As a young boy growing up in Orlando, I didn’t have much in terms of sports teams. The city didn’t have an NFL, MLB or NHL team. The local college, The University of Central Florida, was a shell of what it would become. However, we did have the Orlando Magic, something that I would come to cherish, as you have undoubtedly been able to surmise.
Now, the Magic were by no means the best team in the league in 2000. In fact, the Magic picked three times in the lottery during the 2000 NBA draft. While that draft didn’t give the Magic the superstar they desired, they were able to secure not one, but two in free agency that summer.
That summer, the Magic acquired superstar forward Grant Hill, who had become one of the league’s best all-around players during his six years with the Detroit Pistons. Orlando also acquired a young Florida native named Tracy McGrady.
(Also, let’s not forget that the Magic were ever so close to securing former number one overall pick Tim Duncan as well, a move that would’ve changed the NBA landscape for over a decade.)
However, the moves never worked out like the Magic had planned.
Hill battled injuries, playing just 47 games in his first three years with the team due to an array of foot and ankle issues that, at one point, could have cost him his life. Duncan ended up spurning the team at the last second to return to the San Antonio Spurs and build one of the most successful sports dynasties in recent memory.
The one thing that did go in the Magic’s favor, however, was McGrady. T-Mac blossomed in Orlando taking on a role he had yet to see: the go-to-guy. If the Magic ever needed a bucket, the rock was in McGrady’s hands.
McGrady almost single-handedly carried his team to three consecutive playoff appearances. However, the Magic could never get over the hump. They couldn’t make it out of the first round, not even when they held a 3-1 lead against the Pistons in the 2002-03 first round series.
Yet, McGrady kept filling up the scoring column on a nightly basis. He kept the fans on the edge of their seats, ready to see the next trick he had up his sleeve.
As a boy growing up, I loved this. I yearned to be Tracy McGrady. I couldn’t wait for the next Magic game so I could sit down on the couch and watch what the electrifying McGrady was going to do next.
Even though he had his disappointing moments — the fight with Bobby Jackson (which happened to be the first NBA game I ever attended), kicking the ball into the stands against the Denver Nuggets (twice!), appearing disinterested at times, to name a few — he was still the man. No one was perfect, not even the one who seemed the most perfect to me at the time, but that was okay.
Then, just like that, he was gone.
After four years, McGrady, along with Reece Gaines, Tyronn Lue and Juwan Howard, was on his way to the Houston Rockets for Steve Francis, Kelvin Cato and Cuttino Mobley. The one player I grew up watching, the one I loved to see play and yearned to emulate, was gone, off to Texas faster than he could fill up the net at TD Waterhouse Center. It was the start of a new era in Magic basketball, and I just had to accept that.
It was a tough lesson to learn that sometimes good things have to come to an end–especially in sports, where rosters are always fluid. It was what was best for both parties, and over the last 10 plus years, I’ve learned that.
Now, after having heard McGrady talk about how thankful he was for his time here and how happy he was to be honored during the team’s 25th Anniversary celebration last year, I remembered why I love McGrady. He had a passion for the game. He played it so easily, and did so many great things not only with the Magic, but with the Rockets as well.
The eight-year-old inside of me wishes things were different sometimes. He wishes he could’ve stayed and grown with Dwight Howard and possibly pushed the Magic over the edge. He wishes that McGrady would’ve finished his career in Orlando.
While that couldn’t happen, and things turned sour quickly with McGrady and the Magic, one thing is for sure: without McGrady, I might not have gotten into this amazing game and turned into the person I am today. For that, all I can say is thank you, T-Mac. Thank you for the great memories, the exciting plays, and most of all, getting me into this great game.