The first basketball video game I ever owned (not counting Barkley’s Shut Up and Jam!) was NBA Live 2004 with Vince Carter on the cover.
My two best friends bought it for my 12th birthday – I had just received a GameCube for Christmas – and my first memory of defeat is Simon draining fade-away three’s with literally everyone on the Lakers not named Shaq (even Malone), while I struggled to score with anyone on the 76ers not named AI. Seriously, Eric Snow and Kenny Thomas were completely useless. Despite this loss, I was hooked, and I spent the next few months trying out players from all 29 teams.
The mechanics of the game made it much easier to shoot with guards and wings with a long, fluid release. Kobe’s was pretty quick and tough to master, while Ray Allen’s was one of the easiest. Dirk and Nash were the best tandem shooters, both still on the Mavericks, and LeBron couldn’t do anything other than dunk because his shot was so wonky. There was one guy, however, whose game was so smooth and whose team was so bad that I could drop 50 without breaking a sweat: Tracy McGrady.
After playing for a crappy Magic team, T-Mac was traded to the Rockets the next year to pair with Yao Ming. With Shaq gone from the Lakers and the defense-oriented Spurs and Pistons dominating the league, it was easy to root for Houston given McGrady’s laidback personality and late-game heroics.
And I’m not even sure what the little chin-wave thing he does after hitting the shot here is supposed to mean, but goddamn he was so cool in his prime.
Admittedly, my fandom with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant has been up-and-down over the years (fortunately culminating with an “up”), but my appreciation for T-Mac has never wavered. Injuries ruined what should have been a long, fruitful career, and a lack of playoff production means people will forever malign him for never making it out of the first round. Nevertheless, McGrady is going to enter the Hall of Fame, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Tracy’s induction, however, brings us to contemplate what makes a guy truly worthy of enshrinement. He never won a championship and only appeared in the NBA Finals on his last legs with the 2013 San Antonio Spurs. He led the league in scoring twice, but for really bad Orlando teams. Despite these perceived deficiencies, I can point decisively to his impact on me as a fan as making him truly deserving of the Hall. McGrady made me want to watch basketball, and he made me want to replicate his playing style: smooth, fluid, and able to score from anywhere on the floor. Tack on the fact that he has always been an ambassador of the league and role model for kids, and there’s no denying that T-Mac belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Moreover, McGrady’s induction allows us to vindicate several other players already in the Hall who may be considered unworthy. Guys like Adrian Dantley, David Thompson, and Calvin Murphy were all inducted despite never winning titles either, but their individual accomplishments paved the way for someone like T-Mac to arrive and take the league by storm with his scoring ability. We are perhaps tempted to make the Hall more exclusive given the nature of Cooperstown and baseball’s voting, but we need to appreciate the simple truth that this honor is meant to commemorate those who have helped grow the sport and attract fans.
There really is no minimum standard for guys to enter the Hall. We’ve seen scoring champions, MVPs, rookie phenoms, and All-Stars enshrined, and there are dozens of older players who are honored for their pioneering. For McGrady, seven All-Star appearances and a three-year run as one of the top three players in the league justifies any argument in his favor. His detractors will always point to playoff shortcomings, but his passion shines through and proves that this guy took these losses personally and would have thrived with a team as stacked as today’s Cavaliers or Warriors. And if Grant Hill had stayed healthy, I guarantee that Orlando Magic team makes it to at least one conference final during their time as teammates.
The NBA game will continue to evolve, but we’ll be hard-pressed to find a scorer as complete and exciting to watch as Tracy McGrady. Youngsters like Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson owe their livelihoods to legends like T-Mac, and we will watch in earnest as future generations seek to emulate his effortless dominance. The best part of basketball and the NBA is knowing that the league is a brotherhood that takes care of their own. Each member knows how important their predecessors are and salutes each other for their unique skillsets and accomplishments.
*As a postscript, I’d also like to throw in the fact that Tracy is one of the few former players who speaks well when serving as an analyst. Reggie Miller is atrocious, Webber is underrated, and KG needs to chill the f*** out with “Area 21.”*