NBA, We Reminisce / May 25, 2011 / 5:00 pm

We Reminisce: Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady (photo. Marc Morrison)

“He looks like the devil.” Don’t even know why I said it. They didn’t look alike, outside of the glare. Spring 1999. Vince had set it off. On fire. Maybe that’s why “devil” came up. The first time I had ever really seen him play – had heard the name, but Toronto wasn’t exactly popping on the NBA scene – and immediately noticed the hops, the smoothness, the cool. The dude was raw. And yet, all I could say was, “He looks like the devil.” The devil. Oxymoron. Who would’ve ever thought the devil and Tracy McGrady would be used in the same sentence?

Birthday number 32 for him yesterday. 14 years in the league. 32 is young. But in this case, it’s old. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. Nah, this guy was different. 6-8. A condor wingspan. Splinter legs that could parachute 210 pounds. We’ve heard all the stories, like the time he dropped 38 and a sinister half-spin on Kobe, dropping Kobe. Or the playoff series against Milwaukee when he was so aggressive, so angry, that Glenn Robinson was scared to look at him. Or the 62 he dropped on Washington.

He was the rarest mix. Take some Penny and some Grant Hill and you mix ‘em up in a pot. Sprinkle a little LeBron on top. What do you got? You got the realest and illest killer who could’ve been the juggernaut of this, like it or not.

But along with injuries, part of the problem, as Yahoo! Sports says, was that he was too much of a natural.

But while McGrady’s abilities were awe-inspiring, his willingness to further cultivate them wasn’t, according to panelist and ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Florida-born star with the Houston Rockets from 2004 through 2007.

Van Gundy estimated McGrady at “probably 1,000 hours of practice,” just one-tenth of Gladwell’s rule, a figure that elicited laughter from the crowd. Noting that McGrady was as close to he’s ever seen as a basketball natural, Van Gundy went on to say that T-Mac “should be a Hall of Fame player.”

“His talent was otherworldly,” Van Gundy said.

Van Gundy’s tone was echoed by his fellow panelist and former employer, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who inherited McGrady when he took the Rockets’ reins in 2007.

After praising McGrady’s talents, Morey said, “I do think [that ability] got in the way of Tracy’s development.”

“Much of the game was so easy — you see this in the AAU level, where they have freakishly talented players,” he continued. “When it’s that easy to dominate at that young age because of your physical tools — his wingspan was freakish, his size was enormous, his IQ — my sense was, all that did get in the way of Tracy reaching his highest heights.”

Alas, people won’t remember the good times. They’ll talk about his first-round losses, his injuries, the way he left Orlando, giving up on the team and its coach, Doc Rivers, in 2004. They’ll talk about the stories of his work ethic, legendary for its invisibility.

Still, could McGrady make the Hall of Fame? Let’s look at the numbers: 18,108 career points (and counting) for a 20.4 average, and averages of 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Twice he led the league in scoring, and had a run of eight consecutive seasons where he averaged at least 21.6 points, five rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He was considered at one point the best player in the league by many, and was consistently in the top 10 of the discussion for over half a decade. He was a seven-time All-Star, and made the All-NBA Team seven times. You know how many guys in NBA history have made the All-Star team at least seven times and aren’t in the Hall of Fame? Four. Larry Foust, Jack Sikma, Chet Walker and Jo Jo White. And none of them were ever in MVP and best-player-in-the-league discussions. All of the other eligible players are in.

Need a comparison? Check this out:

Player A: nine-time NBA All-Star, seven-times All-NBA (All-NBA First Team once), NBA scoring champion, 7,167 career rebounds, 2,677 career assists, amazing athlete, great offensive player, not considered a great leader, possible Top 50 player of all-time and Hall of Famer, was never in the conversation for best player in the league
Player B: seven-time NBA All-Star, seven-times All-NBA (All-NBA First Team twice), two-time NBA scoring champion, 5,122 career rebounds, 4,051 career assists, amazing athlete, great offensive player, not considered a great leader, at times was in the conversation for best player in the league

T-Mac is Player B. Dominique Wilkins is Player A (a guy who won just three playoff series himself).

Obviously, arguments will all come down to team success. McGrady was never a winner, never even made it out of the first round. He’s the only scoring champion to never win a playoff series. But exceptions should be made, and ‘Mac might be one. T-Mac is fifth all-time in playoff scoring (28.5 ppg), and even though he hasn’t won a series, 38 playoff games is a pretty large sample. Once McGrady left VC’s shadow, he never once averaged less than 25.3 a game in a playoff series. These weren’t hollow stats either. In close-out games in Orlando and Houston, despite all of the losses, McGrady put up 29.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 7.5 apg. First-round series don’t mean as much as deeper playoff appearances, but when the only names you can be compared to statistically are Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Jerry West, then that means something.

Now that T-Mac has just turned 32 years old, and appears to be close to finishing out his career – maybe, just maybe he has a little of that Grant Hill magic – what will his legacy be? Hopefully McGrady will hook on with a contender this summer and advance in the playoffs in a bench role. But what will people remember about him? Hopefully, we’ll remember him for what he was and not what he could’ve been. Because then, it just gets sad.

