The Retirement of Tracy McGrady, and What Comes Next

tracy-mcgrady-pig-pink-nba-finals

“One thing about T-Mac: I have everything here that I want, and am happy with it so I don’t go out that much. I have my own chef, I don’t have to go out to shoot a basketball or workout; I have my friends and my family here. I’m real simple, you know? …As far as going out to bowling alleys and just doing fun things, I don’t do it ’cause I’m lazy. There’s the truth, I am lazy.”

– Tracy McGrady (ESPN.com, January 27, 2005)

On Monday, August 26, former NBA superstar Tracy McGrady announced his retirement from American professional basketball rather unceremoniously on ESPN’s First TakeThe NBA career which had come in like a lion went out like a crippled lamb, sustaining itself off the morsels of much more powerful, hardworking creatures. The seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion, a prep-to-pro guard-forward whose mercurial wizardry and innate natural basketball ability brought him comparisons to Jordan and Gervin at various points in his career, simply moved on from the game to which he had committed the previous two decades of his life, at least nominally.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell rather infamously stakes the claim that it requires 10,000 hours of practice at any skillful competition to become a master in it. In 2011, former Houston Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy estimated that McGrady had only ever had about 1,000 hours of practice at basketball, which may lead one to believe that perhaps McGrady had only tapped into one-tenth of his immense talent throughout his career. Yes, he was derailed by injuries at times, and yes, he often played on teams with little-to-no scoring help from anyone else.

To think that Tracy McGrady could have been the single best player ever to shoot a basketball, especially in the age of LeBron, may seem ridiculous now, but once upon a time it was not entirely out of the question. I mean, this is a guy who once scored 13 points in 35 seconds against the very San Antonio Spurs who brought him in to close his career. No, really:

With the possible exception of Reggie Miller’s ‘winning time’ against the Knicks, 8 points in 9 seconds in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, there probably never been a more exceptional sequence of scoring in a more compressed period of time in the NBA. Tracy McGrady’s talent has never been in question, even if his work ethic was legendarily uninspired, to say the least. Over the course of his career, McGrady acquired the reputation of being a player who had the ability to almost single-handedly carry his team to the playoffs but not past the first round, a stigma mostly associated with his time in Orlando and Houston. In six out of eight years between 2001 and 2008, McGrady was one of the two best players on his team going into the playoffs, only to exit to much fanfare and, usually, little resistance. He was an extremely diet, decaffeinated LeBron James, pre-2012. Scoring points and commandeering games at will came easily until the middle of April, when he prematurely entered a hibernation consisting, presumably, of twelve-hour naps and skipped or sloppy practices.

Tracy McGrady went through stretches of unparalleled excellence, only to have various injuries begin to plague him. USA Today provides a much more succinct, complete snapshot of his career, and many more words will doubtlessly be poured over what-was-and-what-could-have-been over the coming weeks (Perhaps the best portrayal of McGrady’s career can be found in the first FreeDarko book, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, which, together with the other FreeDarko book, I read in the span of a single Christmas Day a few years ago). The point is that Tracy McGrady was, as Van Gundy put it, an “otherworldly” talent whose already legendary basketball exploits only hinted at the greatness he may have achieved in a parallel universe. In my humble opinion, and in the opinions of many others, he belongs in the Hall of Fame just as much as Grant Hill and other similarly skilled but flawed players.

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So now, Tracy McGrady is no longer “professional basketball demigod Tracy McGrady,” or even “San Antonio Spurs bench mob bouncer Tracy McGrady.” He is simply a man who used to play basketball professionally at an elite level. What will he do with his spare time? James Vasiliou, another writer for this site, and I explored the options via text, and the possibilities reveal themselves in the second portion of this post.

The Exodus of Tracy McGrady: What T-Mac Will Do With His Newfound Spare Time OR What He Has Actually Already Been Doing for the Last Fifteen Years

  • “Now I can finally do needlepoint in peace.” – Tracy McGrady
  • T-Mac will finally get to perfect that chocolate soufflé. It reached a previous high during the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs.
  • His favorite shows include Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, The People’s Court and Designing Women.
  • He had previously watched The Wire during the Hawks’ playoff run in 2012 but cannot wait to go through it again.
  • He wants to get proficient at the soprano saxophone only because his favorite composition is John Coltrane’s rendition of “My Favorite Things.”
  • And yes, brown paper packages tied up with string are great!
  • He recently bought The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, and he wants to “get it.”
  • He signed up for hot yoga, but he’ll most likely roll up his mat halfway through each class and go home to enjoy a glass of whole milk while reading the latest Poor Richard’s Almanack, thinking eighteenth century crop reports will give him a slight edge in today’s market. History repeats itself, right?
  • He wants to collaborate with the High and Mighty Shampoo Bracelets on a belated review of Ron Artest’s rap album, which he always held in high regard and routinely played in his headphones before games.
  • He’s really been improving his cursive and plans to eventually move on to full-fledged font creation. He has a few really great ideas already.

And lastly,

  • Tim Duncan encouraged him to focus on the fundamentals of basketball while he was with the Spurs during the 2013 playoff run. Finally, Tracy McGrady has time to do that.

Goodnight, sweet prince. We love you, T-Mac.

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3 comments
  1. Manley said:

    Good shit! Except (minor point from paragraph 4) pre-2012 Lebron was not a playoff pushover… I distinctly remember telling my parents to shut up at an otherwise pleasant dinner at Stax’s during LBJ’s still unconscionable dismantling of a REALLY good Pistons team in game 5 of the 2007 playoffs.

    Back to Tracy- what a talent! Yet more than the general laziness of perfecting his craft, I’d say his laziness showed mostly on D…. Defense is 50% of the game in almost every team sport, something he never seemed to get. You don’t have to be Tony Allen on D to be effective… Hell, I’m a noted Kobe hater, but I can never fault him for not at least TRYING on both ends of the court, even if he lacked the particular skill set of a great perimeter defender. Over time T-Mac developed all of Kobe’s talent on O, but never had the grit and toughness for defense once he developed his offensive game. Looking back its INSANE to think he broke into the league as a “stopper”… the effort just disappeared with each passing year. If I were a HOF voter I don’t think I would vote him in because of it.

    Maybe I’m the crazy one, but I love great defense (S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C)

    • First of all, thank you for reading! Very much appreciated.

      I wasn’t saying LeBron was a playoff pushover, but he did carry the reputation of someone who couldn’t get it done when it mattered the most. For LeBron, that time just came a few rounds later than it did for T-Mac, but it was the same kind of perception for a while in the early 2000s. But yeah, LBJ definitely had a few more memorable playoff performances prior to his breakthrough, absolutely. That game against the Pistons was unbelievable, a quasi-preview to Game 6 in the 2012 ECF and in this year’s Finals.

      That is definitely true too. T-Mac really lacked a lot of defensive effort that others who shared a similar skill set and criticisms (Carmelo comes to mind a little bit) eventually got over, at least partially. It is incredible to think what he could have been, even when admiring what he already was.

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