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RTOE: Bon Voyage, Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady yesterday announced his retirement from the NBA. The seven-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion and all-time talent leaves the game having recorded over 18,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists; something only 21 other players have ever accomplished. At his best, Tracy burned brighter than nearly any star of his time. The unparalleled scoring binges, the underrated passing prowess, the unheralded ability to guard multiple positions – rare was the player more complete than McGrady. So today we say goodbye to one of the best to ever lace them up. In honor of Scott Leedy, an RTOE.

1.  What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Tracy McGrady?

Amin Vafa: This.

Noam Schiller: 35 in 13.

Curtis Harris: Injuries. God damn injuries. But the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. things that come to mind are so many mind-boggling plays, seasons, and skills that McGrady is one of my most beloved players. Growing up a Rockets fan, his 2008 series against the Utah Jazz was the highlight of his career for me. A man who had a busted shoulder, a bad knee, and no Yao Ming valiantly played his ass off on the court. Of course the Rockets lost the series and it seemed to be the perfect encapsulation of his career.

Matt Moore: 2003 MVP. Because he should have been. Good God in heaven, that season. The word “breathtaking” isn’t one I use a lot, but it’s apt there. He just made you suck in your breath because it was so incredible watching him in flight, scoring, rebounding, dishing. It was masterful, and one of the most quixotic adventures of the modern era.

Jack Winter: Talent. Unique, incredible and too-fleeting talent. If McGrady had played with a supporting cast like Kobe Bryant’s and his body had cooperated, his place in league history seems limitless. At his peak, there have only been a small handful better.

Robby Kalland: Buckets. In the early 2000s he could score the ball as well if not better than anyone. That 2002-03 season when he averaged 32.1 ppg (along with 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists) was incredible. In middle school, my friends and I modeled our games after T-Mac (for better or worse…okay, worse) because Tracy got buckets.

Brian Schroeder: High-level talent. The best case scenario for having a young, rangy swingman prospect. What all the DeMar DeRozans and Terrence Ross’ and Jimmy Butlers hope they could someday become. At the same time, he’s something of a tragic figure. He’s the worst case scenario for injured superstars (along with Gilbert Arenas, I suppose).

Ananth Pandian: Scoring. From 13 points in 35 seconds to the dunks, McGrady was an unbelievable player and was a true joy to watch when he was at the height of his career.

Andrew Lynch: Counterfactual history. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other player’s career that more readily lends itself to “What If?”s. Be it injuries of his own, incapacitated teammates, or a litany of playoff results that refused to go McGrady’s way, it’s tough to consider T-Mac’s career without wondering how it all could have been different.

Jared Dubin: Versatility. In addition to being one of the most prolific scorers of our time, McGrady was an above-average positional rebounder, and maybe the best passing wing of our generation before LeBron came along and stole that thunder. He could also capably guard three positions on a game-to-game basis, and even successfully guarded Dirk Nowitzki for a playoff series back in the day.

Scott Leedy: Natural. Everything always seemed so effortless with McGrady. It was like watching Griffey Jr. swing a bat or early 2000s Tiger Woods swing a golf club. Unlike Lebron James who seemingly obliterated the matrix, T-Mac always seemed to be inextricably linked to the fabric of the game. In some ways it fit with the idea that McGrady didn’t practice hard enough. His game didn’t look like it had been honed through hours of work in the gym; it didn’t need to be. What was there for McGrady to man make that the gods hadn’t already given him? His scoring ability was obvious. His ball handling was exceptional for a player even half his size and his passing amongst the best ever for a wing. Everything on the court came so naturally to McGrady it’s jarring that the wins and accolades didn’t follow suit. Talent doesn’t always win, but in this case it should have.

Jordan White: “He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!” I was just coming into my NBA fandom when McGrady was in his prime, and this dunk is one of my first vivid NBA memories. I remember how ruthless that dunk was, but also how effortless it was for McGrady to soar that high.

