Well, Hello Old Friend
signed back into the NBA Tuesday, marking an incredibly strange journey for the once beloved player. He was crippled by injuries late in his career turning him from NBA organization cornerstone, to journeyman to Chinese Basketball League material. He never filled out the massive career we thought he had the potential to have. He may never have gotten out of the first round, but he still left me with the finest basketball memory in my life.
I was very young when T-Mac was with the Orlando Magic, so I may actually have bias, however I never experienced basketball euphoria like I did in 2002-03. See, when Tracy McGrady was with Orlando, it was must see TV. Every night he would step out on the court it felt just like the scene at the end of every action movie where the hero is facing a large number of enemies. The double and triple teams would stack the odds against him, but every night my eyes lit up after he would rise above impossible odds.
I bought the blue Magic number one jersey. I bought the signature Adidas shoes. I went home and believed in a player more than I ever have in my life, and it will always be one of the fondest moments I will ever have in my basketball life. The fact is that McGrady didn’t have the all-encompassing fan base that Michael Jordan had. So, really it was the first time in my sports life I found myself having to defend him against fans of Kobe and other players. To me, at least for a year, it was such an obvious choice that I found the first thing in basketball I passionately preached or defended to other people. This cloaked the lines between basketball love and personal love for my favorite player even more.
See the ability to go completely lone wolf and drag a team into the playoffs felt like it came out of basketball lore. Yet what T-Mac did was exactly that this year. McGrady’s PER was 30.3 that season which is a very exclusive occurrence, happening only 16 times among 6 different players. McGrady’s PER is also a great statistical indicator of the impact, or lack of impact, teammates had on the game. Grant Hill played 29 games and had 20.8 PER and Drew Gooden had an 18.0 mark in 19 games, however, nobody else on that Magic roster who played over 30 games had a PER of the league average 15. In fact, in the history of 30 PER seasons, the 14.6 mark of Darrell Armstrong is the worst second best mark for a teammate in NBA history. His best teammates that played large amounts of games were somehow Darrell Armstrong and Shawn Kemp, and it wasn’t the good Shawn Kemp.
When it came to the scoring, the numbers say he should fail. Statistically a player shooting 41% of his attempts from the mid range shouldn’t be able to succeed, yet T-Mac did shooting a 46% mark that was definitely above average in the pre-metric stats era. Yet, the best part was the all around ability to put the ball in the hoop while engulfing you with an electric feel. He even shot 39% from three while taking 6 attempts, and they certainly weren’t easy spot up attempts that some players get in today’s game. Just check out his Basketball-Reference heat map.
However, in these seemingly impossible odds, instead of faltering due to taking 27% of the teams shots, he shined the brightest he ever has. Very little is remembered from 2002-03 before McGrady, even if he didn’t take home the MVP award. As much of a compliment as it is to how he polarized basketball, it is equal the compliment that Tim Duncan could take home the MVP award that year and still be in the discussion 10 years later.
Nothing made sense, but nothing had to. There wasn’t a prodding technical precision to his game, it was like a live band. The meticulous production of the LeBron-style player is a sight to behold, but there wasn’t that artistic feel that McGrady brought. Technically there are better players, because Durant is better scorer this year than Tracy ever was, but will never be as poetic. LeBron can pick you apart with a robotic like precision, analyzing a situation and picking it apart with ease. With Tracy is was free flowing art, a whimsical dance all over the basketball court that was just very appealing to the eye. McGrady didn’t look like he was ever working hard out there, and yet that is what lies in the beauty of his basketball grace.
Tracy McGrady during his Magic tenure will always be the basketball version of how people describe Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock to me. You really couldn’t put words into the beauty you saw, but the memory of what happened will forever be etched into witnesses mind. Does setting a guitar on fire or scoring 60 with seemingly no effort make you the best in your field? No of course not, but it makes you a really bad man in the process.