Featured Gallery, NBA / Mar 8, 2011 / 2:00 pm

The Fear Of Failure

Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady (photo. Marc Morrison)

Flashes. Those are all that’s left. All you can remember. And it really sucks because the good memories are supposed to last forever, even if all you see now is an older guy with a chubby upper body, shooting flat jumpers on a team going nowhere.

But man, this collage of words isn’t even about Tracy McGrady. T-Mac just so happens to have become the face for the millions of others who remain nameless in this piece.

Really, the only thing I want out of all this technology, all of this science that will push forward until it ultimately kills us, is for someone to say they have the brain figured out. That’s all I want. It’ll never happen. But I want to dig inside and find out why people act the way they do, make the choices they make and how exactly people deal with wasted talent. That’s the saddest thing of all.

I’ve been reading the recently-released book Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Marty Dobrow that follows six minor leaguers in their quest to finally make the big leagues. It’s a story about family, about the ugly, business side of sports and about daily, 8-hour bus rides from Reading, Pa. to Pawtucket, R.I. and everything in between. But most importantly, it’s about dreams, undying fear and a love for a game.

You read about these characters that sacrifice friendship, security and the luxuries of starting a family to pursue a lifelong dream that refuses to happen. Their dedication and will can be mind-boggling; their naivety can be troublesome.

It reminded me. There was a lot written this weekend on Tracy McGrady and unclaimed potential. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, basically a meeting of all of the greatest basketball stat-nerds and bloggers, both former Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said McGrady never became what he should’ve been. “Freakish” talent they called it, almost so talented that it hurt him. But terrible practice habits, they said.

What makes a guy like Doug Clark, a former baseball player profiled in the book, spend almost a decade in the minor leagues, making as much money as some high-school part-time jobs, to ultimately appear in 14 major league games whereas other athletes just don’t care? Is there such a thing as being too talented? And when do we reach that point?

The only limit to success is your desire. I hear and read that all the time. Every once in a while, I slow down for a second and think. Is that really true? You hear it so much that it has become a cliché.

What exactly causes one player to back down while another rises? Think about all of the times when you wanted something so bad, knew you wanted it, your head was telling you that you wanted it, but yet you couldn’t bring yourself to do what you had to. You couldn’t work hard enough, or couldn’t speak up. I’m not even talking about just sports.

Sometimes, you know your problem. It eats away at you because you can’t help it. You realize what you have to do to make changes and yet, everything in your world stays the same. It’s not really destiny but sometimes it feels that way. Maybe it’s fear that causes this. A fear of failure.

I’m sorry if this piece may leave more questions than answered ones. Selfishly, everyone wishes McGrady cared just a little bit more. Yes, the injuries weren’t entirely his fault. But it still feels like he didn’t take complete advantage of the time he had. I’m sure Doug Clark did everything he possible could to earn himself a major-league check. But will he too ultimately think, “I didn’t do enough?”

Was this always the plan for Tracy McGrady? Everything that he had going for him, to end up like this? I know many fans will automatically assume he doesn’t care or else he would’ve done something about it.

But I don’t think that’s true. He does care. There’s just something else that always held him back. You want to feel bad for McGrady, but you don’t. You feel bad for the millions of people out there just like him, just like you and I, with squandered talent, with a fear of something you can’t see.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
  • Lee

    Good article. I think not spending a year in college hurt McGrady but I feel no one can say a sports star didn’t have desire. You hear them say they new a guy who was way better than them when they were coming through yet that guy didn’t become anything. All these guys sacrificed a lot to get into the league, but once they’re there they fall away (Eddie Curry, Shawn Kemp)

  • w

    Damn I thought I could forget about t mac now that austin was gone… Well written article though…

  • Hucklebuck

    Maybe it has to do with the personality of an individual. Maybe its not as big of a deal to do it. Maybe you either have it, or you don’t, but more importantly, you either really want it, or you don’t.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Andrew Macaluso

    Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with athleticism. When McGrady entered the League, he was out of this world athletic. He didn’t work hard enough because he relied on pure ability to give him the extra edge. And I find it hard to believe that he’s put in an absurd amount of hours in the gym like a Ray Allen or a Kobe Bryant’s put in. Yes, injuries were not his fault, but not working extra hard with that ability might have hurt just a little bit as well. And had he worked hard enough to better that pure ability he had, then there probably wouldn’t be a discussion about whether or not he’s a future Hall of Fame player.

