SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mac McClung might have single-handedly restored the shine on a dunk contest that has been widely panned in recent years.
And Damian Lillard represented his school and his brand, doing them both proud.
McClung, the 6-foot-2 Philadelphia guard on a two-way contract, defeated New Orleans’ Trey Murphy III in the finals of the dunk contest, culminating an NBA All-Star Saturday that may have finally answered the question as to whether what used to be the league’s signature event can be glitzy again.
McClung had the answer: Absolutely.
“I’m truly blessed and grateful for the NBA giving me this opportunity,” McClung said.
A 540-degree dunk — not a 360, a 540, him doing one-and-a-half rotations in the air — was his third perfect score of the night out of four dunks, but by the time the judges’ scores came up it was already decided. Everyone in the building knew he’d already won.
“It’s over,” McClung said.
It was. And he immediately committed to defending his title at Indianapolis at All-Star Saturday next year.
“If you guys will have me, I’ll be back,” McClung said.
His is an unbelievable story: McClung has played mostly in the G League. Philadelphia would become his third NBA team, and he hasn’t even played for the 76ers yet. He played in one game last season for the Chicago Bulls, one other game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He has three NBA baskets.
He had four dunks on Saturday night. A guy with more dunks than actual NBA field goals might have saved the dunk contest.
“Give this man his flowers, man,” TNT commentator Kenny Smith said.
McClung set the tone for the night with a dunk that had NBA superstars in disbelief — he leaped over two people, took the ball out of the hands of one of them, tapped it on the backboard and then threw down a reverse slam.
And that was just for starters.
Riding the momentum of that perfect dunk, he wound up hoisting the trophy that was newly renamed for dunking legend — and former 76ers star — Julius “Dr. J” Erving.
McClung was nearly perfect on his second dunk as well; four judges gave him a perfect 50, Lisa Leslie gave him a 49 as the only dissenter, but it didn’t matter — he was already assured a spot in the final round against Murphy.
New York’s Jericho Sims gave himself a 50 on his second dunk, where he attached an envelope to the net, pulled it down after the dunk and displayed “50” to the world. No judge agreed, and his two-dunk score of 95.4 wasn’t good enough to make the final round.
Also eliminated after Round 1: Houston’s Kenyon Martin Jr., with a score of 93.2.
Lillard, the Portland star, won the 3-point contest by topping Indiana teammates Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton in the final round.
Lillard wore a Weber State jersey with “Dolla” on the back. Weber State is his college; he performs music under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A. And when he got the trophy, he had a Blazers warmup shirt on for that moment.
“They say the third time’s the charm,” said Lillard, who got his first 3-point title in his third try at the event. “And I’m happy that it happened here. It’s a perfect situation. I’m happy that I did it in my home, coming back here to Utah.”
Lillard won the final round with 26 points. Hield had 25 and Haliburton scored 17.
Lillard played his college games in Ogden, Utah, about a half-hour outside of Salt Lake City. And the historic ramification of finally getting a 3-point title wasn’t lost on him.
“The best shooters in the history of our game, most of them have one of these,” Lillard said as he held the trophy. “I just wanted to get it done at least one time. And now I have it, so I can retire from it.”
Haliburton won the first round with 31 points. Lillard had 26, and Hield had 23.
Eliminated in the first round were Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Utah’s Lauri Markkanen, Miami’s Tyler Herro, New York’s Julius Randle and Sacramento’s Kevin Huerter.
Utah got a win to open All-Star Saturday night.
The Jazz — a roster composed of Utah players Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton — won the Skills Challenge on Saturday night, prevailing in two of the three competitions.
“It feels good, especially to do it in front of the home team,” Sexton said.
The Rooks were second, with Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Detroit’s Jaden Ivey and Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr. getting 100 points.
“I had a lot of fun just doing that even though we took the L,” said Banchero, who was part of the winning squad in Friday’s Rising Stars games. “It was really fun getting out there in front of the fans. Skills Challenge, watched that all the time growing up during All-Star Weekend. So being a part of it was great.”
The Antetokounmpos were third, with Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Alex Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday — a fill-in for injured Milwaukee Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo — getting shut out.
The Rooks won the team relay for 100 points, after having the best time on a course where teams had to complete a 35-foot outlet pass, do downcourt dribbling, a short jumper, a left corner 3-pointer and then a dunk at the other end.
Next up was the team passing event, won by the Jazz — giving them 100 points — after they were the most accurate in a series of 35-foot outlet passes, 20-foot bounce passes and 25-foot chest passes.
It ended with the Team Shooting event — worth 200 points — with the Jazz prevailing there to clinch the win.
“We did it for Utah, man,” Clarkson said.