When Tracy McGrady announced his retirement from the National Basketball Association (NBA) last month, the news was met with little fanfare.
After all, the world of sports is a “what have you done for me lately?” business, and the answer for the 34 year-old McGrady over the last few years was sadly, not much.
But for those who were fortunate enough to watch McGrady as a youngster, it was a sad day indeed. Not because his career had come to an end, but because of the way it all unfolded.
Long-time Toronto Raptors fans will remember McGrady as the skinny kid with the lazy eye whom the Raptors drafted out of high school with the ninth-overall pick in 1997.
In those days, using a high draft pick on a player with no college experience was seen as risky, but it didn’t take long for fans to see the tantalizing potential that McGrady (who went by the nickname “T-Mac”) possessed.
By his third season, the small-forward had earned a starting spot for the Raptors and looked poised to be an essential part of Toronto’s future.
Unfortunately for Raptors fans, we know how his tenure ended there. McGrady was not content to play in the shadow of his teammate and cousin, Vince Carter, and opted to sign with the Orlando Magic instead, where he could play for his home-town and emerge as a franchise player for his own team.
As much as Raptors fans resented him for his decision, he proved he was right, instantly emerging as a perennial all-star and arguably, not just a better player than Carter, but anyone else in the league for that matter.
Simply put — in his prime, Tracy McGrady was one of the most talented basketball players the world has ever seen. He was blessed with a combination of size, speed, athleticism, and court-vision that few players have ever possessed.
He was an elite scorer, leading the league in that category in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. But what set him apart from many of his peers was his ability to pass and rebound the ball so well from his position.
There was really nothing he couldn’t do well on a basketball court.
“Maybe his greatest attribute is he’s one of the best wing passers ever,” McGrady’s former coach Jeff Van Gundy told the Associated Press shortly after the announcement of his retirement. “Great size, great skill, incredibly unselfish. He was a multi-dimensional player.”
Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant acknowledged in his recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, that out of all the players he has defended in his career, McGrady was the toughest opponent for him to guard.
“The guy that always gave me the most problems was Tracy McGrady,” said Bryant. “He had all the skills and all the athleticism, but he was six-foot-nine and he was very tough to figure out.”
But for all his talent and accolades, McGrady will likely always be remembered for what he didn’t accomplish as opposed to what he did.
He will forever be remembered for his inability to lead a team past the first round of the playoffs despite numerous opportunities with the Orlando Magic, and later, the Houston Rockets.
It might seem fair to cast the blame on him at first, but let’s keep in mind some important facts.
In Orlando, McGrady played the majority of his games without the aid of fellow all-star Grant Hill, who missed the majority of his career with the Magic due to a severe ankle injury.
With both players taking up the majority of Orlando’s salary cap room, the team was left with very little remaining space with which to use to surround McGrady with the talent necessary to win.
Instead of being lambasted for failing to advance past the first round, McGrady should actually be praised for leading a team with the likes of Gordon Giricek, Darrell Armstrong and Andrew DeClercq as his supporting cast to the playoffs.
In Houston, McGrady was once again supposed to form a formidable duo with another superstar, Yao Ming, but the two rarely found themselves playing healthy at the same time together.
Ironically, when the Rockets advanced to the third round of the playoffs in 2009, McGrady was inactive – recovering from micro fracture surgery on his knee.
He would never come close to resembling his old self again, bouncing around between four different teams as a seldom-utilized role-player off the bench.
This past season was the first time in McGrady’s career that he was on the active roster of a team that made it past the first round of the playoffs.
In fact, his team, the San Antonio Spurs, made it all the way to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, but considering he played a grand total of just 30 minutes between six of the Spurs’ 21 playoff games, it’s safe to say he was a non-factor.
It all could all have been so different for T-Mac.
Had he managed to avoid a major knee injury before the age of 30, he might still have the chance to be a dominant player today and a potential hall-of-famer in the future.
Had other key teammates been healthy at the time, he could potentially have had multiple championship rings.
And had he stayed in Toronto with Vince Carter, would this city have a championship banner of its own to show for it?
We’ll never know.