FOX Sports NBA reporter
The past few days have been a blur for Mac McClung.
Since winning the slam dunk contest on Saturday – and celebrating his savior – the 24-year-old has 1,000 unread text messages. Thousands of people have reached out to him on social media.
He’s received hundreds of interview requests (it took the Philadelphia 76ers PR department three people to sort through them). He gained 238,000 Instagram followers overnight, the most NBA players in that span, per league. He was with SportsCenter and has upcoming appearances on Good Morning America and CNN.
McClung’s story is truly amazing. Over the course of a weekend, he went from being a relatively unknown G-League player to a viral sensation on the NBA’s first stage.
“It was crazy,” McClung told FOX Sports on Tuesday.
Funnily enough, this year’s dunk contest before Saturday was widely dismissed as an embarrassment.
There weren’t any stars. The field included a number of relative no-names, including McClung, who has a two-way contract with the 76ers after spending this season with the Delaware Blue Coats.
The other participants? Jericho Sims from New York, Trey Murphy III from New Orleans and KJ Martin from Houston.
But McClung saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime.
He was undrafted by Texas Tech in 2021. He had only played in two NBA games (one for the Chicago Bulls and one for the Los Angeles Lakers). Now he would have millions of eyes on himself.
“I spent a month and a half to two months practicing,” said McClung, who was the first-ever G League entrant to enter the slam dunk contest. “I’ve seen professional dunk competitions. I figured if I’m going to do this, I want to be prepared and make the most of the moment.”
McClung, who was previously a viral sensation for his high school dunk, did everything he could to prepare for the competition. But he made a costly mistake.
The night before the competition, he shared a hotel room with his best friend from high school, Bradley Dean, whom he hoped to dunk over on Saturday.
Dean snored all night.
“I hit him so hard I hit him,” McClung said, laughing. “…I just felt like a zombie.”
But McClung’s adrenaline immediately surged when he arrived at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He had the greatest performance of his life, earning a perfect score from all five judges on three of his four jams, each on the first attempt.
Before he went to court on Saturday, McClung – who hails from a small town of about 2,000 in Gate City, Virginia – said two things kept running through his mind.
He saw how nervous his 8-year-old brother Cam was and he knew he wanted to win the competition for him. McClung watched Cam all night.
“It really helped calm my nerves,” he said.
The other thing he couldn’t shake was TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal’s advice: “No one knows your name,” O’Neal said. “Let them remember your name.”
“I’m like, ‘Okay, no pressure,'” McClung said, chuckling.
For his first dunk, McClung vaulted over Dean, who was sitting on the shoulders of another friend (Chase Skinkis), tapped the ball against the board and dunked it. He deserves all 10.
For his second dunk, he did a two-handed 360-degree jam and received 10 seconds from all the judges except Lisa Leslie, who brought his total score down to 49.8.
He opened the final loop by vaulting over Skinkis – who held the ball above his head – and doing a double pump followed by a two-handed reverse. Again he received a perfect score.
Then came his magnum opus.
For his final dunk, in his high school uniform over his 76ers jersey, he spun 540 degrees in the air — a rotation and a half — and hit the ball home with both hands, earning another 50 from the judges.
The arena reached deafening decibels.
Speaking on the TNT show, Kenny Smith said, “An NBA star was born tonight.”
Added O’Neal, “He definitely saved the dunk contest.”
Two-time MVP Steph Curry praised McClung on Twitter, calling his performance “unreal.”
LeBron James, the NBA’s all-time top scorer, even commented on McClung after Sunday’s All-Star Game, saying he’s “probably one of the greatest slam-dunk contenders we’ve seen in the history of the game.” game”, strengthened.
McClung’s performance also generated record numbers.
On Saturday night, the Skills Competition, 3-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest generated 520 million video views in the first 12 hours, the most ever in the league. McClung accounted for 300 million of this.
It was all a bit surreal for McClung. He laughs as he reflects on how he planned to open the contest with his 540-degree dunk, but didn’t because he kept missing it in practice on Friday.
When asked how he was able to spin in the air so many times, McClung said his brain shut down and his muscles took over.
“I don’t even know, to be honest,” he said. “I think that’s God. I practice, but I was definitely born with the resilience and passion to work on things like this.”
The craziest part is that McClung is only 6ft 2 tall and weighs 185lbs. At the 2021 NBA Combine, he recorded a maximum vertical of 43.5 inches, the seventh-highest mark ever. He attributes his hopping to doing biometric exercises with his father since he was in sixth grade.
McClung is still reeling from the weekend. He said he hadn’t slept yet. It was shuffled from event to event. He didn’t even have time to look at his text messages
It was all very exciting. But for the future, he hopes his newfound fame will help him achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA.
Last summer, McClung had opportunities to play for Fenerbahce (Turkey) or the Shanghai Sharks (China), but he gave up over a million dollars in hopes of a G League call-up.
“I want to make a difference in the NBA and that’s definitely my main focus,” he said. “But [the dunk contest] is definitely something I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
For McClung, his road to success has been a winding one.
But after the dunk contest, he’s sure you’ll remember his name.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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