  • north

    As an elementary school coach we get to see this type of thing foster at a young age. The more talented kids, with their parents chirping in their ear, don’t try as hard as they could/should in practice, or in games for that matter. They’re told for them, they’ll always have another game. They can ride their talent as far as they want, they don’t need to practice. They don’t realize that this type of behavior just continues to grow until they’re where TMac is now, where Vince is, where people blame Kobe for being at times.
    Score 20 per game in grade 8 without trying too hard and learning the system and it’s hard to see why you should try harder… but put the kid who barely makes the team, who tries so hard to make it into the starting unit, into the talented kids body… that’s when you end up with MJ comparisons. Not making the grade 10 team for MJ was a blessing to everyone who got to watch him afterward.

  • Mark

    I wish the league were this accessible back when Penny played. I wanted to have appreciated his talent.

  • Fish

    On the injury front most of it was almost certainly caused when he flipped from having a 210 fairly measly frame to a beastly 235(?) with Orlando some years ago. He actually played great with the extra muscle, but his body didn’t cope and within a couple of seasons everything broke down. His training staff should take some responsibity for that one.

    Would agree that not going to college and entering the NBA in the way he did probably did have a bad effect on his psyche. He was told a little too early that he was the chosen one (and in fairness, why not believe it when you are that talented?), and I think it took the edge off his work ethic.

    One of the most telling comments he made in the last few years for me is when he was being asked about his abilities and he said he isn’t going to be dunking on people like he did on Memhut Okur in 2003. Just a random comment when being asked if you still have what it takes to win, and seems to betray the rather bizarre mentality of McGrady World.

  • yoda

    this is best example why kobe is champion and t-mac is not. i remember reading few years ago when kobe said something like: i always knew i’ll lose ability to jump high or i won’t be as fast as i was. thats why i worked hard, to master every aspect of the game. and that is why he is complete player who, with his millage, is still one of the best, if not the best player in the world. basics and working on your game. he has his share of injuries but he did everything he could to prevent them or to rehabilitate them properly. proper diet, yoga, excersise, what ever. even grant hill showed that if you work hard and make adjustments, you can make it far. and you can’t compare problems t-mac had with hill’s problems.

  • the cynic

    i remember McGrady standing around, not even pretending to try on defense

  • the cynic

    McGrady was lazy, no core strength, hence the back problems

  • http://www.dimemag.com Austin Burton

    I don’t feel bad for T-Mac in the same sense that I don’t feel bad for Gale Sayers. While it’s unfortunate that injuries cut short their run at the top, each still enjoyed a good 5 years when they were among the best in the world at what they do; so many athletes don’t even have that experience for one week, let alone one month or one season, so I don’t feel bad. As long as T-Mac is able to leave this game still in good enough shape to play with his kids, he is a winner.

    At the same time, I do think a lot of our perceptions on who works hard and who doesn’t work hard are creations of media and marketing. The tales of Jordan and Kobe working so much harder than anyone else have taken on lives of their own, to where you have people who believe Kobe NEVER takes a play off and NEVER takes a day off when it’s clearly not the case. For guys like T-Mac and LeBron, who live on the other side where their work ethic is constantly questioned, it’s also a case of perception. It would be ridiculous to think that T-Mac and LeBron just sat on a couch all summer, put on some sneakers in October and dropped 28 points a night against NBA defenses. Those guys work hard, much harder at their craft than most people.

  • yoda

    @ Austin,
    never said he is eddy curry type of guy. i just said he didn’t work on his game like other greats did. MJ couldn’t play same way at 33 as when he was 23. kobe is doing same thing. they adjust and they improve their game constantly. thats why they managed to be productive for so many years, injuries aside.

  • jerkishbehavior.com

    What does this article have anything to do with TMAC? How did TMAC not work hard? He went from being a bench player with “Potential” in toronto w/ vince to being a fucking superstar who did everything on the court w/ orlando & hou while winning multiple scoring titles. U don’t do that without working on your game or puttin in the work. Injuries robbed TMAC of his longevity as a potential Hall Of Famer and perennial all star. He not only had fucked up knees but Larry Bird back which isn’t a good look for any athlete let alone some1 the likes of TMAC. TMac is still puttin up all around numbers in detroit as a point guard & guy who can play 3 positions, so he is just adjusting to being the new grant hill.

  • LakeShow84

    I think there is practicing just to say you practiced and then there is practicing to push yourself farther than uve ever pushed yourself..

    MJ and Kobe pushed themselves in practice to learn the intricacies of the game and pushed themselves so hard they played at a high level for such a long amount of time..