Ian Levy: The way he could get from the three-point line to the rim in a single dribble, serpentine length and licorice limbs curling around defenders. Smoothness and fluidity are overused basketball adjectives but McGrady breathed life into them like no one else. Long after the memories of his actual accomplishments have gone, I’ll still be able to picture him sliding through a defense.

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2. Which of Tracy’s injury-riddled running mates would have made a more ideal complement at the height of his powers: Grant Hill or Yao Ming?

Amin Vafa: Yao. Not sure anyone could stop a full-strength Yao with a full-strength T-Mac on the wing.

Noam Schiller: Yao, just because defensively mobile all-star bigs are even rarer than the freak of nature that was Grant Hill in his prime.

Curtis Harris: Yao Ming. When Yao and McGrady were both healthy together they were a fantastic force. That inside-outside combo shoulda been the best of the latter half of the 2000s.

Matt Moore: Yao. When those two were healthy, they really were a contender. That 2009 team could have ***** some people up if they’d stayed healthy. They were legit. I always like the big-man, slasher combo.

Jack Winter: Yao, but the success enjoyed by LeBron and Wade makes it easy to believe T-Mac and Hill could have been devastating.  McGrady and Ming, on the other hand, nearly were – Houston won at least 51 games in four out of five seasons from 2005-2009. If their mostly healthy years had even once coincided, the Rockets might have another championship.

Robby Kalland: Yao. That Rockets team was REALLY good when they were all healthy and showed flashes of being a real contender. A healthy Hill and McGrady would’ve been extremely fun to watch, but I think those late 2000s Rockets teams had a realistic title shot.

Brian Schroeder: Yao. We often forget how bad some of their supporting casts were, really.

Ananth Pandian: Yao Ming for sure. Grant Hill and T-Mac would have been a fearsome duo but those Rockets teams with Yao would have been amazing if everyone was healthy. The 2008-09 Rockets team is one of my favorite teams of all time as their roster was so well rounded and deep, if both Yao and T-Mac didn’t get hurt they could’ve made it to the Finals.

Andrew Lynch: We all seem to be in agreement that the combination of a healthy, prime McGrady and Yao makes the basketball gods cry tears of pure joy, but I’d like to point out the one caveat that might have given Hill and McGrady the edge: So long as we’re considering alternate universes, think about how devastating the combination of healthy McGrady, Hill and a recently relocated Tim Duncan might have been. It could have happened, and it would have been glorious.

Jared Dubin: I’m a little bit surprised that I’m the only one giving this answer, but I think it’s Grant Hill. It’s a downright shame Hill just couldn’t stay healthy. I’m all about interchangeable wings with versatile skill sets.

Scott Leedy: I’ll say Yao. However I think both teams needed a better supporting cast to be successful. Unfortunately we will never really know.

Jordan White: Yao Ming. As others have said, a dominant force down low — on both ends of the floor — a healthy Yao would have been a perfect complement to a healthy McGrady. It’s just a shame that those two never quite met.

Ian Levy: Bob Sura. End of discussion.

3. Which late-career iteration of T-Mac do you prefer: New York novelty act, Detroit point forward, Atlanta malcontent, or San Antonio ring chaser?

Amin Vafa: Detroit point forward because nothing in Detroit has made sense since 2008.

Noam Schiller: San Antonio ring chaser, if only because seeing T-Mac and Boris Diaw on the same bench proved just how much the two of them together look like Ren and Stimpy.

Curtis Harris: Detroit point forward since it was the most dignified iteration.

Matt Moore: Atlanta was actually pretty great. His assist rate that season was terrific and I felt like he made good decisions. Wish he’d gotten more playoff run.

Jack Winter: Atlanta. A lack of playing time made it easy to forget McGrady was still a useful player for the Hawks. Few moments were more gratifying that season than a vintage T-Mac stepback from the left wing. After all the injuries, all the turmoil and all the mileage, he still had it now and again.

