Mac McClung. Dominque Wilkins. Vince Carter. Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan. For all of NBA history, these five names will be linked in one very specific way: all five, along with several other players ranging from legends to journeymen, were winners of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. And nearly all fans of All-Star Saturday Night would say that since the era when the iconic Hall of Fame players competed, the event had lost quite a bit of luster.
Enter McClung. The G League player with a long history of viral internet dunks stole the show with one of the better dunk contest performances in recent history. Luminaries such as Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson are already saying that McClung saved the event and perhaps his example could help spur greater interest among high-profile players.
Of course, aside from McClung, we have no way of knowing who will compete in years to come. What we do know is who McClung will be joining in the history books. Below is every slam dunk champion in the event's history, starting with Julius Erving in the ABA in 1976 all the way through to McClung in 2023.
You might notice a couple of irregularities on that list. As the contest was initially an ABA invention, it wasn't adopted in its current format in the NBA until 1985. There was a brief two-year absence in the late 1990s, first in 1998, when the NBA attempted to replace it with the "WNBA-NBA 2Ball Competition," and then again in 1999 when the lockout canceled All-Star Weekend altogether.
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The dunk contest has continued as scheduled ever since, though with its waning popularity in recent years, there was some fear that it could be in danger if something didn't change. Well, McClung might be just the change this event needed. He created genuine excitement around a contest that had grown stale, and it will now be easily the most anticipated event at All-Star Weekend next season. At that point, he'll attempt to become the first repeat champion since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010. See you in Indianapolis.