When the NBA's best and brightest step onto the court for All-Star Saturday night, Mac McClung will be joining them, as he competes in the 2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest in Salt Lake City, Utah. He'll compete with Kenyon Martin Jr., Trey Murphy III and Jericho Sims to take home the title of the league's best dunker.
McClung has only played a total of 25 minutes in the NBA. He's currently playing for the Delaware Blue Coats in the G-League and has not played in an NBA game this season. And yet, McClung may be the most well-known name competing in this year's dunk contest.
In one of the recent NBA 2K video game releases, the career mode features a player who has garnered a robust social media following as a basketball influencer but now needs to prove himself in actual basketball games. It's a fun twist on reality; we know there are players -- and, frankly, people from all walks of life -- who spend a lot of time thinking about their social media presence and sometimes forget to focus on their actual life.
While it's not necessarily his fault, it's also a bit of the Mac McClung story.
Air Mac Takes Flight
McClung was internet famous long before he stepped foot on a college court. His senior year high school mixtape went live in March 2018 and has almost 3 million views on YouTube. It's a 4½-minute array of jumpers, slick crossovers and impressive layups through traffic.
But it's not McClung's passing, defense or layup package that made the video go viral. It's his thunderous dunks. The Virginia native catches lobs, dunks over competitors and finishes at the rim with reckless abandon.
And in case you missed it, he's only 6-foot-2.
Guards at 6-foot-2 don't typically throw down between-the-legs dunks -- especially not in the middle of a game. The videos were clipped, cut and shared all over Instagram. Ballislife, sideline sources, House of Highlights -- everyone was in the McClung hype business. Between McClung and Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, it may have been the peak of high school social media dunk highlights.
Mac's College Career
After high school, McClung went from a small town in the southwest corner of Virginia to Georgetown University, where he averaged 13.1 and 15.7 points per game in his two seasons as a Hoya. People expected dunks and wins. They got half of that. McClung's athleticism translated to the college game, but the Hoyas had a disappointing two seasons under head coach Patrick Ewing. Unfortunately for Georgetown fans, that's been the case for almost all of Ewing's tenure.
After his sophomore year, McClung transferred to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were ranked in the Top 25 all season, reaching as high as seventh in the middle of the season, but failed to make much noise in the postseason. McClung averaged 15.5 points in his lone season at Texas Tech.
The highlight of the season for McClung was probably a January game winner on the road against Texas. Ironically, not a dunk!
McClung continued to win over plenty of fans on Instagram and Twitter with his thunderous finishes and athletic highlights. Sometimes, it can feel like his online fandom overshadowed his on-court contributions. Anytime Mac threw down a dunk, it was immediately shared by dozens of Instagram highlight pages. The legend of Mac from his high school mixtape never really went away.
Road to the NBA
McClung left Texas Tech after his junior season, declaring for the NBA Draft. As a 6-foot-2 guard who shot just 31% from 3-point range in his college career, NBA teams did not show an immediate interest, and he was not selected in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Thus began a whirlwind of tryouts, short contracts and new opportunities that have defined McClung's last two years.
Initially, the bouncy guard signed with the Los Angeles Lakers' summer league team in 2021. With the combination of McClung's internet fame and the Lakers, Laker-ness was a made-for-Instagram moment. Immediately, people began fantasizing about LeBron-McClung alley-oops, and how the short guard would mesh with Anthony Davis. His summer league highlights were all over my Instagram feed in 2021 and even were shared by the NBA official Twitter feed.
The hype may have been a bit overblown or premature. After three preseason games in Los Angeles, the Lakers sent McClung to their G-league affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.
When COVID-19 ransacked the NBA last season and teams were handing out 10-day contracts to anyone with a pair of sneakers, McClung landed on the Chicago Bulls. He appeared in one game for Chicago, scoring his first NBA points on a pull-up jumper. The highlight, predictably, was widely shared across all internet platforms.
While he did not stick in the NBA last season, McClung had a very successful G-League campaign. His 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game were enough to land him Rookie of the Year honors. The jump in playmaking is notable for McClung, who had carried a reputation as a score-first guard. Now, he's started transitioning to become more of a point guard, working on his distribution skills.
During summer 2022, McClung found his way to the Golden State Warriors' summer league and preseason roster. Again, corners of the internet reacted as if McClung would be the piece that guaranteed the Warriors' dynasty would now be extended into the 2030s. He was cut before the season started, though head coach Steve Kerr had nothing but positive things to say about the young guard.
McClung has spent this season playing for the Philadelphia 76ers' G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. As noted by Rich Hofmann in The Athletic, McClung has played in around 30 different cities and three countries in the past two seasons.
McClung's Philly Future
Just this week, McClung was signed to a two-way NBA contract with the Sixers. This gives Philly the option to cycle McClung back and forth between Delaware and Philadelphia, and it likely gives McClung the opportunity to prove he can contribute at an NBA level.
McClung seems eager to do whatever it takes to stick in the NBA. His 3-point shooting has continued to improve at every stop in his G-League journey, and his coaches all compliment the strides he's made with his playmaking.
This Saturday night, McClung will take the biggest stage in his young career. It's an incredible opportunity to showcase his bounce and creativity on the league's biggest stage.
When McClung throws down a dunk in Utah, the internet will definitely take note. That's guaranteed.
MORE: "So, Who's Coming in Second?": Revisiting Larry Bird's Famous 1988 3-Point Contest
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