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Mac McClung Was A Star All Along

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 18: Mac McClung #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers dunks the ball during the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest as part of 2023 NBA All Star Weekend on Saturday, February 18, 2023 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The second night of All-Star weekend was kind of half-star, half-Guy. Julius Randle, to the dismay of his own child, snuck into the three-point contest. A sprained wrist kept the only good Antetokounmpo off Team Antetokounmpo in the Skills Challenge. (Jrue Holiday took Giannis's place as an honorary Antetokounbro). The likes of Grant Williams and Jaden Ivey sat courtside.

To the uninitiated, Mac McClung may have seemed like just another not-star joining a not-so-starry Saturday. McClung signed a two-way contract with the Sixers last week and has spent most of this season with their G-League affiliate, but he became a late addition to the dunk contest slate, tapped to replace Portland's Shaedon Sharpe. "Nobody knows your name," Shaq told McClung before the contest, as rude motivation. "Make them remember your name."

Shaq doesn't know anyone's name. But in a dunk contest without a real All-Star—the other participants were Trey Murphy III, Jericho Sims, and Kenyon Martin Jr.—McClung was probably the closest thing to a headliner. His Virginia high school mixtapes earned him a cult following for his high-flying. Even before the dunk contest, "Mac McClung OFFICIAL Senior Year Mixtape!! The Most EXCITING Player In AMERICA!" had almost three million views.

On Saturday night, he lived up to the YouTube thumbnail billing. What separates the star from the not-star—well, besides actual talent—is a flair for performing under pressure. While his fellow dunkers sheepishly tinkered around with their props and timing, McClung made each of his four dunks on the first try.

The first dunk commanded all attention: McClung leapt over two people, stamped the backboard and finished with a reverse slam. The judges gave him straight 50s. After that, no one looked away. My own favorite was his third dunk, a double-clutch done mid-air. But his closing statement, a 540-degree jam for a third perfect score, was no less impressive. "It's over," he gestured, Vince Carter-style. Shaq, if he still doesn't know McClung's name, declared the 6-foot-2 undrafted Delaware Blue Coat the savior of the contest.

McClung is the first G-Leaguer to compete in the dunk contest, and a profile in The Athletic last week noted that the glamor of All-Star weekend would be a departure from his unglamorous life in the G-League. Though the money is better overseas, many players on the margins prefer the G-League's proximity, and McClung said he turned down more lucrative offers to stay stateside this season.

"I wanted to make sure I was always available,” McClung said in the story. “Like no matter what, no matter the point of time, I’m going to be available to get that call-up and get that situation. And when that time comes, I’ll be ready for it."

McClung was ready for the contest, which he said was stressful to prepare for given the rigors of a G-League schedule. As ESPN's Malika Andrews pointed out to him in an interview, McClung's two-way status makes the $100,000 prize pretty significant for him. He's still famous for the thing he was always famous for, just a little richer now.

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