Dave McMenaminESPN Writer3 minute read
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s safe to say people know who Mac McClung is by now.
Once the poster boy for the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest’s path to irrelevance, sporting a cast 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 just two games of NBA experience under his belt during his previous stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, McClung signed a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the week and dominated the Saturday’s dunk contest with a near-perfect performance. .
“I feel like from the start I was the underdog,” McClung said afterwards. “Even when I was younger. … Just proving you’re right, not others wrong, brings a little more satisfaction.”
Three of McClung’s four dunks earned him 50s in a row by the judging panel, and he completed them all on his first attempt, generating a palpable buzz in the Vivint Arena crowd as he prepared for each next thing.
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, 185 pounds and was even shorter at the time. Despite his height, McClung said watching the classic showdown between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon in the 2016 slam dunk contest made him dream of one day being a part of it.
McClung opened the contest with 50s across the board, as he took the ball from a friend sitting on the shoulders of another friend – Chase Skinkis, who identifies himself as a “vertical leap specialist”; and his high school buddy, Bradley Dean – and first slammed him against the backboard, then put him through the hoop.
“We just wanted to try to invent something that we had never seen before and the first dunk, I had never seen before, so hopefully that’s not out there,” McClung said.
His second dunk, a whirling, two-handed, 360-degree chopper, earned him a 49.8. Lisa Leslie was the only judge to stop it from opening with two consecutive perfect scores. He started the final round by again taking the ball from another friend who was holding it above his head – just one person this time, Skinkis – and performed a pronounced double push-up before finishing the dunk with a backhand with two hands. He won 50 more.
For his final flourish, McClung donned his Gate City (Virginia) high school uniform over his red Sixers uniform and threw a 540-degree two-handed dunk – one and a half turns in the air – running away with the trophy.
The judges – Karl Malone, Dominique Wilkins, Jamal Crawford, Harold Miner 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 amazing.”
After his final dunk, McClung was surrounded by a euphoric group of All-Stars in attendance, stunned by what they had just witnessed. He waved at the camera, “It’s over!”, mimicking Kenny Smith’s famous broadcast call during Vince Carter’s legendary dunk contest victory in Oakland in 2000.
“I think something took hold of me, I don’t know what it was,” McClung said of the gesture. “I wasn’t really thinking at the time, it was just something that happened to be honest with you.”
McClung said he wasn’t able to complete the 540-degree dunk in pre-contest practices, but was confident in the timing based on how his night was going to go.
McClung edged 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 retired after the first round.
McClung received the trophy from Julius “Dr. J” Erving on center court. The NBA redesigned the dunk contest trophy this year and named it after the Sixers star.
McClung said he would be back to defend his crown in next year’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis, should the league invite him back.
“It’s all been a blur,” McClung said. “You really can do whatever you want to do… If you show up and put your mind to it, you can literally live your life and reinvent yourself every day.”
Next week, he’ll join Philadelphia, looking to break up coach Doc Rivers’ rotation as the team prepares for the playoffs.
“I don’t really follow what other people think, good or bad, I stay the course,” McClung said when asked about his getaway night. “My goal is to make an impact in the NBA and I’m going to keep working until that happens.”