Tracy McGrady wishes he stayed with Toronto Raptors


mcgrady-carterIn the spring of 2000, all things seemed possible for the Toronto Raptors. If the hope was genuine and the hype was mostly justified, it’s because the nascent NBA team had been graced with the presence of two giant talents. Vince Carter, the league’s reigning slam-dunk champion, was at the time one of the most popular basketball players on the planet.

On his best nights, he was also one of the most unguardable. And then there was Tracy McGrady, still mostly a backup player in those days but already the subject of whispers that he might one day turn out to be better than Carter, his distant cousin.

That day, it turned out, didn’t arrive with McGrady residing in Toronto. With his three-year rookie contract expiring at that the end of a 1999-2000 season that saw the Raptors make the first post-season appearance in their then five-season history, McGrady was an impending free agent with no end of suitors, the citizens of Toronto among them.

Fans carried signs that urged: “Come Back T-Mac!”

Shirtless young men painted the same message across their chests. The Raptors set up an email address with which fans could flood their six-foot-eight hero with pleadings he stay.

He didn’t stay, of course. McGrady, who grew up in tiny Auburndale, Fla., fled to nearby Orlando only months after his 21st birthday, and his return trips to the Air Canada Centre would be accompanied by the vicious boos of a jilted populace.

But more than 13 years later, in the days since he announced his retirement from the NBA last month at age 34, McGrady has been looking back fondly on his time in the NBA’s Canadian outpost.

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady was saying in a recent telephone interview from his home in the Houston area.

“There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often. But if ‘if’ was a fifth, you know?”

If “if” was a fifth, as the hip-hop lyric goes, Raptor fans would have been drunk on dunks for years to come. Alas, there were forces that conspired to drive McGrady south of the border. Not only did McGrady have an agent, Arn Tellem, with close ties to Chicago chairman Jerry Reinsdorf who set up a series of ultimately fruitless flirtations between McGrady and the Bulls. He also had people close to him with agendas of their own.

McGrady acknowledged that members of his camp continually pushed him to sign in Chicago, the market from which Michael Jordan had helped build Nike into a global behemoth, in an effort to maximize McGrady’s endorsement potential.

“They were going to get a percentage off of (my endorsement income),” McGrady said of his advisors, among them Alvis Smith, a shoe-company talent procurer who was credited with “discovering” McGrady as a high schooler. “They were pushing me to go to Chicago and I didn’t want to go to Chicago.”

McGrady never did land in the Windy City. He chose Orlando, he insists for his own reasons.

“I’m a stubborn dude,” McGrady said. “When you know what somebody’s agenda is and they don’t come out and tell you — it’s a hidden agenda — then that’s when they kind of rubbed me the wrong way. It’s like, ‘I don’t want to hear your opinion. Don’t give me no advice.’”

Tracy McGrady retired from the NBA in August 2013, following his rather bleak short stay with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Playoffs the same year.

McGrady nearly won his first NBA title, but the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in an epic seven-game finals series in June.

McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in a career that started in 1997, when he was drafted out of high school.

/The Star/

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