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The Resurrection Of The Slam Dunk Contest

Rick Bowmer / AP

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has been much maligned in recent years. The league has not garnered the type of star participants it has in the past, and many point to the lack of financial incentives for the event. The true faces of the league haven’t been participating in the event arguably since the early 2010’s. The stars of the NBA don’t seem to see the necessity in participation if it doesn’t impact their legacy. 

Recent Memory

The awe and exhilaration of the Slam Dunk Contest is diminished if you don’t have the sport’s most recognizable faces like Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter of past contests. The Slam Dunk contest for many years was regarded as an artform and a way to highlight some of the supreme athleticism found within professional basketball.  

The contest has been lackluster in the past half-decade and calls for it to be dissolved have grown louder and louder with each passing year. Rule changes have been attempted and young players have seen this as an opportunity to be present on one of the NBA’s grander stages. 

This, however, has led to contests where participants are attempting the same dunk three to five times, deflating the excitement of the event and leaving a poor taste in the mouths of fans and viewers. The contests have been full of gimmicky side shows, strange costumes and odd props to supplement the lack of creativity from its contestants. 

That changed on Saturday night, hopefully for the foreseeable future.

The 2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

The 2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest consisted of four participants: Kenyon Martin Jr., Jericho Sims, Trey Murphy III and Mac McClung. You can see our preview of the event here. The dunk contest through the first three dunkers appeared to be the same old corny nonsense that we have unfortunately come to expect from the event. 

Sims put together a poor attempt of expanding upon Carter’s arm in the rim dunk from the past with both arms in the rim but couldn’t even properly execute that. Martin Jr. took three attempts to land his dunk which wasn’t terrible but for the amount of time wasted to accomplish was unimpressive. Murphy III brought out teammate Jose Alvarado to pretend like Alvarado was stealing the ball from him and threw an off the backboard 360 alley-oop which was the best showing up to that point in the event.

The contest seemed destined for the general mediocrity it has tragically become known for in the past five to ten years. That was until McClung stepped onto the court. The whirlwind of domination that transpired is difficult to articulate. 

The Mighty Mac

McClung executed two near perfect dunks in the first round, opening with a perfect 50 scored dunk. The opening dunk had McClung jump over and grab the ball from one person piggy-backed on top of another holding the ball. McClung then took the ball, bumped it on the backboard and finished with a behind the back dunk over his head. This happened so quickly you couldn’t visibly see the level of difficulty until the replay was presented to the viewers on television and the fans in the crowd. 

McClung’s second dunk was scored as a 49.8 with only judge Lisa Leslie not giving the dunk a perfect score. The Virginia native started around the right corner of the three-point line giving himself a head of steam. McClung brought the ball down as if he was going to dunk the ball over his head with his back to the rim then reversed himself in the air and swung it back around to slam the ball down. The sheer contortion of the body and control within the air was spectacular but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a 43.5 inch vertical leap to assist you. 

The Final Round

McClung was the leader after the first round, advancing with Murphy III to the final round. McClung’s third dunk attempt and first of the final round did not disappoint. The freshly signed Philadelphia 76er had another person hold the ball for him but this time standing completely upright and holding the basketball slightly above their head. McClung ran up and jumped over the man then took the ball from him and double-clutched the ball to throw it down over his head.

The incredibly physical talent and presence of mind to execute all of that to success was mind boggling. McClung was elevated so high in the air that the guard almost hit his head on the rim. The dunk was given a perfect score, McClung’s second of the evening but not the last.

McClung put on his high school Gate City jersey over his Sixers jersey before he stepped out onto the floor again. The former Hoya landed a 540 degree jam on his fourth and final slam dunk. McClung rotated his body fully in the area once and continued to rotate about another 180 degrees before slamming it and coming down.

McClung, upon returning to the ground, flattened his arms below his head and mouthed “it’s over” to the crowd with his third slam of the night scored pristinely.

The Aftermath

The rest of the contests failed to come close in impressing the crowd in any way. Murphy III was the only other contestant that remotely had some talent and originality but McClung was light-years beyond him in every measurable way. 

McClung had the presence, the speed, the leaping ability and imagination to blow all of the other contestants out of the water. This wasn’t a competition, it was a master-class on modern dunking. 

McClung was presented the trophy by Dr. J himself and there was no uncertainty on whether the Sixer would come back to defend his crown. 

“If you guys will have me, I’ll be back,” McClung said humbly. 

The amount of excitement and electricity in the air in Salt Lake City could be felt right through the TV screen. McClung single-handedly revived a dying event in one night, and the hope would be that this inspires more notable players to challenge him in the future.

The NBA Slam Dunk contest has the potential to be one of the most viewed All-Star events in sports and time will tell if this is a new era for the competition. A “jam-aissance,” if you will.

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