It’s hard not to compare the two because they represented the highest tier of elite off-guards in the NBA at the turn of the millennium. But the divergent paths of Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant crystalized around their surrounding teammates. Mamba and McGrady’s disparate career path was brought into sharper focus when McGrady spoke with Jay Mohr on his Fox Sports radio show on Wednesday.
Kobe was drafted by a Lakers team who possessed the most dominating big man in the game, Shaquille O’Neal. McGrady went to Toronto. Both sat the bench their rookie seasons after getting drafted out of high school, but while Kobe played for the eventual three-time champion Lakers, McGrady toiled in Toronto and then made an ill-timed break for Orlando when his rookie contract was up in the summer of 2000. The buckled ankle of Grant Hill rendered McGrady’s southern sojourn moot, and so he tried his luck in Houston, again to no avail.
Meanwhile Kobe was winning titles while simultaneously creating a fissure in his relationship with The Big Aristotle. We all know what happened next in Hollywood. Mohr asked McGrady if he would have put up better numbers than Kobe playing the uber-athletic wing role in tandem with Shaq’s refrigerator presence in the paint:
McGrady: “I don’t know if I would have had better numbers. I know I would have had a championship on my belt, that’s for sure.”
Mohr “How many? Would you have five [titles]?”
“McGrady: We would have had a great run. I don’t know how many, but I know it would have never ended like with Kobe and Shaq. I have a great relationship with Shaq. He’s like a big brother of mine; we would have never clashed heads like that. Two Alpha dogs going at it, there’s always going to be some riffraff between that relationship.”
This is the type of scenario that occurs when you’ve been sitting at the bar with your friend knocking back cocktails and arguing the merits of different late 90′s NBA stars. We’ve all been there, but it’s impossible to judge — not just how McGrady would have fared in Bryant’s role on the 2001-2003 Lakers — how he would have gotten along with Shaq.
As McGrady mentioned, Shaq was about as ALPHA as they come and while many blamed Kobe for the dissolution of that dynastic tandem, as time has passed more has been revealed and now it seems like the split had equal blame on both sides. Bryant is about as pathological as MJ when it comes to competing and asserting himself (see also: Dwight Howard), so it’s a wonder they lasted together for as long as they did. But as countless columnists have pointed out since McGrady officially announced his retirement last week, some felt he lacked the initiative to lead a team. Maybe that would have complemented Shaq better than Kobe’s narrow-eyed Mamba intensity.
We’ll never know, but that’s one of the only good things to come out of McGrady’ tenure in the NBA. He might have been the most naturally gifted basketball player in the history of the game, but we’ll never know because he was never really put in a position to show us.
Also, it bares mentioning that Mohr really pushed McGrady on whether he feels like he’s a future Hall of Fame inductee. Mohr wouldn’t take any hemming and hawing and kept pushing McGrady for a straight-up yes or not. T-Mac offered up the usual humble platitudes about looking at the numbers, but he finally relented and gave very T-Mac answer:
“I don’t know. We’ll see if they introduce me to the Hall of Fame.”
For his part, Mohr thinks he is, and so do we, but Tracy’s diplomatic “IDK” is more proof that he might be the most fascinating superstar of that bizarre post-MJ era in the NBA.
You can listen to the full McGrady – Mohr interview here.
Would McGrady have won a title if he’d played with Shaq in LA?
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