The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Sixers’ McClung soars to slam dunk contest crown
SALT LAKE CITY — Mac McClung might have single-handedly restored the shine on a dunk contest that has been widely panned in recent years.
McClung, the 6-foot-2 Philadelphia guard on a two-way contract, defeated New Orleans’ Trey Murphy III in the finals of the dunk contest, culminating an NBA All-Star Saturday that may have finally answered the question as to whether what used to be the league’s signature event can be glitzy again.
McClung had the answer: Absolutely.
“I’m truly blessed and grateful for the NBA giving me this opportunity,” McClung said.
A 540-degree dunk — not a 360, but a 540, him doing one-and-a-half rotations in the air, a move more reserved for figure skaters and skateboarders than basketball players — was his third perfect score of the night out of four dunks. By the time the judges’ scores came up it was already decided. Everyone in the building knew he’d already won.
“It’s over,” McClung said.
It was. And he immediately committed to defending his title at Indianapolis at All-Star Saturday next year.
“If you guys will have me, I’ll be back,” McClung said.
The final score, not that it mattered, was McClung 100.0, Murphy 98.0.
His is an unbelievable story: McClung has played mostly in the G League, where he ranks 36th in scoring this season at 19 points per game. He was undrafted in 2021 after spending three college seasons at Georgetown
and Texas Tech. He was signed by Golden State last year but never played in a regular-season game for the Warriors, and spent a little time on USA Basketball’s World Cup qualifying team last year as well.
“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.”
Philadelphia would become his third NBA team, and he hasn’t even played for the 76ers yet. He played in one game last season for the Chicago Bulls, one other game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He has three NBA baskets.
He had four dunks on Saturday night. A guy with more dunks than actual NBA field goals might have saved the dunk contest.
“Give this man his flowers, man,” TNT commentator Kenny Smith said.
McClung set the tone for the night with a dunk that had NBA superstars in disbelief — he leaped over two people, took the ball out of the hands of one of them, tapped it on the backboard and then threw down a reverse slam.
Damian Lillard represented his school and his brand, doing them both proud.
Lillard, the Portland star, won the 3-point contest by topping Indiana teammates Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton in the final round.
Lillard wore a Weber State jersey with “Dolla” on the back. Weber State is his college; he performs music under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A. And when he got the trophy, he had a Blazers warmup shirt on for that moment.
“They say the third time’s the charm,” said Lillard, who got his first 3-point title in his third try at the event. “And I’m happy that it happened here. It’s a perfect situation. I’m happy that I did it in my home, coming back here to Utah.”
Lillard won the final round with 26 points. Hield had 25 and Haliburton scored 17.
Lillard played his college games in Ogden, Utah, about a half-hour outside of Salt Lake City. And the historic ramification of finally getting a 3point title wasn’t lost on him.
Utah got a win to open All-Star Saturday night.
The Jazz — a roster composed of Utah players Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton — won the Skills Challenge on Saturday night, prevailing in two of the three competitions.
“It feels good, especially to do it in front of the home team,” Sexton said.
The Rooks were second, with Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Detroit’s Jaden Ivey and Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr. getting 100 points.
“I had a lot of fun just doing that even though we took the L,” said Banchero, who was part of the winning squad in Friday’s Rising Stars games. “It was really fun getting out there in front of the fans. Skills Challenge, watched that all the time growing up during All-Star Weekend. So being a part of it was great.”