When Tracy McGrady jokingly asked Robert Horry for one of his seven NBA championship rings recently, the internet exploded when Horry told “T-Mac” he had to “earn it.”
Despite being one of the top players of his era, McGrady never captured that elusive championship ring; adding to a lengthy list of career “what-ifs.” What if he didn’t begin his career as a reserve? What if he didn’t have to average 30 points a game during his prime for the Orlando Magic to be competitive? What if injuries didn’t derail his career? What if he won a championship?
There’s no denying McGrady’s personal achievements, which include seven All-Star teams, two NBA scoring titles (2003, 2004), two-time All-NBA First Team (2001,2002), and the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2001.
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The personal achievements are outstanding, but did McGrady have the passion of a champion? Some basketball people have questioned that aspect of his game.
“When I look at McGrady, it reminds me of why Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan and Larry Bird is Larry Bird,” current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said on NBA TV’s Open Court in 2014. “It’s not just talent, there’s got to be a fire in the belly, there’s got to be a competitive edge where you want to kill the guy across from you.”
Kerr added that while he wasn’t familiar with McGrady on a personal level, his perception of “T-Mac” is that of a talented athlete whose fire to win “never manifested itself.”
The 36-year-old McGrady certainly had opportunities to capture championship glory. He competed in the playoffs in nine of his 15 seasons. Also, the Florida native was in the playoffs with five different teams (Raptors, Magic, Rockets, Hawks, and Spurs). However, McGrady only made one NBA Finals appearance which came with San Antonio during his final season in 2012-13.
In many ways, McGrady was a ringless version of Kobe Bryant. The comparisons between the two men have been constant. They were both drafted out of high school – just one year apart – and utilised their all-around ability to cement themselves amongst the NBA’s elite. As this 2013 Yahoo! Sports article mentions, McGrady began his career with an expansion team and Bryant went to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Even later in both men’s careers, Bryant often cited McGrady as his toughest rival. As for McGrady, he appears to have no regrets with how his career stacks up alongside others, including Bryant.
“Numbers don’t lie. I was in the conversation of being one of the best in the league,” McGrady told FOX Sports Radio’s Jay Mohr Sports shortly after his retirement. “Whether I was better than Kobe, or he was better than me … I was in the conversation and it didn’t matter at the time. I was playing at a high level and was very confident when I was on the court.”
Before a myriad of shoulder, knee, and back injuries ate away at McGrady’s body, forcing him into a reserve role, the 6’8, 225-pound swingman was an exceptional athlete. In fact, during his high school days at Mount Zion Christian Academy, McGrady’s natural ability made his style of play look so effortless, many interpreted it as an actual lack of effort.
Those preconceived notions proved false as McGrady constantly showed his on-court prowess. After leaving the Raptors to join the Magic on a lucrative free agent deal, McGrady’s regular season statistics matched up against the best in the league.
From 2000-2008, McGrady averaged 26 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 69 games per season. As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, those totals put McGrady in some elite company.
Also, it’s not like McGrady disappeared in the playoffs. He posted some memorable performances during playoff basketball. Bill Simmons of Grantland compared McGrady and Bryant’s playoff performances from 2001-2008, using these stat lines.
Player A: 28.4 ppg, 5.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 43.4 mpg, 45-33-81%, 22.6 FGA, 8.3 FTA, 22.5 PER, 31.1 usage
Player B: 29.5 ppg, 6.9 RPG, 6.5 APG, 42.6 mpg, 43-30-75%, 24.5 FGA, 9.1 FTA, 25.4 PER, 35.3 usage
Bryant is known as one of the greatest playoff performers in NBA history. So, it would be a safe bet that Bryant is the Player B of that equation.
In fact, McGrady is Player B; demonstrating his penchant for productivity as a playoff performer. However, the difference is that McGrady’s line was over a 35-game period whereas Bryant’s was over 102 games.
Simmons went on to list some of the names that McGrady played with during his various trips to the postseason Among those players include Bob Sura, Pat Garrity, a past-his-prime Dikembe Mutombo, Andrew DeClercq, and Jacque Vaughn. No wonder that McGrady didn't win his first playoff series until 2013, per ESPN.
It’s not surprising to see why “T-Mac” had to carry such a workload. Heck, it’s possible that exerting so much effort put a strain on McGrady’s body that caused it to break down years later.
Instead of being on a long list of champions, McGrady is on a short list with names such as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash, and Reggie Miller as elite players who never won a championship.
Luckily for McGrady, being a champion isn’t a requirement for enshrinement into the basketball hall of fame. If it was, names like DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison, and Dickey Simpkins -- all of whom have multiple rings -- would be serious candidates.
Following Horry’s comment of McGrady having to earn a ring, McGrady retorted to TMZ Sports about that exact point: "Anybody can be a champion, everybody can’t be a Hall of Famer,” he said with a smirk on his face.