Robby Kalland: Atlanta for all of the selfish reasons because I got to witness it first-hand. It was my first year covering the team, and, while T-Mac got pretty salty and could get annoying in the locker room, it was still fun to see him turn back the clock on occasion and show a glimpse of his old self. I remember being so excited when he scored 17 in a game in April because it gave me a legitimate reason to talk to him after the game.

Brian Schroeder: Detroit, because he was legitimately good and it never stopped surprising me.

Ananth Pandian: I feel like he was more of a malcontent in Detroit; remember that player “strike” of Coach John Kuester? I prefer his final run with the Spurs over all of those other stops. Coming back from China, T-Mac knew that this was his last hurrah so he played his role perfectly as he provided highly entertaining quotes and got all of us excited when he would check into the game, even if was for just ten seconds.

Andrew Lynch: I love Tracy McGrady. The combination of smooth, suave efficiency and devil-may-care nonchalance is appealing in a culture of cut-throat competition. But my favorite autumnal McGrady has to be the version that looked so dapper in silver and black. Not because of anything he did on the court, or on the bench, but because it was contemplative, comfortable McGrady. He knew where he was, and perhaps more importantly, he knew where he’d been. The ring would have been great, but it wasn’t necessary. Something about that seems perfectly fitting for T-Mac.

Jared Dubin: New York novelty act. I was actually in attendance for McGrady’s first game as a Knick. Playing against the Thunder in Madison Square Garden, McGrady gave a vintage performance – he scored 26 points on 17 shots, snagged 4 rebounds and dished 5 assists. The place was going berserk, chanting his name nearly continuously for 53 minutes of game time. Had Kevin Durant not nailed a game-tying three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, McGrady would have been the hero, too.

Scott Leedy: I hated them all because they were a painful reminder that the player I loved was gone and never coming back.

Jordan White: Detroit. His 12 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per 36 minutes were a glimpse, albeit brief and bittersweet, of the player he once was.

Ian Levy: They were all so sad I don’t even know where to begin. Even his time with the Rockets was like watching something shiny and sparkly drifting away. I’m choosing to just picture him lugging the 2003 Magic around on his back and pretending everything that happened after was a bad dream.

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4. Favorite YouTube clip?

Amin Vafa: hahahahah http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9fJEG2gbuM

Noam Schiller: Has to be the Bradley dunk, a clip I’ve watched so many times that I feel like I remember which parts of it are over-pixellated. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9fJEG2gbuM

Curtis Harris: McGrady doing his sleepy-eyed assassin routine against the Jazz in Game 3 of the 2008 playoffs.

Matt Moore: WORKIN’ THE GOAT http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwDm542e8ik

Jack Winter: 13 in 37. The notoriously smooth and sleepy-eyed as McGrady only offered the rare glimpse of competitive fire; the best of them came after capping his incredible run with a game-winning three-pointer.

Robby Kalland: T-Mac demolishing Shawn Bradley in the 05 playoffs. RIP Shawn Bradley. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9fJEG2gbuM

Brian Schroeder: The full, broadcast version of 13 in 37, just for how matter of fact it seems. In this setting, it’s just as surreal in its mundanity as it was when it happened. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceLlz7dOOvY

Ananth Pandian: We’ve all shared some great videos of T-Mac’s dominance on the court so I’m going to answer with this video of Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo teaching McGrady how to use chopsticks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DE1npIIOUus

Andrew Lynch: Tracy McGrady is Kawhi Leonard, apparently. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TItquLzAQwY

Jared Dubin: 62. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFIWN7QoOp0

Scott Leedy: Insert 13 in 35 here.

Jordan White: Again: T-Mac Dunk on Shawn Bradley – YouTube

Ian Levy: The cinematography here is a little strange but the ease with which he drops these 53 points on the Pistons is just too compelling. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRSaQu2cHX8

5. Compare Tracy’s career to a 90s movie/TV show/song.

Amin Vafa: “Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes. Underrated to the point where people think they only produced one thing. But diehards know that there’s a larger repertoire. Ultimate success, however, was stunted by internal struggles.

