Mac McClung was regarded as a bit of an odd choice to headline the 2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night. The 24-year-old guard has played in only two NBA games, neither of which came this season. When his participation was announced, fans even mocked the league for failing to convince bigger stars to the once proud event.
Well, nobody's laughing now. McClung stole the show with one of the best Slam Dunk performances in recent memory. Four attempts. Four dunks. Three perfect scores. One trophy. In one night, a player many viewers had never heard of managed to join the ranks of Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Michael Jordan in the dunk contest history books.
But who is? Let's dive into the life and career of Mac McClung, the G-Leaguer-turned Slam Dunk champion.
So why was McClung here in the first place?
McClung may not have proven himself as an NBA player, but his credentials as a dunker are well-known. He began dunking while playing for Gate City High School in Virginia, and in the process quickly became an internet sensation. McClung entered All-Star Weekend with 821,000 followers on Instagram, more than twice as many as three other competitors (Trey Murphy III, Jericho Sims and Kenyon Martin Jr.) have combined.
But Saturday wasn't even in McClung's first dunk contest. In 2018, he participated in the Ball is Life All-American Dunk Contest. You won't be surprised to hear that he won the event in style, beating out current Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. as well as Shareef O'Neal, son of NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, to earn the trophy.
As word of McClung's dunking exploits spread, he gained recruiting stock. He was always more than just a dunker, but his scoring numbers exploded in his final two high school seasons. After averaging 29 points per game as a junior and scoring 47 in the Virginia state championship game as a senior, he de-committed from Rutgers and decided to play for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown.
Sounds great, so what happened?
McClung's Hoyas tenure produced mixed results. Statistically speaking, McClung made an immediate impact by averaging over 13 points per game as a freshman. While a 19-14 record is hardly newsworthy by Georgetown standards, there appeared to be plenty of promise moving into his sophomore season as well.
But the Hoyas went 15-17 in McClung's second season, scoring 16 points a game. He missed 11 games, and after the fact, it became clear that the two sides weren't thrilled with the partnership. McClung declared for the 2020 NBA Draft before pulling his name and announcing a transfer to Texas Tech. According to his agent, McClung was looking for a role that Georgetown simply wasn't giving him.
"The feedback that he got from [NBA] teams was that they wanted to see him facilitating more," Daniel Hanzen told the Washington Post at the time. "Being more of a point guard role, etc. I'm not saying he couldn't have gotten that at Georgetown, but he didn't showcase that at Georgetown. He didn't get the opportunity really to showcase that. He was playing off the ball."
Ewing recruited a guard-heavy roster at Georgetown that left everyone unsatisfied. Another starter in Ewing's backcourt, James Akinjo, also transferred after the 2019-20 season. But if McClung expected to become a more traditional point guard at Texas Tech, he was likely disappointed by the results. His assists average actually dipped from 2.4 to 2.1 per game as a Red Raider. After one season at Texas Tech, McClung put his hat into the NBA ring yet again.
I take it he wasn't drafted?
Correct. Three uneven college seasons forced McClung to take the long way into the NBA. He signed a Summer League deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2021, impressed them enough in Las Vegas to earn a two-way deal, but was eventually waived and signed to a G League contract. He averaged nearly 20 points per game in South Bay, but was only called up for one NBA game with the Lakers in December, 2021. In April, 2022, he was signed for a single game with the Chicago Bulls. Neither team re-signed him, and he was a free agent yet again. He appeared briefly with the Golden State Warriors in the team's preseason games in Japan last October, but he didn't stick there either.
He then landed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Or, more accurately, with their G League affiliate: the Delaware Blue Coats. His scoring went down, but if he needed to prove himself as a playmaker, he's largely done so at the G League level. He's averaged 5.8 assists per game in both of his G League seasons. His rebounding increased as well, and apparently, the 76ers were impressed enough to give him a look at the NBA level. On Tuesday, they signed him to a two-way deal that will allow him to suit up for Philadelphia when necessary for the rest of the regular season.
So what happens now?
Well, in the next few days, McClung will travel back to either Delaware or Philadelphia, depending on the needs of the 76ers. He will spend the next two months shuffling back and forth between the two. This offseason, he will be a free agent and likely seek more permanent employment with an NBA team. Failing that, he'll probably take another two-way or G League contract.
But if you're worried that you've seen the last of McClung, rest easy. As soon as he accepted the trophy, he confirmed that he'll accept the invitation if the NBA wants him to participate in next season's dunk contest, and said he's ready to face "whoever wants to" compete with him. Given the show he put on before the Saturday crowd, he'll likely face stiffer competition next time around. Zion Williamson that he is considering participating next season.
No matter who he faces, McClung will enter the 2024 dunk contest a far more famous man than he was on Saturday. He's not just a G League player anymore. A star was born on Saturday, and he might not hand off his dunking championship for years to come.