“Coming to the mound, the former NBA All-star, number one…Tracy McGrady!”
Just say that in your best “announcer” voice. Doesn’t that sound just a little bit odd to you? Tracy McGrady, aka T-Mac, one of the best players the NBA had to offer a few years ago, is no longer playing basketball. Well, okay, that’s not that big of deal; he did have a bad back and could never stay healthy. You might have thought he’d probably go to ESPN with all the other former professional athletes. Nope, not McGrady. He has joined the Sugarland Skeeters, an Independent league, professional baseball team. Before we make the comparisons of McGrady trying to be like Michael Jordan in terms of going from basketball to baseball, let’s take a step back. Let’s rewind and take a look at Tracy McGrady the basketball player, as an electric offensive mastermind. A mastermind who is ensured entry into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
McGrady was named USA Today’s “High School Player of the Year” in 1997 and decided to forego college and jump feet first into the NBA. He was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft to the Toronto Raptors. In Toronto he played with Vince Carter, an athletic freak of nature. The two of them created some of the most spectacular plays ever seen in the NBA. The ally-oops, the no look passes, and the dunks were all part of the Raptor game package.
After three years in Toronto, T-Mac was a free agent and elected to come home to Florida where he signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the Orlando Magic. In his first year with the Magic, T-Mac was named to his first All-star team and won Most Improved Player of the Year. As the leader of the Magic, T-Mac didn’t get his team out of the first round of the playoffs. However, he continued to improve, averaging almost 26 points per game the next season and a colossal 32.1 points per game the season after that, a number that very few players have bested.
In 2004, T-Mac was traded to the Houston Rockets where he played for six seasons, still averaging more than 20 points per game but battling injuries every year and still never getting past the first round of the playoffs. Most notably, while playing for the Rockets, he is best known for his video game-like comeback against the San Antonio Spurs. McGrady scored 13 points in 33 seconds, an unbelievably jaw-dropping performance.
T-Mac eventually went to several other teams in a reduced role, but never won an NBA championship. Even if you don’t believe he’s in that elite level, you should be able to look past T-Mac’s injuries and appreciate the magnitude of his best season. Hoopsworld’s writer, Tommy Beer, did some major research and discovered McGrady and Michael Jordan have something in common: McGrady and Jordan are the only two players in league history to notch at least 32 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game over a full season. That stat shows that at his best, McGrady was as dominant as the greatest player to ever play, which makes a pretty strong case for McGrady being remembered among the league’s greatest.
Sports, as with all professions, are all about winning. Many argue that it wasn’t McGrady’s fault that he never carried his team out of the first round of the playoffs. It’s often said he had a bad-supporting cast. Still, all NBA legends are linked to winning championships. Michael Jordan with his six, Kobe and Magic with 5, Larry Bird has 3, and so on and so forth. But what makes it okay that T-Mac doesn’t have any? Well, I’m not saying that McGrady is the greatest player ever. What I am saying is that Tracy McGrady belongs in the Hall of Fame next to these guys because of his individual accomplishments on the court. I’m an avid believer that the amount of championships you have is an important indicator to how successful your career was/is. However, I do not believe in denying a player a ticket to the Hall of Fame because he played on poor teams, or because he dealt with legitimate injuries his whole career. He’s not a guy who was caught with steroids like Alex Rodriguez, he’s a guy who had back pains. He’s a guy who fought through pain and played, unlike his wingman in Orlando, Grant Hill, or his wingman in Houston Yao Ming. He’s a guy who has a career average of almost 20 points per game. That includes short seasons with the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, and Atlanta Hawks.
If winning a championship is the final thing on the checklist that allows you to have that golden ticket into the Hall of Fame then we might as well go back and revoke a few Naismith licenses. Karl Malone, I’m sorry your license has been suspended. Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and Patrick Ewing you can give us back that Hall of Fame status as well. Those are just a few names who never won a ring but are still in the class, and trust me there are plenty more. Not everyone has the good fortunate of playing under great coaches like Phil Jackson or Pat Riley. Nor is everyone privileged enough to play alongside great players like Scottie Pippen, Dwayne Wade, or Shaq. No T-Mac isn’t on the same level as Jordan, Kobe, or Lebron. T-Mac is invited to the party with these players however, the Hall of Fame party.
I’ll leave you with one last stat: McGrady is one of five players in the last 20 years to accumulate 18,000 points, 5,200 rebounds, and 4,500 assists. The other four players are Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Kobe Bryant. The other four players listed above are first ballot Hall of Famers, no questions asked. McGrady deserves to join them one day.