving me this opportunity,” McClung said as he hoisted the newly renamed “Dr. J Trophy.”

He seemed to revitalize what had become a stale event in recent years. When asked if he would come back and participate in years to come he said “If you guys will have me, I’ll be back,” cementing the event as a must-watch once more.

McClung’s first dunk of the night made it clear he belonged, jumping over a guy sitting on top of another guy’s shoulders, tapping it off the backboard, then throwing it down with both hands, earning 50s across the board from the judges.

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His second was just as loud, as he got to the basket with a 360 double-handed windmill, with only one of five judges not giving him a 50.

Once in the finals, his aerial work seemed incomparable, dropping never-before-seen dunks time and again. In the final attempt of the night, he flew in for a mind-boggling 540-degree dunk and securing his third 50 of the night.

“Ever since the beginning, I was the underdog,” said McClung, who put on a Gate City jersey — his high school and hometown in Virginia, population 1,600 — for the final dunk. “Proving others right instead of others wrong brings a little more satisfaction

“It’s over,” McClung said after his final slam, channelling Vince Carter in 2000.

Joining him in the finals as a sacrificial lamb of sorts was Murphy III. Despite the overwhelming competition, he put on a show that in other years might have brought him the title.

The Pelicans wing kicked off the event missing his first attempt (perhaps on purpose) just to have teammate Jose Alvarado sneak up on him and steal the ball to set him up for an alley-oop.

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He followed it up with a reverse two-handed double-clutch that seemed to pierce the skies.

Martin, the son of former NBA player Kenyon Martin, brought his dad out to throw him an alley-oop off the backboard for his second slam of the night.

Sims meanwhile didn’t have the most impressive night as the replacement for Canadian Shaedon Sharpe. He earned some virality though as he opened up a letter attached to the net for his second dunk of the night to reveal the number 50. The judges however didn’t agree, as the prop wasn’t enough to get him to the final round.

Written with files from The Associated Press

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