Over the past several years, the 2023 NBA All-Star weekend has proven itself to be hit-or-miss, regardless if it gets the big-time hype and marketing. Fortunately for us fans, the basketball gods decided it’s going to be mostly good this year.
From the star-studded hoop game that had various figures across pop culture, to the re-formatted Jordan Rising Stars challenge, to the always anticipated contests on Sunday (Manila time), it was a fun-filled, two-day showcase.
The highlights poured in: NFL star DK Metcalf boasted an array of dunks in the celebrity game, hometown guys Team Jazz rallied back to win the Skills Challenge after a slow start, and Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard won the three-point contest by one point.
Two other highlights, however, are more noteworthy than the rest, mainly because of how they trailed their current path. New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado capturing the Rising Stars MVP and Philadelphia 76ers two-way contract player Mac McClung winning the Slam Dunk contest.
Let’s dive in through Alvarado and McClung’s journey into the NBA, especially this weekend.
Jose Alvarado came from Georgia Tech University, the same school that honed New York playground legends and NBA vets Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury. However, although Alvarado played well for the Yellow Jackets and helped guide them to the NCAA Tournament berth, he was left out in the 2021 NBA Draft.
NBA-level talents don’t unnoticed for very long, though, so the then 23-year-old was soon signed by the Pelicans and assigned into their G-League affiliate, the Birmingham Squadron. He excelled quickly, and by the start of the 2021-22 season, Jose was already in the Pels’ main roster, and eventually in the regular rotation.
Much of his climb in the depth chart is thanks to unlocking a niche:
As an undrafted rookie in the 2021-22 season, Alvarado appeared in 54 regular season games and averaged 15.4 minutes per game. He collected 1.3 steals in that limited playing time, which equalled into a would-be league-leading 3.1 steals in Per 36, rightfully earning the nickname ‘Grand Theft Alvarado’ – easily one of the nicest nicknames in years.
That then got him invited into Saturday’s (Manila time) Rising Stars roster, where his beaming confidence resulted in solid play for Team Pau. Structured as a two-game tournament, Jose chipped in 13 all-important points in the first contest and followed it up by an off-balanced, buzzer-beating trifecta in the finals.
He called the game-winner too.
As some of you may remember, Matthew “Mac” McClung was a viral social media sensation in the mid and late 2010s alongside future NBA first overall pick and All-Star Zion Williamson, right when hoop mixtapes were starting to really blow up on social media.
Unfortunately, while both got crowds crazy with athleticism, Williamson was the only legit NBA prospect as he was 6’6 and had a monster-like frame. McClung can score (even broke Allen Iverson’s record in Virginia), but he barely eclipsed 6’0 – such qualities are ultimately not that notable to NBA scouts.
As such, he was not only a one-and-done, he also became a senior that transferred schools in between – from Georgetown to Texas Tech. But, like Jose, he proved to be an NBA-level talent and he got signed prior to the ’21-22 campaign.
He has bounced from the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, and Golden State Warriors (including their G-League affiliates), but believers are hanging on, thanks perhaps to being named the 2022 G-League Rookie of the Year. The Philadelphia 76ers picked him up prior to the ’22-23 opener but was waived just days after, and was signed again on February 14, 2023, which then led to an invite for Sunday’s 2023 Slam Dunk contest.
Well, after that, the rest is history. Mac got the arena and fans everywhere hyped, all glad to see the Slam Dunk contest being alive again.
All four of his four dunks were clean and completed on the first try, and we all know how huge that is. It’s the best way to get the 50s.
From social media darling, forgotten hype, rookie journeyman, to now: a certified NBA Slam Dunk champion. He said he’ll happily defend it too, which should create a year-long hype for the next All-Star weekend.
It’ll be very, very intriguing as it may finally attract the stars back into the competition.