    McGrady and Lebron seem like the type to put in the court required practice time just to get by without hearing any shit..

  • stefan

    I don’t know if it is the case here, but maybe players find more important things to pursue in life. Once they have the financial means and everything set up, they might still play, but have other principles in their heads, not basketball related, but other sports (golf..) religion (although kareem did continue to perform very good), helping kids in africa.. etc. I am just saying… maybe other players just like gambling and go into that, and other stupid stuff. I guess T-mac did not limit himself to one goal, of winning basketball games, maybe he has other stuff on his mind, that we, basketball fans, committed to reading basketball related material from reporters that ask basketball related questions when interviewing players, have no idea about.

  • thenatural

    i think one thing that often goes overlooked with professional athletes and injuries is the misconception that they don’t care.

    for most of us, we will never know how it feels to be an athlete and constantly push your body year after year. if you twist your ankle in a pick up game and you decide to sit the next week out, no one would think twice. for athletes, they are constantly dealing with injuries that other regular people will never have any concept of.

    just because you’re tall and can shoot a basketball doesn’t mean your body can handle year after year of constant physical activity. the body eventually breaks down – sooner for some and later for others. for guys like vince, tmac and penny, they put up a number of great years for which their body could sustain the constant impact of jumping. at a certain point, the knees breakdown.

    don’t get me wrong – for some guys it is about attitude, but lets not forget all of us sitting at our desk jobs that we really have no idea what it feels like to be a professional athlete.

  • http://recoverthegospel.com Eddie

    Excellent article.

  • Talented

    Nice article. But I feel that if Grant Hill can put in the work to fight past his injuries, surgeries, his age, and still continue to be relevant in the league, than T-Mac can as well..if he wants to.

  • FreeZ

    good article.. I think the poster boy for unfulfilled potential still goes to Vince Carter. Although both he and Tmac were among the best, VC never had that killer instinct to become the best. Tmac had a few years where he was unstoppable and his playoff performances were better than reg. season averages. VC may be the best dunker, but thats it.

  • asmatic asiatic

    I think T-Mac had a solid run and was among the top 5-10 players in the league for a decent amount of time. It hard to consistenly stay at that top level especially when dealing with the injuries he’s had, age, and changing teams like he has. Although I’m at a smaller scale, I had ACL replacement surgery and I feel like I will never be the same ball player I was; it is both a physical and psychological battle….

  • http://www.lakernation.com smoove chips

    I guess to be absolutely blunt we are talking about maximum optimization.They get paid millions to play,by us the consuming public so you expect the best out of them.A silly co-relation but we make it anyway.

    So if im a nuggets fan and looking at J.R smith, a part of me would die everytime. When he is on point,his swag,creativity,physique and production rival kobe’s anyday.granted his arsenal isn’t as deep but the tools are RIGHT there..waiting for a craftsman that barely picks them up.

    u get a pass for lingering injuries.some cards you can’t play out like you want.You’ll never hear a foul word outta my mouth about greg oden. that pass is also not the end all be all.

    how you carry yourself even in the midst of injuries and shit happening to you says a lot about you.And we can tell because we are grown ups.

    I can’t in good conscience put tmac and grant hill in the same box.It would be insulting to Grant hill. Let’s just say i dont fluck with Tmac no more,no matter what his reason or excuse is.

    @ North.
    God bless you for that last sentence ! That moved me.

  • http://www.lakernation.com smoove chips

    BTW i didn’t forget about vince.Like t-mac I just never really wanna talk about him.

  • knoc99

    best piece I’ve seen round here in a minute.

  • arislocote

    @ smoove chips:

    You’re a certified hater!

  • Kyle

    Not a fan of T-Mac, but not a hater for no reason. In Houston, he worked his ass off but was injury prone. He’d play hurt(cause Yao would be hurt), and drag an injury plagued team into the playoffs. He was a great help defender(when he wanted), great passer, and could outscore almost anyone.

    It might just be he needed one year of college or better practice habits, but when you’re always limping, how are you gonna kill yourself in practice? Kobe has a different build from T-Mac, just like Nash has a different build from T.J. Ford.

  • http://www.forumblueandgold.com smoove chips

    @ arislocote.
    Hating is a waste of time.Plus you can’t throw out words like that with no explanations.you end up looking stupid.what assesment that I made did you not agree with ? Did you disagree with everything i said. Engage you own brain.That’s how adults flex.