Will T-Mac make the Hall of Fame one day?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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  • ERIC

    Sean – really dug the eminem patiently waiting TMac mix itup in a pot.

  • ERIC

    Bulls could have used him last night.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Can’t believe Austin hasn’t stopped by to give us some more reasons this guy should be in the Hall, haha…

    Career’s not over, too early to say.

    I’d bet against it, though.

  • Seven duece

    I was in Orlando when he was balling and can attest to his true greatness. So many nights, it was either e got 27-35 points or we got blown the eff out. He was in the same pot as KG: lane supporting cast and tremendous team responsibilities. Unfortunately, GHill was hurt and TMac’s own back problems took years off his career, as well as sapped team success. Without a doubt, he is the exception to the rule.

  • Big Island

    T-Mac could have been, hands down, the best player in the game. If he had anyone else’s work ethic (I won’t say Kobe because, well fuck Kobe) he would have easily been the best guy in the league. There was an Adidas ad with him, TD, Kobe, and T-Mac was the same friggin height as TD! Dude was a beast and he was always in chill mode.

  • LakeShow84

    Old school Tmac used to be my favorite player.. NUMERO UNO..

    I STILL have his old school Magic #1 jersey and rock it with the fading numbers..

    Dude was DISGUSTING.. the most fun ive ever had watching a player in the 1st round.. lol seriously.. as great as he would play he would always lose.. sad but still great to watch as far as talent..

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

    T-Mac has Hall of Fame talent. And I know I’m biased because he’s one of my favorite players of all-time, but I think he’s accomplished enough to get into the Hall. But perception is just as strong as reality, so I won’t be surprised if he never gets elected because of his postseason shortcomings.

  • flavur

    yep I used to live in orlando too back when tmac was a beast man it was exciting watching him play scoring with ease dunking on anyone with that athleticism and length he has, it’s sad to see someone who had so much talent and natural basketball ability have all of it stripped away due to injuries. He’s still my favorite player though I ain’t gonna lie

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    @ Austin and Sean – I have to admit, when I saw Nique’s #s next to T-Mac’s, I was impressed by the youngster.

    Do you think, though, that changes in the game should be taken into account when considering numbers and status of the player? Just an opinion. Austin, you have changed my mind a few times before…

  • https://www.sportsbetting.com.au/basketball_betting dcyrilcasa

    Tmac was one of my favorite players. Where is he now?

  • Promoman

    He’s got a case for the Hall. He’s one of the youngest scoring champs in NBA History and he’s the second player in the Magic’s history to make the NBA First Team and the third guy to do it overall. Penny Hardaway and Dwight Howard are the only other players.

  • Sean Sweeney

    The Big Sleep!

    @dagwalker I think changes in the game should definitely be taken into account when comparing players…the problem is that most people will always look at history w/ a certain nostalgia. For instance in this case, you can say Tracy benefited from the modern rules. But at the same time, ATL played at a faster pace in a time period when the game was MUCH faster than it was during 2000-2007. So it works both ways.

    It’s def hard to compare players from different eras because there are so many variables to deal with. In this instance though since in order to make the HALL, Mac has to be comparable to some of these guys, I thought it was important to note. I think it’ll be really interesting to see what happens when TMac is eligible.

  • Shourjo

    True or False?: If McGrady had more of a work ethic (i.e., spent more time in the gym), he wouldn’t have had as many injury issues.

    There’s definitely an argument for that being the case. Look at what being a gym rat and having a dedication to honing your body to the longetivity of Michael and Kobe’s careers. Just throwing that out there …

  • The Hollinger

    @Shorujo

    Are you saying that every time a player gets injured, it is because they don’t workout enough or have a poor work ethic? Injuries are not something that you can just get rid of by working your ass off everyday. One thing fans need to realize is almost EVERY single NBA player has a great work ethic. The reason they made the NBA is because they worked their ass off and strove to be the best.

    Its true Tracy has been dealt with many injuries, but that is not a reflection on his work ethic in anyway whatsoever. It is more likely that Tracy just has poor genetics and has been cursed with such great talent in a fragile body. Guys like Kobe, Lebron, Michael and all the other ironmen of the league (past and present) are genetic freaks of nature. They have been blessed with unbelievable talent (like T-Mac) but also with an unbelievable body (unlike Tracy).

    This also brings up another point about questioning Tracy’s heart. People love to point out how people like Kobe play through injuries and never back down but players like T-Mac always take long rests from injuries. Does Tracy tend to take longer to recover from injuries? Sure he does but a lot of it is him being cautions and a huge part of it is also psychological. It’s likely that Tracy’s body can’t handle as much strain as a Kobe and so he has to take games off for injuries Kobe might play through. Another thing is the injuries start to pile up. If his body is constantly getting banged up and hurt, obviously he’s gonna be more careful and cautions before returning.

