2023’s surprise NBA dunk contest champ reaped many rewards. But not the one he wanted most

Mac McClung’s ascent to NBA stardom began on a February night in Salt Lake City when he clinched the 2023 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest, a feat achieved as a G League player just a year prior.

His victory catapulted him into the limelight, boosting his fame, expanding exposure, and opening doors to lucrative endorsement opportunities. Despite concluding the season with standout performances for the Philadelphia 76ers, including a remarkable season-ending victory against Brooklyn where he contributed 20 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists, a guaranteed NBA contract remained elusive.

Facing the challenge, McClung reflected on the summer, acknowledging the questions surrounding his omission from NBA rosters. Undeterred, he maintained confidence in his deserving performance and skill set from the previous year.

During his time with the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G League affiliate, McClung claimed a G League title while averaging 19.8 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.6 rebounds with impressive shooting percentages. Despite these achievements, the coveted NBA contract didn’t materialize, prompting McClung to adapt his perspective.

Returning to the G League for the Osceola Magic this season, the 6-2 guard is back at All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, participating in the Rising Stars event. Humorously acknowledging the irony of a 25-year-old rising star, McClung embraces the unique journey he has undertaken.

In addition to the Rising Stars event, McClung is set to defend his slam dunk title against formidable opponents such as Boston’s Jaylen Brown, New York/G League Westchester Knicks’ Jacob Toppin, and Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr.

From his viral high school days in southwest Virginia to his time at Georgetown and Texas Tech, McClung’s journey has been marked by high-flying dunks and scoring prowess. Despite going undrafted in 2021, he earned G League Rookie of the Year in 2021-22, showcasing consistent scoring (21.3 career average) and playmaking abilities (6.4 career assists per game).

Last season’s dunk contest, where McClung impressed with a series of acrobatic dunks, solidified his status as one of the greatest slam dunk competitors, earning praise from NBA stars like LeBron James. The joyous moment, with legends Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving presenting him the trophy, remains a highlight in McClung’s career.

Facing challenges in proving himself as a true point guard and overcoming size concerns, McClung acknowledges the uniqueness of his experience. Balancing popularity with the pursuit of an NBA contract, he remains focused on his goal while appreciating the blessings and transformative experiences along the way.