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Sunday, February 19, 2023

Mac McClung Wows Crowd, Wins Julius "Dr. J" Erving Slam Dunk Contest Trophy

The overall quality of the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest in recent years has been inconsistent at best, with too many missed dunks, too few stars participating, and too little imagination. The Slam Dunk Contest used to feature many of the sport's biggest stars, and the participants used to amaze fans with dunks that had never been seen before. While today's stars decline to participate, Julius Erving tested his mettle against young leapers as late as 1985, when he was 35 years old. Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins squared off in the Slam Dunk Contest in their prime years; they did not think that they were above the event, nor were their egos so sensitive that they worried that anything less than a first place finish would diminish their status.

The very concept of having an All-Star Weekend--as opposed to just having an All-Star Game--grew out of the popularity of the Slam Dunk Contest. The NBA built All-Star Weekend around the Slam Dunk Contest, augmenting that showcase event with other events such as the Three Point Contest and the Legends Game (which has since been replaced with a series of other events, as the risk of legends injuring themselves put an end to that particular event).

This year, a most improbable participant brought some luster back to the Slam Dunk Contest. Mac McClung has yet to play in an NBA game--he signed a two-way deal with the Philadelphia 76ers last week--but he has become something of an internet sensation with the array of dunks he displayed while playing in the G-League. Listed at just 6-2, McClung scored a perfect 50 on his first NBA Slam Dunk Contest dunk, and he received 49.8 on his second dunk to advance to the final round, where he faced off against Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans. In the final round, McClung racked up two more perfect 50s, ending the night--and the contest--with a 540 degree spinning dunk while wearing his high school jersey. McClung looked into the camera and noted, "It's over," and he was right.

The NBA has been naming and renaming many of its awards and honors, including the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP, the Michael Jordan NBA regular season MVP, and the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP. Now, the Slam Dunk Contest trophy has been named in Julius Erving's honor. 

Julius "Dr. J" Erving proudly displaying the Julius "Dr. J" Erving Slam Dunk Contest trophy before the start of the 2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

The Julius "Dr. J" Erving Slam Dunk Contest trophy includes a depiction of a stethoscope in honor of Erving's "Dr. J" nickname, and it displays imagery connected with three of his iconic dunks: his 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Contest free throw line dunk, one of his dunks over Bill Walton in the 1977 NBA Finals, and his "Rock the Baby" dunk over Michael Cooper. The trophy also honors Erving's two NBA All-Star Game MVPs (1977, 1983), and his three ABA regular season MVPs (1974-76; he shared the 1975 award with George McGinnis). It is wonderful--and long overdue--that the NBA is acknowledging some of Erving's ABA accomplishments and awards. I understand why the trophy shows jersey #32 next to his three ABA MVPs--he wore #32 in the ABA--but it would have been even more fitting to correctly label Erving a four-time MVP, as he also won the 1981 NBA regular season MVP. Erving is the only player who won the regular season MVP in both leagues, and he is the only non-center to win the NBA regular season MVP between Oscar Robertson (1964) and Larry Bird (1984).

Erving presented the Julius "Dr. J" Erving Slam Dunk Contest trophy to McClung:

It was fitting to see a former 76er present the award to a current 76er, and it was inspiring to see a player who has not even played in an NBA game perform with such poise under the bright lights of NBA All-Star Weekend.

Erving is the perfect choice for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest trophy, and it is great that the trophy clearly notes that Erving was much more than just an exciting dunker. I would just add that if the NBA ever creates a trophy honoring members of the 30,000 Point Club then Erving would be a great choice for that trophy as well, because he was the first "midsize" player to join a club that previously had been the exclusive province of two of the sport's greatest big men: Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Much like Erving paved the way for "midsize" players to win NBA regular season MVPs, he also paved the way for "midsize" players to crack the 30,000 point barrier that had previously eluded Pantheon players, including Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:26 AM



At Monday, February 20, 2023 9:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

had the game on during 2nd half ... seems almost all pts were scored on dunks (with non-existent D), uncontested layups, and 3s (and FTs). I think all (or nearly) all of Tatum's 55 came on those shots. they should scrap the game and just do more skills competition -- dunk contest, 3-pt shooting; that's all the "game" is anyway now


At Monday, February 20, 2023 5:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the game should be scrapped, and I made that suggestion in my All-Star Game recap article.

At Wednesday, February 22, 2023 5:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a better alternative would be to break the players up into teams of 3 and play 3 on 3 pick up as a small knockout tournament. Might make things more competitive.

At Wednesday, February 22, 2023 9:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure if anything will be sufficient to persuade most of today's NBA stars to compete. The stars tend to skip the Slam Dunk Contest, skip the Three Point Shootout, and sleepwalk through the All-Star Game, so I am not convinced that there is any format or framework that will inspire them to compete.


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