Tracy McGrady was one of the most successful swingmen to play in the NBA. At a slim and lanky 6’8, McGrady had a quick first step, a smooth glide to the basket, a jab step with counter moves and a crossover dribble that makes you think Kevin Durant and George ‘The Iceman’ Gervin all-in-one.
To quote the late Notorious B.I.G., the Washington Wizards, Shawn Bradley and the New Jersey Nets ‘have a story to tell’ after the nightmares McGrady gave them with his scoring assaults that he unleashed in his prime.
Step-backs and fall-aways, creativity in mid-air that seemed effortless, Tracy McGrady was the real deal in his NBA career.
This weekend, McGrady a 14-year retired NBA veteran, who in 938 games averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Historically, many remember McGrady’s Houston Rocket days when he heroically scored 13 points in 35 seconds.
That December 9, 2004 rescue and 81-80 win over the San Antonio Spurs was no easy feat. For posterity’s sake, that was no easy feat. In 33 seconds, it took four buckets from beyond the arc, a made free throw to complete a four-point play and a steal to win by one point!
The only remotely exciting comparison to that game was the Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds performance against the New York Knicks. With the Pacers down eight points with in nine seconds remaining in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, Reggie Miller pulled off a comeback like no other.
I’ll tread lightly though; Knicks fans are still healing from that disappointment.
McGrady’s journey is memorable and worth recounting. Tracy McGrady was drafted ninth by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA Draft. That draft class was laden with talent with two future Hall of Famers standing out from that list: Detroit Pistons hero Chauncey Billups and old reliable San Antonio Spurs big, Tim Duncan.
McGrady was special; so special the biggest rumor in 1997 was that the Bulls were looking to trade Scottie Pippen to acquire him.
In Jonathan Abrams’ book “Boys Among Men,” (H/T CBS Sports’ Matt Moore) it was revealed that Tracy McGrady was nearly traded to the Chicago Bulls for Scottie Pippen on draft night in 1997, but Michael Jordan vetoed it. McGrady confirmed that on an episode of ESPN’s The Jump with Rachel Nichols.
As Vice President of Basketball Operations of the Toronto Raptors, NBA Hall of Famer and two-time champ Isiah Thomas drafted McGrady in ‘97.
In Toronto, Thomas built a promising young roster when he drafted Damon Stoudamire, McGrady and Marcus Camby. What was significant about that budding roster was a). They played what is known in today’s game as small ball. b). McGrady would leave Toronto and flourish in Orlando.
In a recent interview on Scoop B Radio, Isiah Thomas, now President of Basketball Operations for the WNBA’s New York Liberty broke down his thought process while housing McGrady in the 6. “When I put together the Toronto Raptors, if you remember the power forward position at that time was a position of strength, dominance, and you had to be physically strong to play that position,” Thomas told me.
“The shooting guard would be coming off of the power forward and the center would be your offense. During that time, what I talked about with my scouting staff and also our ownership group at that time was that we have to find a way to change the game and really affect things out on the floor. We came up with what we called the Raptor Two. And Raptor Two basically had to be a power forward that could also have guard skills, he had to be able to switch the power forward and the shooting guard and not lose ground.”
“One of the first trades that I made was for Doug Christie. The game was getting smaller, we had eliminated the power forward position and made it a very skilled position, so I’ll fast forward then I”ll take you back to McGrady. The thing that I left Toronto with was Stoudamire, Camby, Christie, McGrady, and they drafted [Vince]Carter, that was the blueprint.”
For two seasons (1998-2000), McGrady, Vince Carter, Doug Christie and company would lead the Raptors to a 68-64 record. Those feats included the Raptors first-ever winning season where they went 45-37 in 2000.
Toronto also made their first NBA playoff appearance, where they’d be swept 3-0 by the New York Knicks. Despite being swept, McGrady earned his big payday in the NBA Playoff. In game one, T-Mac registered 25 points and hauled in 10 rebounds.
“With T-Mac, a lot of people don’t know or would know that T-Mac was a decent player when he left Toronto and he got the opportunity with that one playoff game where they played New York,” McGrady’s Orlando Magic teammate, Darrell Armstrong told me on Scoop B Radio.
That offseason, McGrady bolted Toronto and signed a six-year, $67.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic. “Vince was being covered so much by all the guys on New York that T-Mac started to get off,” said Armstrong.
“And people started to see T-Mac’s talent during the playoffs that year. That is when we went and got him and that is when he came to the Magic that next year and what he did from there was just amazing because that is what he was supposed to be doing when he got to Toronto.”
A chance to play in his home state of Florida and team up with Grant Hill? Who could blame T-Mac?
“He put in the work and he dedicated himself everyday when he got into the game,” said Armstrong.
“He [knew he] was going to be one of the top players in the league and he did it. It was fun to see him and Kobe Bryant go at each other, Michael Jordan go at each other. I was just amazed by it, the things that he could do. But he was something special.”
Although McGrady struggled to get out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs, we can never forget the 2003 NBA Playoffs when the league’s scoring champion shot over 51 percent from the field against the Detroit Pistons in their round one series.
The Magic had a 3-1 lead in the series with McGrady scoring 43, 46, 29 and 27 points, respectively against Detroit; but Orlando couldn’t seal the deal. They were eliminated.
If you’re keeping score at home, other exciting Tracy McGrady moments include:
- Landing an off-the-backboard alley-oop, thrown to himself during the 2002 NBA All Star Game.
- McGrady’s Adidas sneaker commercials were also enjoyable.
- McGrady’s global reach in China substantiated after teaming with Yao Ming in Houston.
- Most importantly: McGrady’s duels with Kobe Bryant were legendary.