Denton: Magic to Honor Tracy McGrady on Opening Night
By John Denton
October 10, 2013
ORLANDO – Tracy McGrady is retired from professional basketball at the ripe old age of 34, but he isn’t very far removed from some of the greatest moments of his illustrious 16-year career.
Even now in retirement, McGrady will scroll through his library of game footage, and pop in a videotape or DVD of some of his finest performances. Many of those moments occurred when he was not just a member of the Orlando Magic, but a four-time All-NBA performer and the league’s most lethal scorer.
Finally away from the game, McGrady can look back at the string-bean guard in Magic blue and white in those videos and smile at all that he accomplished. He not only lived out a life-long dream of playing for his favorite childhood team in the Magic, but Orlando also provided him the stage to blossom into one of the best players of his generation.
``Honestly, when I’m sitting home and I don’t have anything to watch on TV, I pop those tapes in from the playoffs with the Magic and watch them,’’ McGrady said on Thursday. ``I’ll probably do it three or four times a week. I’ll watch those games from Orlando and Houston, watch my playoff games and reflect on what I was doing out there. When you are in the moment like that, you don’t fully grasp it. But now that I can sit back and analyze it, and see stretches where I scored like 15 straight points, I kind of amaze myself with some of the stuff that I was able to accomplish.’’
Many of those same highlights will be shown on the Amway Center video board when McGrady will be honored by the Magic on Opening Night on Nov. 1 before the home opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. As part of their 25th anniversary season, the Magic plan on bringing back and honoring several of the top players from the franchise’s history.
McGrady, who played in Orlando from 2000-04 and won NBA scoring titles in 2003 and ’04, said he was particularly touched that the Magic wanted him to be the first in the legends series to be honored. He is planning on having his children and several other family members in attendance, and he knows it will be an emotional night for him.
``That is a special feeling right there for them wanting to bring me back to be the first guy back to open this season,’’ McGrady said. ``It’s an honor. I played there for four years, and playing in front of that crowd every night and trying to entertain them, I think they always appreciated what I brought to the organization. It’s going to be fun to go back and see some of the familiar faces and be a part of a really special night."
Maybe no player in Magic history knows exactly what the franchise has meant to Central Florida more than McGrady. As a child growing up in nearby Auburndale in Polk County, McGrady attended games at Orlando Arena those first few seasons, marveled at the raw size and power of Shaquille O’Neal and patterned his own game after Penny Hardaway. The No. 1 Magic jersey was the first one he ever owned and he always dreamed of being able to slide that jersey on someday when he reached the NBA himself.
That childhood dream became a reality in August of 2000 when the Magic inked McGrady and Grant Hill to matching six-year, $92.88 million free-agent contracts. The day will always be an unforgettable one for McGrady because it signified his hometown believing in him enough to invest greatly in his future as a 21-year-old rising star.
``It was a dream come true for me to play with the Magic. With Orlando being 30 miles up from Auburndale and me watching those guys once they got a franchise with Nick Anderson, Penny (Hardaway) and Shaq … that was local to me and I always considered myself a local guy,’’ T-Mac said. ``It was unbelievable for me to be able to play back at home in front of the hometown fans and my family. To have that ability for my family and fans to watch me blossom into the player that I became, you can never repeat a time like that.
``And considering that I wasn’t even a starter until my last year in Toronto, and the Magic put all of their trust in me, that was amazing,’’ McGrady continued. ``They were confident in me by signing me to a max contract. I think I was probably the first guy ever in the league to sign a max contract as a non-starter. For them to have had that confidence in me showed me a lot about the Magic. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity they gave me to shine.’’
McGrady rewarded that confidence by becoming a perennial all-star and the NBA’s most potent scorer. He averaged a jaw-dropping 26.8 points in his first season with the Magic and followed that up with another 25.6 points a night. As it turns out, he was just getting warmed up as he led the NBA in scoring in back-to-back seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04 at 32.1 points per game and 28 points per game. He still holds team records for highest career scoring average in a Magic uniform (28.1 ppg.), 40-point games in a season (11 in 2002-03) and 30-point games in a season (51 in 2002-03).
And – out of sheer necessity because of crippling ankle injuries to Hill – McGrady was even better in the playoffs. He scored 33 points in his first playoff game with the Magic and had 42 points two games later for his first postseason victory with Orlando. He averaged 30 points a year later against Charlotte and got the Magic to a 3-1 series lead against Detroit in 2003 with performances of 43, 46, 29 and 27 points.
Much like he does by watching the old videotapes and reliving Magic memories, McGrady still goes over in his head the night in 2004 when he battered the Washington Wizards for a franchise-record 62 points. But even that record-setting performance left McGrady strangely wanting more because he struggled in the fourth quarter of what could have very well been an 80-point night.
``I was (mad) at myself after that night. Actually the 62 points didn’t seem good enough,’’ McGrady said, still somewhat frustrated some nine years later. ``I missed nine free throws and I went through a stretch where I missed seven shots in a row. I remember that night like it was yesterday. I could have had so many more points. Maybe I could have been the first guy to have 80 points before Kobe did it.’’
Of course, McGrady was never able to lead the Magic out of the first round of the playoffs during his time in Orlando largely because the supporting cast around him was so weak. He ultimately asked out of Orlando because of a falling out with former GM John Weisbord. Even now, McGrady wonders how his career could have been different had he stayed in one place and had been able to play with a healthy Grant Hill in Orlando or a healthy Yao Ming in Houston.
``I have those conversations with my guys, but it’s hard to do it. It’s hard to look back on those times because there were so many unfortunate situations throughout my career. I’ve accomplished a lot in the league, but some of the things just didn’t go right for me,’’ he said.
``Unfortunately a lot of my career is based off what ifs,’’ McGrady said candidly. ``What if I had stayed in Toronto with the team that we had with my cousin (Vince Carter)? What if we would have kept Mike Miller and we would have had a healthy Grant Hill in Orlando? There’s no question in my mind that we would have been a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference.’’
Those days are long gone now, and McGrady has turned his focus to his post-playing career. Working with childhood friend Tim Bennett of Overtime Sports, McGrady has agreed to become an owner of a Minor League Baseball franchise pending the approval of a $21 million bond to build a stadium in Biloxi, Miss. McGrady’s first love growing up was baseball and he recently threw some 90-mile-an-hour fastballs to Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann during a trip to a minor league park in Pearl, Miss.
As for his upcoming honoring by the Magic, McGrady said he can hardly wait for Nov. 1 to arrive. Booed in recent years by Magic fans who were upset that he forced a trade in 2004, McGrady is hopeful that the fans will instead focus on all of the great moments he provided while wearing a Magic uniform for four seasons. He said he has nothing but great memories of his time in Orlando and he is honored that he can help the Magic celebrate their 25th anniversary season.
``I know that it will be an emotional night for me,’’ McGrady said. ``I will have my kids there with me and for them to witness 18,000 people hopefully giving me a standing ovation, yeah, it will be very emotional for me.
``To be able to reflect back on the times that I had when I played there, it will be so much fun,’’ he continued. ``It was some really amazing times for me in Orlando. We didn’t really accomplish a lot as a team, but for what we had, we brought it every night. And I’ll say that we really entertained the Orlando fans with the Darrell Armstrongs, the Bo Outlaws, Monty Williams and Pat Garritys. We laid it all out there and entertained our fans. As far as a team standpoint with what we had to work with, I think we accomplished a lot.’’
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