Tracy McGrady is being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend. McGrady is also a member of ESPN's NBA coverage team. As T-Mac enters the Hall, his ESPN colleagues had some things to say about him as he receives this honor.
Tracy McGrady is responsible for one of the most iconic moments in recent NBA history when, in early December 2004, he scored 13 points in 33.3 seconds to lead the Houston Rockets to a breathtaking win over the San Antonio Spurs.
It is, without question, the defining moment of his career as it combined his incredible scoring ability with his flair for the dramatic. These traits have birthed a thousand YouTube videos because McGrady was a first-generation YouTube star.
Over the past few years, I've gotten the chance to be with Tracy when young players from today are introduced to him. They approach him in awe. I specifically remember it happening with Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon on the set of The Jump. These guys grew up loving the T-Mac persona and wearing his shoes -- they very clearly admired him.
Those who want to jab McGrady's first ballot Hall of Fame selection might point out this defining moment was in a regular-season game. Unlike many of his new Springfield-inducted peers, McGrady doesn't have a history of postseason success.
There's a doctorate-level essay that could be written on that, from the injuries to star teammates like Grant Hill and Yao Ming that befell him, to his own personal play. When discussing this issue over the years, his former coach Jeff Van Gundy has repeatedly and accurately pointed out that McGrady's statistics in the playoffs were better than they were in the regular season. It's true.
But I think it's imperative to move beyond that and look at what made guys like LaVine's and Gordon's eyes light up when they were in the same room. Just go back to that moment in 2004. When he started his incredible run against the best defense in the league at the time, the Rockets had 68 points. With 35 seconds left they had 68 points. The Spurs had only 78. What a terrible game, which was on national television, he saved.
In 2004 the NBA was in a dangerous lull. Michael Jordan had retired. The Lakers Kobe-Shaq superteam had broken up. Scoring was at a ridiculous low. Pace of play was a crawl. The ratings for the 2004 Finals hit rock bottom. The NBA had installed a series of rule changes hoping to get people interested in the game again.
It was during this era that McGrady was a beacon. He kept people's interest in the game. He appealed to millions of new fans in China who tuned in to watch Yao but were captivated by his high-flying teammate.
He was a player who was ahead of his time, a wing built with the ability to be a great scorer and a great playmaker. A guy who could dunk and shoot 3-pointers. His ability to draw young people to the game was vital for the league in those years. His signature shoes were huge sellers. There was a time when TMacs sold better than the shoes of any other active player. That was really important.
It was Tracy's burden to have bad timing in his career. Things just never worked out the way he dreamed. He made a lot of money, yes. He created a lot of fans, absolutely. But he always had a sadness for things he couldn't control. His timing for when he was at his peak was poor too, even though I can say with certainty those days had currency for all involved.
That's why this honor is deserved. Tracy deserves to headline this Hall of Fame class. He deserves this moment in the sun.
-- Brian Windhorst
Lowe: T-Mac stuffed on fools gladly
You have to watch the old games, to really remember. The other night, NBA TV was replaying Tracy's 62-point evisceration of the Wizards. It was a distillation of McGrady, himself a distillation of the game's great scoring and playmaking wings -- one player who took bits from the games of lots of superstars, and combined them to form a totally unique Hall of Famer.
He floated over fools who had no chance to bother his jump shot. He glided through the lane, crouched into traffic, and accelerated suddenly -- almost violently -- through a forest of slower-moving forms, and to the rim. He surveyed the floor from high on the left wing, all 6-8 of him lording over the game, and zipped perfect pocket passes. Man, Tracy could pass. He made scoring so easy, you sometimes forgot that about him. His best passes had some LeBron in them.
I always admired his honesty. He got a little too giddy talking about finally getting to the next round when his Magic needed one more game to close out the Pistons. (Whoops). He admitted that injuries scared him, and made him feel vulnerable. He was reflective about his decision to leave Toronto early in his career, the what-ifs with Yao, the struggle of riding the bench in San Antonio at the end. He was not afraid to be human, and show weakness.
The same candidness makes him great at his new job. We're all lucky to work with him. Congrats on Springfield, T-Mac!
-- Zach Lowe
Elhassan: Parallel perspective to vertical excellence
It was only the third episode of The Jump, but it was my debut on ESPN's new daily NBA program, a show that we'd soon discover not only resonated with hoophead fans, but also with players, league execs and others in the business of pro basketball. I sat between Rachel Nichols and Tracy McGrady, and about 30 seconds into the show I received a text message from a prominent player agent detailing what he perceived were the qualifications to be an analyst on The Jump: "Tracy McGrady was one of the greatest basketball playing human beings on the face of the earth ... and you've got some funny tweets."
There's truth at the core of every joke, and no, I'm not talking about my Twitter habits. McGrady was a one-of-a-kind talent, a rare blend of size, length, agility, explosion and strength coupled with elite skill and true feel for the game. In many ways, he was ahead of his time; McGrady was made for the brand of positionless basketball that has gripped the modern game. We remember him for his scoring prowess, and rightfully so, but his passing vision and IQ allowed him to make those around him better, and really that was his calling card before his move to Orlando, where the world witnessed his offensive mastery.
Given that T-Mac and I are the same age, but his NBA career on the floor started years before mine in a front office, I have the odd perspective of having watched him as a fan in his early years, an opponent for much of his prime, and finally, as a free-agency prospect in his twilight.
I remember his 13-point explosion in the last 33.3 seconds of a game versus San Antonio, a performance so memorable it was immortalized in an Adidas commercial where small kids tell the tale with several embellishments (fans came from the crowd trying to stop him, he grew wings, he shot left-handed).
I remember helping prep the game plan for our Suns teams against the Rockets, where McGrady's ability to attack off the dribble and make plays presented us with a constant struggle in a way that his Hall of Fame teammate Yao Ming didn't.
And finally, I remember scouting McGrady as an Atlanta Hawk at the end of his career, with the hopes of convincing the Suns to go after him in the offseason. I still have my scouting report from that January night in 2012:
"McGrady played a solid floor game today. He's fully recovered from his microfracture surgery, and while he will probably never recover his trademark explosiveness, he's still remarkably agile for a guy his size. Handled the ball in the P&R and looked completely natural. When he raises up for the jump shot it's basically unguardable, you just have to hope he misses it. I wonder if he could still score 20 a game if he had the opportunity. Great vision and excellent passer. Did a good job defensively."
T-Mac was one of a kind as a player, and he has been one of a kind as a colleague. I'm proud to work with him regularly, now as an official Hall of Famer.
-- Amin Elhassan
Nichols: Strong transition game
I distinctly remember the first time I saw Tracy McGrady play in person. There are so many crazy-skilled guys in the NBA, but only a few who make you stop and stare and say, "This human can do things that most other humans are incapable of."
So when we were looking to start The Jump a couple of years ago, and the producers asked me which retired player I wanted next to me at the desk, the answer was immediate: T-Mac. After all, when big news breaks with LeBron or KD or Russ or Kawhi or whomever, you want someone who can really tell you what it is like to BE one of those guys. To their credit, everyone at ESPN was on board, although there were a few folks who expressed some concern Tracy hadn't done that much TV to that point. I just kept saying "we can teach someone TV, we can't teach him to be a Hall of Famer."
Turns out, we didn't need to teach him much; Tracy has been a natural from the moment he started, and so fun and genuine to all our producers and crew. And as predicted, he has been able to deliver tremendous inside details on what it's like to be one of the most elite talents in the game. Also as predicted? Well, from day one of the show, we referred to him as a "future Hall of Famer." Now, we can drop "future" -- he's in.
-- Rachel Nichols