GLENDALE, Ariz. – This was a man who was laughing and glaring at the same time, celebrating the moment and shooting verbal daggers of what he is certain is vindication in the end, doing nothing to hide all the emotions uncorked as Tracy McGrady made his first appearance as a Hall of Famer.
He was asked at a press conference as part of the Class of 2017 being unveiled about this as a moment of liberation from criticism, maybe an absolution, and McGrady instantly chuckled in a way that answered the question without actually answering.
“Absolutely,” he said, just in case clarification was needed.
He was asked in conversation a little later Saturday afternoon about where induction ranks among his basketball achievements. Same thing. The quick laughter that was more like a release.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” McGrady said. “You’re talking about going into a class of greatness. Legendary. This is forever. It doesn’t matter how many playoff games you lost. What you didn’t accomplish. None of that matters. It’s what I did do. What I did accomplish over my career. To be honored with this prestigious award is phenomenal.”
In his first act as a Hall of Famer, Tracy McGrady pushed back hard. No, he was quick to acknowledge, he was not the superstar who carried a team close to a title. Quite the contrary – he was pilloried for struggling to so much as make it out of the first round. And, yes, he heard the 15 seasons of commentary about rarely reaching his potential as one of the dynamic offensive threats of his generation, a skilled forward who once averaged at least 24 points for seven seasons in a row and also could be a talented distributor. He made both points clear.
Here’s what else he made clear:
It doesn’t matter.
McGrady is in the Hall. That is what he hears now. He will be inducted with 10 others in September in Springfield, Mass. That is what he believes is his new legacy, starting immediately. Instant credibility two scoring titles, 19.6 points per game with the Raptors, Magic, Rockets, Knicks, Pistons and Hawks, seven All-Star games and seven All-NBA teams could not bring.
“There’s probably one time in my career where out of all the times I’ve been in the playoffs I was favored to win a series,” he said. “That was back in 2007 with the Houston Rockets having home-court advantage against the Utah Jazz, when they beat us in seven games. But prior to that, I was always the underdog. Never really had a championship-contender team. I fell lots throughout my career in the playoffs. This is not about being good. This is not about being great. This is about being with greatness. Greatness for your entire career and being honored for that greatness. With greatness, right? This is elite. It doesn’t matter how many championships. Anybody can be a champion. But everybody can’t be in the Hall of Fame. This is it. This is my championship.”
So, yeah, he has already thought a lot about what the phone call from Hall president John Doleva meant, to be told the news and to be in suburban Phoenix for the Saturday announcement in conjunction with the Final Four.
“I reflect every second that the clock ticks,” McGrady said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy, other than seeing my kids, being married to my wife and on draft day. This is the ultimate. I know when we come into the league we play for championships. But I’m celebrating my championship until September.”
The vindication? “Certified.”
Because he took a lot of raps. “I did.”
And people knocked him good. “Yeah.”
There must be a message, then, for the critics who dismissed him as a big-time scorer who couldn’t do what really mattered when it really mattered, the playoffs. There must be something to say on the Saturday as he delivered several other responses inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
“It’s been sent out already,” McGrady said. “Right? It’s been sent out already. I don’t have a message. They delivered the message for me.”
The secret panel of Hall of Fame voters did.
“Yeah,” McGrady said in his ultimate triumph. “That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”