NBA All-Star Saturday night can be a hit-or-miss event on a year-to-year basis.
When we get one that hits, however, the events of the evening are ingrained in your brain for the rest of your life. 2000 in Oakland with Vince Carter stealing the show or 2016 in Toronto with the memorable battle between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine come to mind.
The 2023 edition of All-Star Saturday night was one such spectacle.
Here’s a look at the seven best moments from the night.
The Mac Attack saves the dunk contest
Earlier this week, G League guard Mac McClung signed a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Known primarily for viral videos of his dunking exploits in high school by only hardcore hoops heads, on Saturday, McClung introduced himself to the greater basketball world. He likely also saved the reputation of the event for years to come with four absolutely jaw-dropping slams, earning him a perfect score for all but one dunk and was crowned the 2023 dunk contest winner.
In case you haven’t seen these things yet, here’s a look at all four of his attempts in order:
Over two people, tap off the glass, reverse
Two-handed 360 windmill
Double-pump reverse after jumping over a man
The 540 and Vince Carter “It’s over!”
More than anything, the measurement most remarkable about McClung’s performance on the evening was the reaction of his NBA peers.
The looks of complete awe and incredulousness seen from stars sitting courtside such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Donovan Mitchell – two athletic freaks in their own right – are all you need to know about how mind-blowing the stuff McClung did was. Add on the fact he nailed all his jams on the first attempt and it was an easy victory for him.
Most importantly, for the NBA, McClung’s prodigious performance may have saved the event after quite a few dull years and calls, perhaps, for its abolishment.
There’s no doubt the NBA has a problem with the dearth of stars not wanting to participate in the dunk contest – why haven’t Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, two of the NBA’s brightest young stars and highest of flyers, taken part in the event yet? However, with McClung, the NBA has a participant that people want to see in the contest and is willing to do it again, as he confirmed during his post-victory speech on the TNT broadcast.
That’s something. And is at least a little more than what we had before.
Other dunk contest highlights from the night
There were other dunk contestants on the night besides McClung – three more to be exact.
In case you were wondering what they did, here’s a look at the best ones from the rest of the field:
Trey Murphy III and Jose “Grand Theft Alvarado” team up for a cheeky lob
It took him a few attempts, but this was nice from Kenyon Martin Jr.
Two-handed elbow dunk by Jericho Sims
Wicked reverse from Murphy
Pascal Siakam having a grand old time with his camcorder
There were no Toronto Raptors taking part in All-Star Saturday night, but Pascal Siakam, who will be playing in Sunday’s big game, was still a major part of the event’s festivities thanks to an older piece of tech he brought with him.
Channeling Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, Siakam brought out an old-school camcorder, to the delight of many.
The Raptors star teased that he would be bringing out the heavier hardware earlier in the day, but it was still very fun to actually see it.
Dame finally gets it done in his alma mater’s backyard
In his third time competing in the event, Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard finally won the three-point shooting contest. He did so in clutch fashion, hitting the final shot to put him just one point ahead of then-leader Buddy Hield for the win.
For extra sentimental value, Lillard did so while donning a Weber State uniform in honour of his old alma mater.
Lillard was famously only lightly recruited out of high school but found a home in Ogden, Utah playing for the Wildcats of Weber State. He became a legend there and grew his stock en route to becoming the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
With the all-star game back in Salt Lake City, just about a 40-minute drive away from the Weber State campus, the seven-time all-star wanted to make a kind gesture admiring his roots.
Julius Randle’s son is every Knicks fan
Of the other three-point shootout participants, New York Knicks forward Julius Randle had one of the worst showings, putting up only 13 points and failing to advance to the final round.
Randle’s son, Kyden, had a priceless reaction to the less-than-inspired performance from his old man.
Like a Knicks fan at the draft, Kyden appears to be fitting in just fine with the rest of the New York faithful.
Not many skills, but plenty of challenges to open the night
Though the night turned out great, it got off to a rough start after a terrible skills competition.
The format was bizarre with three rounds of uninspired competitions, and the talent on display was less than stellar, with the shooting skills part seeming almost ironic.
In the end, the Team Jazz group consisting of Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton won the event, beating out Team Rooks’ Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and Jabari Smith Jr., and Team Antetokounmpos’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Alex Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday – who subbed in for the injured Giannis.
In actuality, though, as the Jazz players were hoisting the trophy, the audience was the true winner because it meant the disaster of an opening act was finally over.
Nav Bhatia still believes
The only “highlight” of the skills competition was probably the sight of Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia speaking to Giannis courtside.
The two-time MVP won’t be a free agent until the summer of 2025 at the earliest, but there’s no harm in trying to keep the dream alive.