Posted Oct 10, 2012 11:41 AM
To many, 13 points in 35 seconds are the numbers that will always define Tracy McGrady.
Amazing. Spectacular. Ethereal.
What he did to the San Antonio Spurs on the night of Dec. 9, 2004 is a YouTube sensation that never fails to make you shake your head in disbelief and send a tingle down your spine, no matter how many times you watch it.
Now there's another hard-to-fathom number: 33.
It's the age that T-Mac reportedly becomes a Qingdao Eagle.
In an upcoming season when 38-year-old Steve Nash, 39-year-old Jason Kidd and 40-year-old Grant Hill are expected to play key roles for NBA teams with high playoff expectations, a much younger McGrady will be across the Pacific looking to cash in on his past reputation in the Chinese Basketball Association.
It has all the desperate scent of a carnival sideshow, which might be appropriate for a 15-year NBA career where calliope music rather than postseason team success more often provided the background.
Through the prime of his career in Orlando and Houston, McGrady always described himself as his team's leader. Yet he usually did everything but lead. He is the only NBA scoring champion in history to have never won even a single playoff series in his career.
After the Magic took a 3-1 lead on the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs in 2003, McGrady famously declared: "It feels good to be in the second round." Then he watched his team collapse and lose the series.
McGrady's Rockets built a 2-0 lead on the Mavs in 2005, winning the first two games in Dallas, then blew the series, losing Game 7 by 40 points.
His Rockets had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 on the Jazz in 2007, after McGrady proclaimed before the start of the series: "It's all on me." But they lost Game 7 at home as T-Mac scored just one basket in the final six minutes. "It was never on me," he said.
In 2008, the Rockets dropped the first two games at home to the Jazz and lost the series in six.
McGrady's individual numbers were often spectacular and yet he never delivered enough of them at playoff crunch time.
His was a star-crossed pairing with Yao Ming. When McGrady arrived in Houston in 2004, it was supposed to become a new golden era for the Rockets with the two-time former scoring champion joining forces with a young and towering 7-foot-6 center to break down opponents and barriers.
But what usually broke down was one of their bodies or the other, which left season after season in pieces. The T-Mac and Yao Rockets could never gather traction due to a seemingly endless string of injuries to feet, knees, ankles, backs and shoulders. Of the 463 regular season games for which they were teammates, Yao missed 146 due to injury and McGrady 160.
It was a cruel fate for the player who entered the league as an 18-year-old wunderkind with Toronto and throughout his career demonstrated the kind of raw physical talent that drew raves and comparisons with his age-group peer Kobe Bryant. But while Bryant showed a relentless, bloodthirsty hunger to win playoff series and championships, driving to keep his body in shape with an intense, offseason conditioning regimen, McGrady was content to be a star with his name on the marquee and got by from year to year on his natural gifts. And his body simply broke down.
Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy marveled at McGrady's innate skills and his basketball I.Q., but could never get past the notion that a potential Hall of Fame career was being wasted.
When McGrady's back problems and ailing knees eventually led to his departure from Houston, it was with the very same trail of recrimination that he rode out of Orlando.
As a role player and so-called veteran presence in Detroit, he led a revolt again coach John Kuester. A year ago, he was anything but a positive locker room influence in Atlanta. So the Knicks, Spurs and even the Bobcats gave him tryouts, but weren't willing to throw him a rope this season.
There once were magical things McGrady could do with the ball in his hands that were breathtaking, almost indescribable. Now, sadly, you have to go to YouTube to see it. Or Qingdao.
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