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McGrady Discusses Journey to NBA Finals
Posted By Alex Kennedy On June 8, 2013 @ 9:34 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
When Tracy McGrady was playing with the Toronto Raptors, he became a fan favorite because of his highlight-reel dunks and seemingly unlimited potential. When it came time for McGrady to test free agency for the first time in the summer of 2000, many fans in Toronto didn’t want to see him leave.
One diehard McGrady fan, an eight-year-old boy from Toronto, showed up at a Raptors game with a sign that said, “Stay T-Mac!”
Little did the boy know, one decade later he would be on the same team as McGrady, with just several feet separating their lockers in the NBA Finals.
That young fan was Toronto native Cory Joseph, who is now McGrady’s teammate on the San Antonio Spurs. The 34-year-old McGrady, who’s in his 16th NBA season, cracks up at this story even though it makes him feel incredibly old.
“We talked about that,” McGrady said with a laugh. “Old. I’m old. He was like seven or eight years old! I mean, 16 years later, I’m still here and still standing. I just turned 34 years old so I am young, but it really does [make me feel old].”
“I was begging for him to stay because I was a fan when I was younger,” Joseph said. “But he made a business decision. … It’s cool to be his teammate and share these experiences with him now after watching him when I was growing up. It’s great.”
When McGrady addressed the media at the NBA Finals, he drew nearly as much attention as San Antonio’s marquee players despite the fact that he isn’t part of the Spurs’ rotation. McGrady has played just 17 minutes during the playoffs, but he’s still someone who attracts plenty of attention due to his career accomplishments. After winning two scoring titles and earning All-NBA First Team honors twice among other individual accolades, McGrady just wants to win a championship to complete his resume. He has joked with Spurs superstar Tim Duncan that he needs to win it all to get him a ring.
“I told him he better get me one, sh–,” McGrady said with a laugh. “After all the stuff I’ve went through in my career? Sh–, I’m probably one of the only ‘stars’ in this league that had to go through a lot of this sh–. Not too much help in Orlando, when I was really on top of my game. The struggle to find talent to put around myself and Yao Ming in Houston. It was tough. … That’s just been the story of my career. Playing four years down there in Orlando, wishing that I had Grant Hill. Playing in Houston, not having Yao Ming. Then, when they do advance, I’m not playing. It’s just been part of my career.”
The idea of McGrady and Duncan on the same team back in 2000 would’ve been scary, and it almost happened. The Orlando Magic pursued Duncan that summer when he was an unrestricted free agent, with the goal being to form a Big Three of McGrady, Duncan and Hill. The superstar big man seriously considered their offer, but ultimately decided to stay in San Antonio.
“We were talking about that the other day on the bus, I told him that I was pissed that he didn’t sign down there,” McGrady said. “He told me that Pops convinced him to come back. That was the draw for him. I knew it would be tough to sign him, but that would have been awesome.”
Now, the two are teammates, but McGrady’s beard is speckled with gray hairs and he’s not playing much. He has accepted this and made the sacrifice because he’s at the point that he’ll do whatever he can to win a championship. Prior to this season, McGrady had lost in the first round in every postseason he participated in. This is something that became a running joke and something his critics would often point to when discussing his career. However, they can no longer say that about McGrady, and he’s three wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“Listen, I was always a guy that said, for a player to be on a championship team that didn’t contribute, how can he feel that he deserved that ring?” McGrady said. “Look here, man, I’m in that situation. My career has been something, especially after my injury. It’s been tough. I can’t do nothing but appreciate this opportunity. It seems like it happened for a reason for me to be here, despite me not playing. For Pop to call me out of the blue when I was just chilling at home with my kids for two months after returning from China, somebody sent me a message to be a part of this and it’s a great story.
“He just told me that he was dealing with some injuries at the time and he wanted me to come down so I could chat with him and see what I thought about it. It was a very transparent conversation, which I appreciated. I might play, but I might not. Was I okay with that? I was like, ‘Sure.’ … Anybody would want to be a part of this. You figure that this is a team that’s going to be there every year, with the great coaching that Pop displays, the family bond they have here and all the egos checked at the door. It’s not just about one guy. They don’t care about who gets the glory or who is in the spotlight. They don’t care about none of that.”
McGrady didn’t experience much transparency in recent years, specifically when he was in Atlanta. He was promised a certain amount of touches and a specific role, but it all changed once the season started.
“I’m back to enjoying the NBA,” McGrady said. “The last few years, I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it because I felt like a lot was taken away from me. I felt like the ability that I could display, I wasn’t allowed to do that. I felt like I was lied to. I don’t want to say no names, but things weren’t happening the way it was told to me. I don’t have any respect for that. I know a lot of things have been said about me as an individual and as a player, but I just speak my mind. When something is told to me and it doesn’t happen that way, I’m going to speak my mind. That’s just who I am. I’m not going to shy away from that. That’s why I have so much respect for Gregg Popovich and for Jeff Van Gundy because those guys are up front and very transparent on how they handle players and how they handled my situation. It was very clear from our phone conversation, and that’s why I was okay with my role here.
“I don’t think I would have been as vocal about not playing so much and my role if things would have been transparent up front, if everything was laid out on the table before I even put on the uniform. But when I’m told that this is going to be your role and this is what we want you to do and it doesn’t turn out that way, then we’ve got a problem.
