The 2023 NBA Slam Dunk champion looked like a fan who had won a contest, complete with a jersey he had never worn in a game.
Only diehard NBA fans (or reasonably committed college basketball fans) had likely heard the name Mac McClung before Saturday, as his résumé consisted of a solid college career spent at Georgetown and Texas Tech, an impressive G League career, two NBA games total and some viral dunking clips.
Just by participating, McClung made history as the first G League player to be invited to one of the NBA’s most high-profile events.
By the end of the night, McClung — who was participating in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform after signing a two-way deal with the team four days ago — cemented himself as one of the most memorable dunk contest winners ever, and the latest person to “save” the event.
McClung showed he was special from the first dunk, when he jumped over two people and bounced the ball off the backboard to earn a clear perfect score of 50.
He followed that up with a spinning dunk that also deserved a 50, but fell just short:
By then, the direction of the night was clear. McClung might have been facing three actual NBA players — K.J. Martin of the Houston Rockets, Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans and Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks — but he was the star.
The final against Murphy was basically a no-contest. McClung opened with arguably his weakest dunk, but it still might have been the fourth-best effort of the night.
And then he revealed he had saved his best for last:
For an event that seems to invite an existential crisis every year when its roster of no-names is announced, McClung sure made the whole thing worth the price of admission.
“I love Vince Carter and just watching the Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon dunk contest was just something I enjoyed so much,” McClung told reporters after the event. “I was like, ‘Man, if I get to be a part of this one day, I hope to make an impact like those guys.’ I got a lot of inspiration from them right here in this corner.”
This might only be the beginning of his legend as well, judging from his post-event interview with TNT:
McClung, who played two seasons at Georgetown and one for Texas Tech, went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. He started his career with the South Bay Lakers in the G League, signed with the Chicago Bulls to play one game for them, then moved back to the Lakers, earning the 2022 G League Rookie of the Year award.
He opened this season on the Golden State Warriors’ Summer League squad, but was waived in early October. That led to him joining the Sixers’ affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, where he waited until Wednesday to get a two-way contract with the big league club.
This was a good first impression.