We Reminisce: Tracy McGrady

“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?

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