“Honestly, I think the man above was really sending me a message, just about patience and how to deal with certain things in my career. I’ve been through different situations and in different roles and learned how to cope with different things. It has prepared me to not be so bitter, not pout about not playing and not be so discouraged about not having the type of impact on the team that I’m used to normally having.”
He has accepted that he won’t see the court in the Finals, although he has stayed ready and would love to contribute.
“Sh–, I don’t think I am going to play,” McGrady joked. “I watch just like you. I just got a better seat.”
Earlier this season, McGrady had a stint in China with the Qingdao Eagles. While many former NBA players who went overseas never returned to the league, McGrady wasn’t worried about that. He knew that his situation was different from someone like Allen Iverson (“I don’t have that type of baggage that a lot of guys had over their careers that really caught up with them in the end.”) and different from players like Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas (“They don’t have the value that I have.”) He enjoyed his time in China, once he located the American restaurants in every city.
“My experience in China was great,” McGrady said. “I had a lot of fun over there. Chinese fans are unbelievable and they made me feel like a rock star. Every arena I showed up to was [sold out], and thousands of people were waiting just for my bus to pull up. The airport was just flooded with people. To come home for two months to just relax and get over that, because I was overwhelmed in every city that I went to, and then to get the call from Pop to be a part of this, it was great. … I was very excited. I felt like it was the first time that I could be part of a team that could make a run at the title.
“Honestly, I didn’t really have any plans of coming back to the NBA. I didn’t care. I wasn’t really focused on that. I was fine with coming back home and just relaxing. I didn’t have any plans of coming back. But when he called, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity. … I was very excited. I felt like it was the first time that I could be part of a team that could make a run at the title.”
In China, McGrady was once again treated like a superstar. That was important for him because after his knee injuries, he lost his confidence. However, the China stint allowed him to get his confidence back and return to form.
“I got that back,” McGrady said. “I lost that when I dealt with my injury in my 11th year. To lose that, it was tough. To be playing on a high level for that many years and then you can’t get back to that level, going over there I got it back. I felt appreciated. I felt like myself again, having the ball in my hands. It’s obviously not the level of competition in the NBA, but I was enjoying my time over there and getting back to that level and that feeling.
“Dealing with injuries the way I dealt with them, especially after my knee injury, I lost my confidence. When you’re dealing with injuries like that, you tend to lose confidence. Mentally, it was tough to get back. I understand what these guys are going through when they’re dealing with a knee injury. Mentally, it’s tough to get back to that level that you were once at. Now, I’ve gotten over that hurdle. I’m able to go out and do things that I was accustomed to doing on the basketball court. Making cuts, driving, dunking on people. Anything I was able to do prior to my surgery, I’m able to do that now.”
This lines up with what several of his teammates said, that he still has moments of greatness during practice.
“He still shows flashes,” Danny Green said. “You’ll see him and it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s T-Mac.’ He’s a very special player. He obviously doesn’t know the system as well so he hasn’t gotten the opportunity to do much here this year, but he deserves to be here.”
McGrady isn’t sure how much longer he wants to continue playing. He was asked several times over the last few days if he wants to return to the Spurs next season, but he chose not to discuss his future.
“You know what? I don’t know,” McGrady said. “I don’t know what will change if this series is over and we’re the last team standing. I don’t know. … I haven’t even thought that far. I don’t know. I’m just trying to soak this opportunity in, these days and these moments. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
When he does decide to hang ‘em up, this is how he wants to be remembered: “Just as a hell of a player, man. A prolific scorer. A guy that could score in a variety of ways. I don’t know. I mean, when I was in my prime, I put everything on the table. I tried to better myself in the playoffs. I tried to do more in the playoffs than I did in the regular season, if you look at the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. I gave it my all.”
When asked to comment on the current debate about his Hall of Fame candidacy, McGrady didn’t hesitate.
“Just look at the numbers,” McGrady said. “Look at my numbers for 11 seasons before I had my knee injury and then look at some of the guys in the Hall of Fame. Look at their numbers.”
When McGrady was with the Magic, he was arguably the best player in the NBA. He averaged over 25 points per game during each of his four years in Orlando, topping out at 32.1 points in the 2002-03 season.
“I had to because no Grant Hill,” McGrady explained. “There was more of a burden on my shoulders to carry the team. That’s just what I had to do. Same thing in Houston. I mean, Yao was a big part of our team, but he wasn’t a dominating guy like Shaq, a 25 and 15 guy. I don’t even think he averaged 20 points. It was still a lot for me because I had to get him the ball.
“I didn’t know I was capable of that type of performance as far as scoring. I didn’t know I had that in me, I really didn’t. I thought I’d be somewhere around the game that LeBron had [in Game 1], minus the 18 rebounds. You know, 18 [points], 10 [rebounds] and seven [assists]. But it was just the work that I put in. I started to build confidence, I had more of the backing of the coaches and my teammates allowed me to go out there and just be me.”
Now, McGrady is no longer elite, but he’s still one of the most fascinating players in the NBA. Soon, he’ll walk away from the game for good, but his legacy will carry on since the next generation of basketball players grew up watching him dominate.
“He was one of my favorite players growing up,” Green said. “He was one of the best guys in the league. He’s a great guy, being around him. I’m just hoping that I can be half as good as him one day.”
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