Basketball’s biggest apparel outfitters are missing out on Mac’s moment. Boardrooms breaks down the reasons why that might be.
“Is that a 720?”
Around the TNT sideline and across the country, fans watched Mac McClung’s fourth-round dunk both astonished and perplexed.
Kenny Smith, an accomplished analyst and former Slam Dunk Contest participant, quizzed his colleagues in search of an answer.
“It might have been,” said Reggie Miller, a history major while at UCLA and longtime contest commentator.
“He started off backwards,” noted Draymond Green, a Michigan State communications major who surmised it was actually a 540. “So he really tricked us.”
Sandwiched by Shaq, the All-Star Weekend crew calculated the spins in real-time, trying to figure out the miraculous movement they just witnessed in Salt Lake City.
50. 50. 50. 50. 50.
While the degree of rotation remains unclear, the degree of difficulty was pronounced.
“It’s a great dunk,” said Draymond. “I had him picked to win. He proved the haters wrong.”
Both online and in-audience, the love was real for Mac McClung on Saturday night as Julius Erving handed him the trophy and the NBA’s elite erupted in celebration.
McClung, the crafty combo guard who played his college ball for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and then Chris Beard at Texas Tech, entered the slam dunk spectacle as an undrafted G-League standout best known for his viral mixtapes.
Wearing a red No. 9 Philadelphia 76ers jersey for the first time on an NBA court, he used his last dunk to pay homage to his high school home of Gate City.
In that unbranded black tank, McClung put down his third perfectly scored slam of the night, taking home the title and quieting all critics.
“Mac McClung has saved the Dunk Contest,” exclaimed Miller.
“A star has been born tonight,” said Smith.
While 50 may be the number best associated with McClung coming out of the All-Star break, it’s his high school No. 0 jersey that’s getting all the buzz since.
Over the weekend, a home iteration sold on eBay for $350 the night of the contest.
Noticeably out of the action are the Sixers, Fanatics, and the NBA.
A New Era
At the University of North Carolina, Kenny Smith studied economics.
Perhaps the marketing majors working across sportswear could connect with him for some consulting.
As it currently stands, Mac McClung possesses 1 million followers on Instagram. For reference, that’s more than All-Stars Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyrese Haliburton, and Domantas Sabonis combined.
This is not to say McClung is a better player than the aforementioned All-Star reserves — he isn’t — but in an era of online celebration, he’s certainly more sellable at this moment than the majority of the league he’s looking to enter.
This is exactly why PUMA took a flyer on him ahead of the Dunk Contest, by signing him to a shoe deal after an amateur ascent and G-League Rookie of the Year run played predominantly in Nike.
However, when it comes to a phenomenon like McClung, it’s less about selling sneakers and more about moving units in T-shirts and jerseys.
In a world dominated by online shopping and even Web 2.0 buying buzz, screen-printed apparel is absolutely bankable when it comes to both push and pull manufacturing methods.
As currently constructed, Fanatics, the Sixers team shop, and the NBA Store all allow customizable options for screen-printed tanks and jersey shirts for all members of Philly’s active roster.
What it does not include is Mac McClung.
To be fair, it is extremely likely that McClung will not be a member of the Sixers’ active roster for longer than this week. Though the Dunk Contest champ leads the Delaware Blue Coats in scoring and is shooting 50% from behind the arc, an array of injuries would have to transpire for Mac to jump Tyrese Maxey or Shake Milton in Doc Rivers’ rotation.
Standing only 6-foot-2 and weighing 185 lbs, McClung’s size, or lack thereof, makes him a challenge on defense when considering Eastern Conference competition in the backcourt that ranges from 6-4 Jrue Holiday in Milwaukee to the stout strength of Marcus Smart in Boston.
These underdog measurements might make him a reach to stay on a roster, but they absolutely make him relatable when it comes to retail.
