Denton: T-Mac's Retirement Doesn't Seem Like a "Current" Announcement
By John Denton
August 26, 2013
ORLANDO – Tracy McGrady called it a career on Monday, announcing his retirement from the NBA on one of ESPN’s many daytime-drama talk shows.
But to me, someone who was there throughout McGrady’s dazzling four-year run with the Magic from 2000-04, T-Mac actually retired years earlier during a forgettable preseason trip back to Orlando.
It was 2008 and when McGrady limped into town with the Houston Rockets, I remember thinking how he looked, sounded and moved like the oldest 30-year-old professional athlete on the planet. He talked about the persistent pain in his surgically repaired knee, the stiffness in his back and a general fatigue in his body. Those droopy, puppy dog-like eyes sagged as if someone had cut his afternoon nap short, and his drawl wreaked more of fatigue than his small-town, Polk County, Florida, roots.
The player that McGrady became in his later years with the Hawks, Pistons and finally as a ceremonial victory cigar for the Spurs was a far cry from the one who routinely left Magic fans’ mouths agape. Even now at 34 years old, McGrady is far from ancient, has kept himself in fairly good shape and still looks like he could fall out of bed and score 28 points. But he knows he’s nowhere near the player he once was, and apparently doesn’t want to further sully his legacy by bouncing from team to team and continent to continent while flirting with franchises in China.
``It's been 16 years playing the game I love. I’ve had a great run, but it’s time for it to come to an end,’’ McGrady said on ESPN’s ``First Take.’’ Sitting alongside the bombastic Skip Bayless and a bloviating Stephen A. Smith was a fitting place for McGrady to make the announcement since he always wanted to be the ``Charles Barkley of the NBA’’ with his bold talk and his outlandish ideas about sports. Who in Orlando can ever forget him referring to Glen ``Big Dog’’ Robinson as ``Puppy Dog?’’
In many ways, it has always felt like McGrady’s run throughout the game of basketball ended way too early. For the Toronto Raptors, the franchise that drafted McGrady out of high school in 1997, his time in Canada ended just as he was about to become a star.
In Orlando, he twice led the league in scoring, made four All-NBA teams and almost single-handedly got the Magic to the playoffs three times. But the storybook homecoming ended when he not-so-surprisingly butted heads with hockey tough guy, John Weisbrod. His run with Magic all but died in the spring of 2003 when his Magic blew a 3-1 playoff series lead and allowed the top-seeded and heavily favored Detroit to survive and advance.
In Houston, his seasons always ended in the first round of the playoffs as he was never able to win a postseason series in three tries with the Rockets. Injuries never allowed him to truly team up with Yao Ming, short-circuiting what could have been a dynamic wing-big man combo.
Had things gone according to script, McGrady’s retirement announcement would have happened in Orlando and in the familiar No. 1 Magic jersey that he wore as a child while idolizing Penny Hardaway as a youngster in nearby Auburndale. Had that happened, McGrady’s jersey likely would have become the first to hang from the Amway Center’s rafters following a ceremony this upcoming season.
Much like his arrival in 2000, McGrady’s time in Orlando is often remembered more for the embarrassing lows instead of the thrilling highs.
The Magic and former GM John Gabriel never got as much credit for unearthing McGrady as a budding superstar as they/he did for signing an injured Grant Hill back in 2000. Hill’s nightmarish ankle injuries – he spent more time in the pool than on the basketball court – was both a blessing and a curse for McGrady. Hill’s injuries allowed McGrady to dominate the ball, unleash his full offensive arsenal on the NBA and explode as the league’s best scoring threat. But it also made McGrady the face of the franchise at the age of 21 years old – something he simply was not ready for.
(A quick aside: Just think of all of the dominoes that fell with Hill’s recurring ankle injuries. Had the superstar small forward been healthy all along, Hill and McGrady would have been last decade’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Orlando might have won a NBA title; John Gabriel might still be GM and Doc Rivers might still be coaching the Magic; fan favorite Darrell Armstrong would have likely retired a member of the Magic; the Amway Center would be 10 years old instead of coming up on a three-year anniversary; and McGrady and Hill might have had their jerseys retired in Orlando).
Even the greatest night of McGrady’s professional career left Magic fans knowing that he was capable of so much more. McGrady torched the Washington Wizards (and Gilbert Arenas’ 45 points) on March 10, 2004 for a jaw-dropping, franchise-record 62 points. But even McGrady was upset with himself afterward, knowing his should have had at least 70, if not, 80 points had he not missed nine free throws and hit the wall physically in the fourth quarter.
McGrady always took a beating in Orlando for not getting the Magic over the hump, but it was hardly his fault considering the subpar players surrounding him. Hill’s injuries severely hamstrung the Magic, forcing the franchise to surround McGrady with the likes of a broken down Patrick Ewing, a bloated Shawn Kemp and an overmatched Andrew DeClercq. How many times did Magic fans look on as McGrady would drive into the heart of the defense, dish to the open man and look on helplessly as the ball hit off the big man’s hands and rolled out of bounds?
Me-Mac? That was always a misguided nickname given by those who would parachute in to Magic practice once a month, see McGrady’s high shot totals and brand him as being selfish. McGrady certainly had his faults – passive leadership skills and poor practice habits to name a few – but he was hardly ever selfish. After all, if he didn’t score for those early 2000 Magic teams, who would have?
I still think McGrady’s 37-point first half and his 25-point second quarter in March of 2003 against Denver was his most amazing night in a Magic uniform. Or was it his 46-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound performance in February of 2003? Or his consecutive 40-point games in the playoffs against the Pistons? After all, there were so many of those great moments – more than McGrady gets credit for.
In that 2002-03 season, McGrady averaged a whopping 32 points a game. Only one player, Kobe Bryant in 2005-06, has averaged that many points over a season in the past 10 years. There was a time in McGrady’s career when some even thought that he was a better player than Bryant. That might seem laughable now, but at that time there was a lot of truth to the arugment in favor of McGrady. In addition to not having Shaq, T-Mac just never had the step-on-your-throat, win-at-all-cost mentality that Bryant possesses. Maybe it’s only fitting now that as Bryant works feverishly to get back on the floor and prolong his career, McGrady is stepping away.
T-Mac’s time ended way too early, both in Orlando and in the NBA. In many ways, Monday’s announcement seemed like just a formality. In actuality, he’s been gone for years.
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