ORLANDO – On Tuesday, some 21 years after Tracy McGrady boldly told family members that he would someday play for the Orlando Magic and 18 years after that dream actually came true, his basketball odyssey throughout Central Florida came full circle.
While McGrady said entering the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last September was the thrill of a lifetime, it was Tuesday’s induction into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame that particularly resonated with him because of how deep his Central Florida roots run.
``It’s full circle because I used to drive up with my mom from Polk County and at a certain point (in Orlando) I’d smell that bread and then we’d pass (the former Amway Arena) and I’d be like, `I’m going to play there one day, I’m going to be in that uniform,’’ McGrady recalled following his induction ceremony on Tuesday. ``Now, here we are getting inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame and it’s a gratifying feeling. This is how it should have been.’’
McGrady, now 38, became the seventh member of the Magic Hall of Fame – which is positioned at the Amway Center near the Nutrilife Fan Experience – joining legendary owner Rich DeVos, co-founders Pat Williams and Jimmy Hewitt and standout players Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee ``Penny’’ Hardaway and Nick Anderson.
Much like one of those stars engrained on his classic Magic uniform from the early 2000s, McGrady burned brightly as he flew across the Central Florida sky while either throwing alley-oop passes to himself off the backboard or piling up points in record numbers.
Similar to a shooting star, McGrady’s megawatt glow was gone just like that, lasting only four short years after his superstardom exploded upon Orlando in 2000.
Though his stint in Orlando was short, McGrady’s impact on the Magic was undeniably great, Magic CEO Alex Martins said.
``Arguably the four most productive years of a very great career,’’ Martins said of McGrady’s time with the Magic from 2000-04. ``The impact that he made on the organization on such a short period of time is evident in the numbers. Today, he’s still our all-time leading scorer by average. And he holds our all-time scoring record in a game and he’s in the top three or four in every one of our statistical categories – and he did it in four years, which is pretty remarkable.
``We all sit around and wonder what it would have been like if he had spent the majority of his career here or finished his career off here after those four years,’’ Martins added. ``If he had, I think, clearly, his number would be hanging in the rafters here and perhaps we’d even be talking about the Magic having won a championship during that time.’’
In 295 games with the Magic from 2000-04, McGrady averaged 28.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.53 steals in 39.4 minutes per game. He led the NBA in scoring twice (32.1 ppg. in 2002-03 and 28 ppg. in 2003-04) and was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2000-01. The native of nearby Auburndale once scored a franchise-record 62 points in a game in March of 2004, he was a two-time first-team All-NBA pick, a two-time second-team All-NBA selection and a four-time NBA All-Star while wearing Magic stars and pinstripes.
``(Stopping him) was as difficult as anyone in the league during his time,’’ said current Magic coach Frank Vogel, who worked previously for the Celtics, 76ers and Pacers during much of McGrady’s heyday. ``The ability to rise up and shoot at that height over the defense and off pindowns and off the bounce, which would force you to close out to him and he became a great passer our of pick-and-rolls. He really had it all – the explosiveness at the rim, the mid-range (shot), the ability to pass and hit the 3-point shot. So, he was as difficult as anybody we’ve had to prepare for since I’ve been coaching.’’
The ninth overall pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, McGrady spent his first three seasons with the Toronto Raptors and he averaged 15.4 points per game in the 1999-00 season while playing in the shadow of his cousin, Vince Carter. Former Magic GM John Gabriel had the insight to see McGrady’s vast potential, signing him and Grant Hill to seven-year, maximum-salaried contracts.
While McGrady’s superstardom took off in Orlando – he averaged 26.8 and 25.6 points per game in his first two seasons with the Magic – his career was forever haunted by ``what if’’ questions. To wit:
- What if Tim Duncan had joined him and Hill in signing with the Magic back in July of 2000? McGrady said on Tuesday that he only recently heard the story of Duncan balking at Orlando because then-head coach Doc Rivers wasn’t going to allow spouses on the team plane for road trips. That story is more urban legend than true as Duncan only chose to return to San Antonio following an impassioned plea by teammate David Robinson, who cut his Hawaiian vacation short in July of 2000 so as to talk face-to-face with the 7-foot future Hall of Famer.
- What if Hill hadn’t been haunted by years of ankle troubles that robbed the Magic of having two of the game’s most dynamic wing players at the same time?
Said McGrady: ``We talk about it all the time. (The media) can put together the story of what could have happened if Grant Hill had been healthy with me here. For me to not play with another all-star and go to the playoffs three out of four years and be up 3-1 against Detroit … if I had a Grant Hill we would have been in a better position to advance. It’s tough when you have one all-star and some scrappy, blue-collar guys out there. Now, you have three and four all-stars and potential Hall of Famers on one team.’’
- What if the Magic had finished off the top-seeded Detroit Pistons in 2003 after McGrady almost single-handedly led them to an early 3-1 lead in the first-round series?
- What if McGrady hadn’t fatigued in the fourth quarter and had made his free throws of that 62-point night in March of 2004?
``Man, it should have been 80,’’ McGrady said with a disappointed head shake. ``I missed nine free throws and I missed nine of my last 10 shots, too. Man, it should have been 80.’’
- What if a frustrated McGrady had been able to work things out with former GM John Weisbrod and stuck around to team up with a young Dwight Howard for years to come?
``There’s a lot of `what could have beens’ with my career,’’ McGrady said with a wistful laugh. ``But I don’t look back on it. I relish the time that I did have here, and I live on the experiences. I don’t indulge in the past of what could have been. I just live on the experiences that I did experience while I was here.’’
McGrady’s final chapter with the Magic could include an enhanced role in the team’s front office in the future. Hired in October as a special consultant to the CEO, McGrady has been precluded from having much involvement with Orlando’s players because of his simultaneous job as a NBA analyst for ESPN. In time, McGrady’s role with the Magic could potentially grow to the point where he helps the franchise attract the kind of difference-making free agent that he was back in 2000 for the organization.
``I used to tell my mom and tell my friends that I was going to be wearing this (Magic) uniform someday,’’ recalled McGrady, who noted that he always wore jersey No. 1 as a tribute to fellow Magic Hall of Famer Penny Hardaway being his favorite all-time player. ``In 1999, (his Toronto Raptors) were playing the Magic and Doc (Rivers) was the coach and we crossed paths at the end of the game and I told Doc, `Hold a place for me.’ Really, nobody had to do any recruiting because I knew I was coming home.
``Growing up, watching Nick (Anderson), watching Penny (Hardaway) and watching Shaq (O’Neal), this was the organization I always wanted to play for,’’ he added. ``It was a dream for me to play here. … (In 1997) I was so sold on putting on this (Magic) uniform and one day I wanted to represent it well. I hope I did that for the DeVos family. The four years I had here were some of the best of my life.’’
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