The best part for the online organizations already mentioned? All it takes is quick coding to offer the option to purchase his Sixers tank in the infamous Dunk Contest red, their blue-based Icon edition, or even the brand-new Brotherly Love City style.
Better yet? It’s all pull-based printing, meaning they don’t have to invest a single cent in inventory as the tanks and numbers already exist, just waiting to be screened.
While the NBA and its retail partners may be missing the moment, another underdog is seizing the opportunity.
Mac McClung’s fan base — as of now — is not Philadelphia.
In a market where The Process pulls in a Top 10 share in jersey sales across the entire NBA and fans would rightfully rather invest their hard-earned cash in a Jalen Hurts top, McClung has little skin in the city of Philadelphia, based on being delegated to Delaware and competing with local MVP candidates.
Where Mac McClung does matter is the internet.
Since his high school days in Virginia, the uncanny athlete has surpassed his hometown population of 200,000 to be a fixture on Ball is Life platforms that reach well over 10 million followers when considering various applications and avenues. By becoming a viral sensation in the late ’10s and early ’20s prior to the NIL introduction, McClung was not able to cash in on his theatrics when the world was watching.
This weekend, that has changed.
While PUMA paid McClung to wear their shoes in All-Star activities and post promotional content on his Instagram page, even the savviest marketers could not have anticipated the big boom that happened in Salt Lake City.
Instead, those with the notion to take McClung’s likeness to the top were his Day 1 supporters in Gate City, VA.
Not even 24 hours after Mac took home the trophy by landing his last dunk in his high school throwback, Gate City athletics started taking pre-orders for the same jersey, with all proceeds going back to the school’s athletic department.
Sold via pre-order on Google Forms — a process that theoretically would take far longer logistically than any NBA entity adding a name to their webstore server — the celebratory shirts come in at a modest $20, while the coveted jersey is just $50.
For reference, Fanatics sells Sixers replicas jerseys akin to the one McClung wore for $80, while the NBA sells the Jordan swingman style for $120 and the authentic game version for $200. In true underdog fashion – all puns intended – Gate City is undercutting franchises and companies all valued in the ballpark of billions.
Even other G-League affiliates have struck while the iron’s hot and the NBA has waited.
Similarly, the Delaware Blue Coats promoted a game-worn autographed McClung jersey just hours after the Dunk Contest. The winning bid was a whopping $640, with proceeds benefiting local mental health charities.
Theoretically, the G-League teams tied to McClung and his high school athletic department have far less on their plates than that of the Sixers, Fanatics, or the NBA.
However, the stark size of the multi-billion dollar entities with global reach proves far less nimble when it comes to maximizing this moment.
Perhaps they’re also less aware of who their customer is and how to meet them where they’re at.
Summer on Smash
Every so often, an unexpected NBA story resonates at retail in a manner no exec could predict.
In 2012, a phenomenon now known as Linsanity absolutely exploded without warning.
Though McClung lacks Lin’s momentum and his overarching fan base pales in comparison to that of Linsanity at its peak, the story sees similar juice.
Fans have been on the Mac McClung journey for five years, with a Day 1 buy-in registering its biggest payout on Saturday night.
While Wells Fargo Center may never be flooded with No. 9 tanks like Madison Square Garden once was in Jeremy jerseys, that’s not what it’s about for Mac in 2023.
From the fairgrounds of Coachella and Lollapalooza to pool parties and spring break, McClung jerseys possess a quirky clout that connects with today’s young uniform consumer.
In Dunk Contests of the past, the likes of Nate Robinson, Josh Smith, and Donovan Mitchell have paid homage to Spud Webb, Dominique Wilkins, and Vince Carter via throwback jersey homage. This type of advertising added to the visibility and intrigue of each style, even in eras where fan gear popularity was lukewarm.
This year, McClung maximized his moment by paying homage to his high school and essentially himself.
Aesthetically, he maximized the moment by calling his own number.
Perhaps the NBA will next.
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