11: 08 PM ET
Dave McMenaminESPN Staff Writer
- Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
- Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s safe to say people know who Mac McClung is now.
Once the poster boy for the NBA All-Star slam dunk contest’s path toward irrelevance, sporting a field of obscure participants rather than the certified stars of the past, McClung stole the show as if he were Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins.
With only two games of NBA experience under his belt during past stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, McClung was signed to a two-way contract by the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the week and dominated Saturday’s dunk contest with a near-perfect performance.
“It kind of feels, ever since the beginning, I was the underdog,” McClung said afterward. “Even when I was younger. … Just proving yourself right, not others wrong, it brings a little more satisfaction.”
Three of McClung’s four dunks earned him straight 50s by the panel of judges, and he completed all of them on his first attempt, generating a palpable buzz through the Vivint Arena crowd as he prepared for every subsequent stuff.
McClung gained an online following in high school for YouTube compilations of his dunks that seemed otherworldly for a guy who is now listed at a generous 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds and was even smaller back then. Despite his size, McClung said that watching the classic showdown between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon in the 2016 dunk contest made him dream about being a part of it someday.
McClung opened Saturday’s contest with 50s across the board as he took the ball from a friend sitting on another friend’s shoulders — Chase Skinkis, who identifies himself as a “vertical jump specialist,” and high school buddy Bradley Dean — and tapped it against the backboard first before putting it through the hoop.
“We just wanted to try to make something up that we haven’t seen before, and the first dunk, I hadn’t seen before, so hopefully, it’s not out there,” McClung said.
His second dunk — a whirling helicopter, two-handed, 360-degree stuff — earned him a 49.8. Lisa Leslie was the only judge to prevent him from opening up with two straight perfect scores. McClung started the final round by again taking the ball from another friend holding it over his head — just one person this time, Skinkis — and performed a pronounced double pump before finishing the dunk with a two-handed reverse. He earned another 50.
For his final flourish, McClung put on his Gate City (Virginia) high school uniform over his red Sixers jersey and threw down a 540-degree two-handed dunk — one-and-a-half turns in the air — to run away with the trophy.
The judges — Karl Malone, Jamal Crawford, Harold Miner, Wilkins and Leslie — all gave him a 50 once again.
“Being from a small town, Gate City, of 1,600 people, and now we’re on this stage,” McClung said. “It was just unbelievable.”
After his last dunk, McClung was surrounded by a euphoric group of All-Stars in attendance, stunned by what they just witnessed. He motioned to the camera, “It’s over!” — mimicking Kenny Smith‘s famous broadcast call during Vince Carter‘s legendary dunk contest win in Oakland, California, in 2000.
“I think something took over me; I don’t know what that was,” McClung said of the gesture. “I wasn’t really thinking in the moment; it’s just something that happened, to be honest with you.”
McClung said he wasn’t able to finish the 540-degree dunk in practice leading up to the contest but that he had confidence in the moment, based on how his night was going, to pull it off.
McClung edged out Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans in the final round. Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks and Kenyon Martin Jr. of the Houston Rockets bowed out after the first round.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving presented the trophy to McClung at center court. The NBA redesigned the dunk contest trophy this year and named it after the Sixers legend.
McClung said he would be back to defend his crown at next year’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis, if the league invites him back.
“It’s all been a blur,” McClung said. “You can really do whatever you want to do … If you manifest and put your mind to it, you can literally make your life and reinvent yourself every day.”
Next week, he will rejoin the 76ers, looking to crack coach Doc Rivers’ rotation as the team prepares for the playoffs.
“I’m not really what other people think, good or bad, I’m staying the course,” McClung said when asked about his breakout night. “My goal is to make an impact in the NBA, and I’m just going to keep working until that happens.”