Mac McClung shines in an otherwise disappointing NBA All-Star Weekend



Even though he has spent most of his career in the NBA G League, Mac McClung demonstrated his astounding skills in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest on Feb. 18.

Ajeet Kalepu, Staff Writer

The Utah Jazz hosted the 2023 NBA All Star Weekend at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City where the league’s biggest stars were on display. 

The festivities began on Friday, Feb. 17 with the celebrity game, consisting of one of the most star-studded rosters since the event began in 2003. Dwyane Wade, 2023 NBA Hall of Fame finalist and minority Utah Jazz owner, captained a squad against the Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith. The game was full of comedic bits from Guillermo Rodriguez and Richard Jefferson, finishing with a dramatic ending. At the buzzer, WWE star “The Miz” sank a half court shot for Team Ryan. Unfortunately, the shot was too little too late and D.K. Metcalf’s dominant performance of 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks lead Team Dwyane to victory; this impressive performance earned Metcalf the game’s MVP honors. 

Later that night, the NBA tested out the second year of a new Rising Stars Challenge format. It began with two semifinal games with Team Pau facing off against Team Deron while Team Joakim took on Team Jason. Led by the 2023 Rising Stars MVP Jose Alvarado and an impressive 15 points from Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero, Team Pau secured a victory at a 15-point lead against Team Deron. Team Joakim would meet Team Pau in the final match following a 40-32 point victory against team Jason. The Philadelphia 76ers guard and 2023 Slam Dunk Champion Mac McClung racked up 10 points for Team Jason, but Quentin Grimes and Evan Mobley’s efforts pushed Team Joakim to victory. In a tight championship game, it was Alvarado of the New Orleans Pelicans scoring a game-winning 3-pointer to bring Team Pau the 25-20 victory. He finished the game with five points. 

Saturday night was filled with the most exciting events of the weekend. The Skills Challenge kicked off festivities where Team Jazz, Team Rooks and Team Antetokounmpo put their skills to the test in three rounds. Team Rooks won the first round, Team Relay, earning them 100 points. In the second round, Team Jazz excelled in the passing drills, earning the 100 challenge points. The last round was a shooting challenge, in which each player earned points shooting at five different positions on the court. Team Antetokounmpo and Team Rooks had disappointing performances, and it was Team Jazz who clinched a Skills Challenge victory in front of the home crowd. 

Following the Skills Challenge was the 3-point contest, completed by Tyrese Haliburton, Tyler Herro, Buddy Hield, Kevin Huerter, Damian Lillard, Lauri Markkanen, Julius Randle and Jayson Tatum. In the first round, Haliburton matched Stephen Curry’s record for most points in a 3-point contest with 31. New York Knicks All-Star Randle followed with only 13 points, and his 6-year-old son was caught on camera with a disappointed look at his father’s subpar performance. The 2020 3-point winner Hield and Portland Trail Blazers’ Lillard qualified for the second round of the contest along with Haliburton. Hield opened the second round scoring 25 points, but Lillard took the lead scoring 26 points while sinking two 30-foot buckets in the process. Haliburton was unable to surpass Lillard, even after his impressive first round performance. This was Lillard’s first 3-point contest victory of his career and he did it while rocking his alma mater Weber State’s uniform. 


The last event of the night, the Slam Dunk Contest, saw Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks, Kenyon Martin Jr. of the Houston Rockets, Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans and Mac McClung of the Philadelphia 76ers vie for the title. Though this year lacked the star power of previous years, one contestant unexpectedly revived the electricity in the dunk contest. McClung was crowned champion after being called up from the NBA G League just a week prior. The event began with Murphy III slamming it in after an alley-oop pass from Alvarado. Sims performed two “honey dip” dunks in the first round in a disappointing performance for Knicks fans. In his second attempt, he stuck his arm inside the rim and pulled out a note from the net signaling the judges to give him a score of 50. However, with minimal cheers coming from the crowd, he did not receive a perfect score. Murphy III and McClung proceeded to the second and final round. McClung’s 540-degree dunk in his high school jersey capped off his legendary performance. Between his four dunks, McClung got perfect 50s on all but one attempt. Even though he has received minimal minutes in NBA games and has spent most of his career in the G League, McClung put his name on the map after the world saw him lift the Slam Dunk trophy. 

The All-Star game was the final event of the weekend, where team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo picked their teams’ playground-style just before the game began. Though James has been undefeated in the new format, Team Giannis handed him his first loss. The 184-175 victory was led by the game’s MVP Jayson Tatum’s record-breaking 55 points and Donovan Mitchell’s 40 points. Both players outcompeted Team LeBron’s Jaylen Brown, who scored 35 points. Similar to previous years, the high-scoring game was full of highlights and void of defense, leaving some fans desiring a game with more competitiveness. Even Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone called it “the worst basketball game ever.” Much of the game consisted of uncontested dunks and 3-point attempts from the logo. However, in the fourth quarter Boston Celtics fans were in for a treat as all players on the court quite literally stepped aside allowing Tatum and Brown to battle one-on-one. Though Brown knocked down a couple of contested 3-pointers over Tatum, it was a deep Lillard 3-pointer that sealed the game for Team Giannis. 

With three extra days off after the weekend, NBA basketball resumed on Thursday, Feb. 23. The final two months of the regular season always prove to be the most important stretch of the season, as teams rev up for the playoffs. Only time will tell who the real contenders will be and who will be knocked out of playoff contention.