Saturday night, Tracy McGrady will take the mound as the starting pitcher for the Sugar Land Skeeters baseball team.
It’s the professional baseball debut for the seven-time NBA All-Star, a legendary scorer with high-flying dunks who scored more than 18,000 points and averaged 19.3 points a game over a 16-season career.
Now McGrady is trying a second career. He’s a right hander who will be throwing against the Somerset Patriots as part of the Atlantic League (an independent league, but one with names baseball fans know such as Lew Ford, Mark Hendrickson and Sean Burroughs).
While he flourished in basketball, he says he always loved baseball as well, playing it until he was a senior in high school. With his professional hoops career over (unless he wanted to pick up some checks for just showing up in China) he decided to chase his dream again. He got tips from and threw with Roger Clemons, and Skeeters officials said they clocked McGrady throwing up to 91 mph.
He’s not bound for the major leagues (although, have you seen the Astro’s pitching?) but he is getting to chase something he loves. You have to appreciate that.
Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t only one of the most dominant players of his era, he was perhaps its greatest showman.
O’Neal embraced the entertainment aspect of his job as a professional basketball player during his 19-year career, and All-Star weekend was a time when he could truly let his playful personality shine.
This highlight, taken from the 2007 event in Las Vegas, features O’Neal kissing Tracy McGrady on the head after slamming home an offensive rebound. O’Neal had a prickly side to his personality to be sure, but this is a reminder of just how gregarious he could be when performing under the spotlight.
Casual fans of the game aren’t the only ones to struggle with understanding the poor decisions made by young twenty-somethings with enough physical skills and talent to earn multiple NBA contracts.
Go ahead and count Tracy McGrady in that same group as the rest of us.
McGrady will likely make the basketball Hall of Fame at some point, but he believes the game has changed since the prime of his playing days. He laments the number of “knuckleheads” who don’t appreciate the talent they’ve been blessed with or the opportunity that they’ve been given, and doesn’t get why players in the league would risk it all over some off-the-court nonsense.
From Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:
“You’ve got some guys in the league now who are just knuckleheads,” McGrady said. “What turns me off is guys doing the wrong thing. Just the legal part of it, hanging out, getting these DUIs, marijuana — all that crazy stuff, just doing the wrong thing, setting a bad example for the young guys … I don’t quite understand it. I take a guy like (Michael) Beasley. Had all the potential in the world but he’s not level-headed. He just doesn’t get it. And a very talented player. But where else are you going to make this type of money doing something you love to do every day, take care of your family and play basketball. I mean, are you serious? You get millions of dollars for it and you mess these opportunities up? I don’t get it.”
Again, join the club.
No one will ever understand why a player with Beasley’s talent and upside makes the decisions that he does, or why he would choose to play with a level of apathy that would seem unconscionable to those outside of the professional basketball circles.
McGrady may come off to some as a crotchety old man here, but former players know better than anyone the gifts that are given to professional athletes. And throwing those away, no matter the reason, will continue to perplex those of us on the outside looking in — and even some on the inside, as well.