T-Mac’s Prime Was Prime Time

Tracy McGrady is, in effect, retiring from the NBA and going to China to finish his career as a professional basketball player. I don’t know much about the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles, but I know about T-Mac; so I can confidently say that the Eagles are getting one of the defining players of the post-Jordan era in the NBA.

Mac is a divisive figure. The last five to six years of his career have tarnished what was a growing legacy. Some hoop heads will call the dude out-n-out trash. More staid critics scoff at him. It all slays me.

In his “Goodby NBA, Hello China” letter he posted on his blog, Mac thanked a cast of players, coaches and “handlers”:

Isaiah Thomas, Rich Devos, Leslie Alexander and John Gabriel, you believed in me and I thank you. Jeff Van Gundy, you exemplified the brilliance of what a great coach is. Steven A. Smith, you gave us players a voice and for that I thank you. Doug Christy, Charles Oakley, Dee Brown, Mugsy Bogues, Antonio Davis, Dell Curry, Kevin Willis, you all showed a young kid from Auburndale Florida how to be a better player. Kobe, you made me work harder and it was an honor to play against you. And Yao, we shared an experience together that will always be with me, thank you. 

Did you catch that? “Kobe, you made me work harder and it was an honor to play against you.”

There was a five year period, from 2001 to 2005, when there was a legitimate conversation to be had about which of those two players was the best – especially early on. It was Kobe, no doubt; but the two players pushed each other. During that five-season span, Mac averaged about 28 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg and 2 spg. He lead the league in scoring in ’03 and ’04. He was All-NBA for all five seasons (2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd) and finished in the top-5 for MVP voting in ’02 and ’03. His knock, during that span (four with Orlando, one with Houston), was that he never got out of the first round of the playoffs. But, his squads were never favored in those series. And they didn’t lose because Mac submarined. In those four postseasons, the man averaged a 32, 7 and 6. Go back and look at those roster and box scores. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Injuries and attitude derailed the second half of Mac’s career. And so many variables (i.e. injuries to Grant Hill and then Yao) proved to be obstacles the dude couldn’t hurdle when he was in his prime. But, before you discard his career or flippantly dismiss his NBA retirement, like it doesn’t matter, remember that five-year prime he submitted. He’s done now, but Mac was one of the coldest to ever do it when he was doin’ it.

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