    Anyways I don’t want to keep ranting on this topic and so I’ll bring it back to the article. I strongly believe that TMac deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He led some very weak Orlando teams to the playoffs and had some extremely AMAZING years early on. His first half of the career is absolutely amazing. He deserves to be in the HOF. I just hope people don’t judge him by his failures and gloss over all his success.

  • YEA

    Most people dont even realize how tough TMAC actually was becus of all the injuries…sometimes u cant prevent them. I think He is HOF worthy…but i will remember tmac for the great times. Like the 22 win streak and him LEADING them…while YAO goes out with injury tmac leads a NAIA to the playoffs lol they werent that bad but it looked like it. I mean does anybody even realize he was taking cortizone shots before every game just to play? he had a bad knee and shoulder that year while playing with a sprained wrist but still help lead the 22 game win streak. I mean he might not ever get the respect he actually deserves because of the 1st round failures. But the thing that gets me everytime was he did his part, its a team game when people when championships but that rule never applied to tmac because it was always his fault when the TEAM lost in the first round? I dont understand that. Nice article btw im glad you shined light on all the great times tmac had in the league. And BTW tmac played for the pistons for one of the earlier comments and he did pretty good. Got some of his bounce back and had good games. Check the highlights

  • QQ

    While my T-Mac hate faded during the years cause it’s hard to hate on cat who ain’t relevant anymore…

    I still thing kid COULD HAVE BEEN infinitely better (and he’s REALLY good to begin with) IF only he has a better work ethic.

  • Nyeme

    Its really hard to gauge Tracy McGrady. 14 years, about 6-7 as elite. He has never been out of the 1st Rd, including blowing series leads. Houston got out of the 1st Rd with him on the sidelines.

    He’s a player of natural ability, but didn’t work on it or hone his skills. Remember when he said he “didn’t understand how to beat the zone”? Hall of Famer…eh…I’m not too sure.

  • SWAT

    u cant really question his heart- work ethic maybe…but i remember whn dude lost against dallas and was crying on the podium, that was hard to see. for me, that was almost as hard when MJ won the title on fathers day after his pops was killed-completely different i kno but still equally as tough to watch. i believed so much in him and wanted him to know that win or lose i was in it for the long haul. thats what a fan is, win or lose i wasnt going anywhere. 13 points in 35 seconds, the 22 game win streak, come on thats just amazing. when he was working out in chicago my hopes were at an all time high-he’s coming back better than ever he promised us. it obviously didnt happen like tht. and as hard as it is to not look back at mac with heartache and think about wht could hv been personally i think dude deserves hall recognition.

    lol its hard to talk about him and not sound like a scorned lover-(no homo) but as a fan tht what i feel like. dont judge me.

  • edgar

    what team do you think he will go to this summer? the bulls rejected him but they needed him this playoffs and they messed up cause tmac now is still better than bogans any day im sorry especially after he played in detroit he showed he still has something left you know idk but the bulls need to sign him asap and he was willin to come off the bench to he did it in detroit ihope the bulls or lakers sign him cause him and kobe have a good relationship off court ever since they were young

  • NC

    Vince was more exciting.

  • JAY

    He’ll get in the Hall. There are players in there who are not as individually accomplished as he is.

    IMO, he’ll be with Heat or return to Orlando the next playing season.

  • Abe504

    I think with the right squad, and follows grant hill’s lead he should get into the hall of fame. He just had the worst luck with injuries and he just takes a long time to heal. Can’t question effort, those magic teams were horrible, never have a seen someone carry a squad so much and lose badly so much. Literally it was just him able to score on those squads.

  • Crazy_88

    Tracy should make it to the HOF. He’s a definite lock If he can make it to the semi-finals or conference finals with a contender in the next 2-3yrs.

    I honestly feel like he’s going to have a second resurgence. He wasn’t healthy his last yr in Houston or the 29 odd games he played for the Knicks.

    With the Pistons he was dunking, rebounding, playing defense, he just looked more comfortable out on the court the more he played.

    Lets not forget that the dude has been rehabbign from injuries the past 3 summers so I’m curious to see how he’s going to look after having this summer to work out extensively on just his game.

  • sh!tfaced

    Tracy, Penny and Bernard King, three of the best “what if” players of all-time deserve to be in the Hall…

  • tron

    It’s funny how people say if mcgrady had a work ethic. go look up the videos on youtube of tracy working hard in the off-season. i agree with tracy practice is about the TEAM… not individual skills. practicing alone with your team isn’t going to make YOU better. YES he had natural talen and ability… but he DID work hard to get to the level he was at. at 32 i believe Mcgrady could be 6th man of the year next year though he could easily start for a team(chicago messed up last off-season and that’s why they are sitting at home). so i look forward to the future of t-mac i say at least 5 years left i watched every game from detroit last year he played… believe me he has talent left to help a team.

  • arisloco

    this HOF argument with TMAC will be better if people will set aside their hate for tmac for the meantime…

    by the way, i was trying to catch pistons’ game telecast eventhough i don’t like the team..only because of TMAC!