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Where Mac McClung is finding inspiration to defend his NBA dunk contest crown

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INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – A year ago, Mac McClung stole the show at the NBA‘s All-Star Weekend

His sensational dunk contest performance, combined with his background — a G League player who to that point had only appeared in two NBA games — transformed him into an overnight sensation. He was invited to appear on national talk shows. He signed sponsorship deals with Puma and AT&T. 

So when the NBA extended him an invite in December to defend his title at the league’s 2024 dunk contest, it seemed inevitable that McClung would accept. And yet, McClung was unsure. Not because he doesn’t love dunking. But rather because, silly as it might seem, dunking, at least if you dunk and think about dunks like McClung, is hard work.  

“When I do something, I go all-in,” McClung told FOX Sports late Thursday night, following a practice session. “The dunk contest was a ton of fun, but I just had to make sure that I was in the right place to do that, to take on that burden and put that burden on my body.”

Around the start of January, recognizing that the opportunity was too good to pass up, McClung began prepping. He spent hours cycling through various YouTube videos, looking at clips from previous contests and professional dunkers for inspiration.

“Just thinking about how I can add to those or make them different,” he said. 

[2023-24 NBA odds: Mac McClung favored to win dunk contest]

McClung has spent the season with the Orlando Magic‘s G League affiliate, the Osceola Magic, but on off days, he has been testing out ideas in the gyms. Sometimes he’ll jump more than 100 times during a session. “You go and play around with things until you can make it two to three times in a row,” he said.  

On Saturday night, McClung will be competing against Jaylen Brown from the Boston Celtics, Jacob Toppin from the New York Knicks and Jaime Jaquez Jr. from the Miami Heat. McClung is currently favored to win at -225 (bet $10 to win $14.44 total).

McClung has been open about his yearning for an NBA contract. He went undrafted in 2021 out of Texas Tech and has spent the years since bouncing between various G League teams. He averaged 19.8 points, 5.0 assists and shot 47.4% from deep last season for the Philadelphia 76ers‘ affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, and helped lead them to a G League title. The Sixers brought him up for their final two regular-season games, and McClung racked up 20 points, nine points and nine rebounds in a start. But this offseason, he was once again forced to settle for a G League contract. 

Is any part of him worried about becoming known simply for his dunks? 

“I feel like as I get older, it’s not really what other people think in my life, I really just believe in doing what you love to do,” McClung said. “I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t something that I truly loved.

“Of course, I believe I should be in the NBA. But I’ll just let my work and résumé do the talking and in the meantime, soak it all in.”

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.


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