Noam Schiller: Crap, I already wasted Ren and Stimpy.

Curtis Harris: The Critic. Great while it lasted, but it wasn’t long enough.

Matt Moore: “Everything to Everyone” by Everclear. He tried to do everything and in the end he was just stretching himself thin. Also, that funky reverb on the brutally simple baseline makes me think of the thump thump thump of his post game and triple threat work.

Jack Winter: Cheating for the sake of chronology – Blink 182′s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. The band’s 2001 mega-record doesn’t accurately portray their lasting legacy, but stands out as a cultural touchstone for twentysomethings everywhere.

Robby Kalland: Without Me – Eminem. (Cheating because this came out in 2002, but I don’t care.) Often injured, Tracy’s teams always felt so empty without him.

Brian Schroeder: “Everlong,” by the Foo Fighters. It starts with promise and rhythmn, then explodes into sustained brilliance for an extended period, and though it’s of average length, still feels like it ends too quickly. If everything could ever be this real forever. If anything could ever be this good again.

Ananth Pandian: MADtv featured some amazing comedic talents yet was often looked as the inferior stepchild to Saturday Night Live;  similar to the talk that McGrady was never as good as Kobe Bryant. This was a common argument throughout McGrady’s career, that would detract from the brilliance of his game.

Andrew Lynch: Deep Blue Sea. Deeply, deeply flawed on a level that’s the fault of neither the Creation, its Creator nor the Components, but thoroughly entertaining with peaks that are matched by very, very few of its contemporaries.

Jared Dubin: Freaks and Geeks. (It premiered in 1999, so it counts) So good while it lasted. Unfortunately, it didn’t last nearly as long as it should have.

Scott Leedy: I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly. Mostly because both Kelly and McGrady are incredibly talented people with inexplicably strange careers. I am already uncomfortable with this comparison. Let’s move on.

Jordan White: Power Rangers: Zeo. Tracy McGrady is the Gold Ranger, when Jason assumed the mantle. He was supposed to be the most powerful ranger — and when his powers worked, he was. But there always seemed to be some issue, some mishap with those powers. Sometimes, though depleted or not at full strength, he’d fight through, while at others, he couldn’t even transform, causing him to sit out the fight.

Ian Levy: Fight Club. Highly-stylized and impossible to take your eyes off. A subtle thread of electricity runs through the whole affair and when it’s over you’re not sure exactly what just happened.

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6. Tracy McGrady, Hall of Famer?

Amin Vafa: Gotta be. Even if the accolades weren’t there, the fact that he was a phenomenon in the league for so long warrants his inclusion.

Noam Schiller: Yes. I’m stunned that this is even a discussion.

Curtis Harris: Hell yes.

Matt Moore: DUH.

Jack Winter: Yes. T-Mac was the best player in the world during the 2002-2003 season. That alone merits inclusion.

Robby Kalland: No doubt.

Brian Schroeder: Yes.

Ananth Pandian: I’m looking forward to his induction speech.

Andrew Lynch: Yes. But beyond that, a mini-rant. The Hall of Fame is a lot of things. It’s an honor, of course, but for a sport with as rich a history as basketball, it’s more than that. It’s commemoration, the museum of our memories which stands to tell the story of every indelible experience this game was ever kind enough to afford us. Some might argue that to enshrine those whose cases cause animosity and debate tarnish the legacy of the game’s very best, but even their stories stand to be enriched by the inclusion of those without whom the tales might never have been spun. Tracy McGrady is a Hall of Famer because, if even for just a ragged breath in time, he was the NBA. No museum could be whole without him.

Jared Dubin: Ain’t no doubt about it.

Scott Leedy: http://youtube.com/watch?v=f28klp1qQGI&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Df28klp1qQGI

Jordan White: Yes.

Ian Levy: Nope. And tell Vince Carter he can’t come either.

Jared Dubin

Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, freelances for Grantland, and is coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity: Strange Takes on the Strangest Season in Knicks History.