Even though everyone saw it coming, hearing Tracy McGrady utter the words that announce his official retirement from the NBA makes it sting, like you expect it to when such a great player decided to leave the game, and pave the way for the endless Hall of Fame debates that might carry on for more than five years.
The dry numbers? McGrady spent 15 seasons in the NBA, playing for the Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs. His career averages? 19.6 points per game, with 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
He made the All-Star game seven years in a row (2001-2007), winning the NBA scoring title twice (2003 & 2004), and made 7 All-NBA teams, including two times in the first team. The important thing to remember about him isn’t just how his entire career looked, which includes his post-high school years in Toronto and taking a couple of seasons before becoming a major factor in the league, and the years post 2009, when he left the Rockets and was a marginal player for a few seasons before heading to China, returning for a bench role on a Spurs team that made the Finals.
The part that makes McGrady great are the seasons between 2000 and 2008. In those seven seasons he averaged 26.3 points per game, including 32.1 points for the Magic in 2002-2003. Any player with that kind of scoring stretch, not to mention dominance and overall ability that lasts for at least seven seasons has found himself in the hall of fame, or going there among the active players.
His win-share numbers don’t align him with the best of players (only some of them, like Elgin Baylor, Pau Gasol and possibly Ben Wallace are or will find themselves in the Hall of Fame), but he wasn’t always a part of the best teams in the league. Actually, his Rockets, even with Ming and those successful yet often injured team of the mid 00’s were never considered title contenders, or among the strongest in a very tough Western Conference.
Yet McGrady was special. There are things that go beyond the numbers, and beyond the fact that he was never really part of a team that won a playoff series.There’s something quite magical about unfulfilled potential, and McGrady, who was as talented as Kobe Bryant during his prime, has plenty of potential that went unfulfilled because he never really made a name for himself as a playoff beast.
Hall of Fame deserving? The numbers say yes, and the talent says yes as well. Not all players were fortunate enough to be on teams good enough to win NBA titles or compete at that kind of level. McGrady is the one who is the exception, and his playoff record shouldn’t keep him out of a Hall of Fame he deserves to be in.