NBA history loves its fair share of "what ifs," usually pertaining to talented players who retired without a championship or didn't get to play much at all due to injury or illness; guys like Derrick Rose and Greg Oden come to mind. One of the greatest "what ifs" is a player who we saw in his prime, but still felt like injuries robbed us of his best - Tracy McGrady.
T-Mac, as he was more commonly known, unfortunately, had his fair share of injuries throughout his prime. He dealt with back issues early in his career, but he played through it for many years and consistently gave NBA fans wonderful performances. Who could forget his 13 points in 35 seconds to beat the Spurs in a regular-season game that was all but over? Or the myriad of moves he had from all over the court? When asked about his rival, Kobe Bryant gave McGrady the ultimate compliment.
"He could do everything I could, but he was 6'10. He had no weaknesses in his game, he could score from anywhere and defend. He's the hardest player I have ever had to guard."
Kobe played twenty seasons in the NBA, including some games against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in Kobe's younger days, so to say that Tracy was the toughest match-up he ever had should give us the feeling that McGrady all but deserved to retire with a few rings. That was surely the intent, as Orlando paired him with Grant Hill in the summer of 2000 by bringing Hill in as a free agent. G-Hill and T-Mac were supposed to be the most lethal duo since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the coolest thing since sliced bread. Orlando also came close to signing Tim Duncan, who had just come off of a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.
Their offseason plan set the stage for the Magic to contend for a title, possibly as the favorites to win it all. Still, mishaps regarding the team jet and recurring injuries to Grant Hill left McGrady alone to fend for himself. T-Mac was traded to Houston several seasons later to pair up with Yao Ming, but by then, the West was so competitive that McGrady could not get his team out of the first round. Of course, there was the stint with the Spurs, where a Ray Allen three-pointer sent Tracy's championship hopes flying out the window in his twilight years.
We often measure players by the number of championships they won, but not all situations are created equal. It takes great teams to win rings and not merely one or two great players. As the world continues to miss Kobe for nearly two years since his death, we remember him as the ultimate competitor. He, quite frankly, did not give many compliments to other players, especially opponents.
This competitive fire is what gave him his edge and endeared him to fans all over the world, so the fact that he speaks this highly of his friend Tracy McGrady should speak volumes of what T-Mac meant to the game and how we should remember him in the annals of NBA history. Sans an NBA ring, T-Mac was one of the best, and if Kobe Bryant thinks that, then perhaps we should all give T-Mac that same love as well.