The most remembered postgame conferences tend to be the ones we can laugh at, such as Jim Mora yelling about regular season ineptitude or Allen Iverson’s rant about practice. The one I will always remember is this Tracy McGrady clip after the Houston Rockets were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs. He kept saying, “I tried, man. I tried.” No blaming teammates. No bravado. He shouldered that entire burden alone. It was the sixth time McGrady had been eliminated in the first round, and he wouldn’t make it beyond that point until being carried to the 2013 NBA Finals while riding the San Antonio Spurs bench. The writers of T-Mac’s legacy will begin and end with the sentiment that he was a lazy superstar who was unable to deliver in the playoffs, which is an unfair assessment.
Only two Hall of Fame perimeter players in NBA history have won a championship without the presence of a reliable big man – Michael Jordan and LeBron James. That’s literally the entire list. The criteria would have been Hall of Fame big men, but Jack Sikma is still not in the Hall of Fame for some reason. Maybe more shocking, like Tracy McGrady, five-time champion Kobe Bryant failed to win a playoff round without a reliable big man. In 2001, Allen Iverson dragged his Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals, but that Eastern Conference field was questionable, at best.
Winning in sports requires that a lot of stuff goes right. McGrady always had the worst luck at the most inopportune times. Tim Duncan didn’t sign with the Orlando Magic. Grant Hill signed with the Magic, but only played 43 games with McGrady over four seasons. Yao Ming was drafted by the Rockets, but was unable to consistently remain healthy. The “what-ifs” alone are enough to make your head spin. The one thing that is undeniable is that McGrady produced, especially in the playoffs.
I imagine that McGrady realized he was going to retire when Gregg Popovich refused to take out Manu Ginobli (eight points, nine turnovers) during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals and give him an opportunity to affect the game. T-Mac did not play the entire game, and he still had to watch the Spurs give up a five-point lead in 28 seconds. Just some more stuff that didn’t go right. It was a microcosm of his entire career played out for a global audience. So damn close, yet somehow never enough.
* The Official Baller Mind Frame Reference for T-Mac was put together by our very own Ryan Crane, but I wanted to show my appreciation for one of the best players of our generation.