Tracy McGrady’s NBA career didn’t really begin to blow up until after his third season, but most who observed his game closely knew it was coming.
That was unfortunate for the Toronto Raptors, the team that drafted McGrady with the ninth overall pick in 1997, but who would lose him to Orlando in free agency just as he was preparing to ascend to incredible heights.
McGrady didn’t realize how good he had it in Toronto at the time, however, and now that he’s retired and has had some time to reflect, he says he would have done things differently with the benefit of hindsight.
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 populous. 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?” …
“Had I been a little older and wiser and knew what was ahead of me, I would have stayed, no doubt, with those guys. But that was some of the best times of my life, man. Being with (Charles) Oakley and Kevin Willis and Antonio Davis, Muggsy (Bogues), Dell Curry, Dee Brown. Man. I still talk to a lot of those guys to this day. Because I appreciated how they looked out for me. They were all professionals.”
The Raptors had their best NBA season in the year following McGrady’s departure, taking the Sixers to seven games in the Eastern Conference semis and coming within a missed jumper from Vince Carter at the buzzer from advancing.
Had McGrady remained, of course, things might have turned out a whole lot differently not only that season, but for years to come for the Raptors franchise. While the sentiment from McGrady is nice, it won’t make fans in Toronto feel any less pained by the decision he made all those years ago.