To those asking if Tracy McGrady belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame, the answer is a wholehearted, unequivocal yes.
The 15-year veteran announced his retirement from the league on ESPN's First Take, bowing out to a chorus of cheers, sighs and disquieting what ifs.
What if he never got injured? What if he was the next Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan? What if he had more to give that we never got to see?
It's befitting that his career should end in this haze of uncertainty, since that's how it began.
Drafted out of high school, McGrady quickly took a backseat to Vince Carter on the Toronto Raptors even though he made his debut one year prior to Vinsanity. From there he went on to the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets, where both his health and capacity to lead a successful postseason charge came under siege.
One (unsuccessful) attempt to snag a championship in San Antonio later, McGrady walks away facing doubts about his Hall-of-Fame candidacy when really, there's nothing to debate.
Questions still linger as to how long it will take him to get there—first ballot, second ballot, etc.—but there is no preventing the inevitable: T-Mac will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"Greatness" is a word that's tossed around much too often.
Single seasons have become a means to validate paramountcy. Players are considered stars after one year and the line between superstars and glorified roles players isn't just blurred, but often buried beneath layers of shameless homerism and casual analysis.
Cavalier interpretations of greatness have aided in the rise of many an NBA player. As fans and critics alike, however, have become more aware of the (shall we say) epidemic, a witch hunt of sorts has ensued.
Overrated players are actively sought out only to be degraded and their skills belittled. Certain players, like Blake Griffin, have navigated (and continue to navigate) the gauntlet of doubt placed before them. Others aren't as successful, falling victim to advanced analytics and a well-informed public.
Just this summer we watched as Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings struggled to find homes in free agency. Their volume-scoring abilities were obscured by their continuous inefficiency.
Problem is, it doesn't always work this way. Purging the ranks of "greatness" has become something of a retrospective syndrome.
People are more accepting of a player during his time, when he's on the floor able to defend himself and his legacy. Once they're removed from their generation or the game entirely, a cloud is cast over all they've done.
McGrady won't be immune to such tradition. Fellow scorer Allen Iverson retired just days before him, and out of fear for perpetuating nonchalant evaluations of players, their legacies and greatness in general, cases will be made against McGrady.
Looking at him through that lens will be a mistake; it will be an insult. Even in a vacuum, where greatness wouldn't be subjective, he stands up to the best of the best.
McGrady vs. the Best of the Best
Numbers sometimes lie, but only when doctored. Left alone, McGrady's numbers don't lie.
Through 15 seasons, McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals. Only 15 players in NBA history have retired while hitting such career benchmarks. Of the other 14, 10 are retired and eligible for the Hall of Fame; nine of them are in it.
McGrady could score in ways and spurts that most players only dreamed of. When healthy, he was an unstoppable force on the offensive end and an underrated playmaker. Since entering the NBA in 1997, he had five seasons in which he averaged at least 25 points per game, the sixth-most of all players during that time.
The previous numbers speak for themselves. And so does former head coach Jeff Van Gundy.
“At his peak, I defy anybody that played against him, coached against him, played with him or coached with him, to tell me he wasn’t an all-time great,” said Van Gundy of McGrady, according to Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Sun.
There's that word again—great. Only this time, it's use is genuine. McGrady did, in fact, stack up against some of the all-time greats.
Per Hoopsworld's Tommy Beer, McGrady and Jordan are the only two players in league history to notch at least 32 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over a full season.
Every one of the names just dropped is either in the Hall (Jordan) or a future inductee. Every last one.
In fact, ESPN Stats & Info says that 15 other retired players have at least 18,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists for their career. All of them are in the Hall of Fame.
Tell me why McGrady should be any different.
Better still, look at how the best season of his career (most points averaged) measures up to Kobe and Jordan's:
Single seasons, once again, aren't everything, but McGrady consistently joined similar ranks for most of his career. And with that 30.3 PER in 2002-03, he remains one of only seven players in league history to post a PER above 30 while appearing in at least 70 games.
His list of accolades goes on and on and on, much like Chris Berman's commencement speeches. There are the seven All-Star selections, two scoring crowns, the Most Improved Player award (2001)—I wasn't kidding.
McGrady has done enough, he's accomplished enough over the last decade-and-a-half to eventually earn the Hall of Fame nod. Statistically, he's joined the NBA's greatest enough times to join them once and for all, and forever.
Rings Aren't Everything
Championships be damned.
Well, not entirely. They're still important, but like isolated seasons, they're not everything. I said the same thing when standing by Iverson, and I'm saying the same thing now. Because it's true.
If the absence of rings were meant to stop players from entering The Hall, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone wouldn't be in there.
So what if he was doing the Carmelo Anthony before Carmelo Anthony? Failing to get out of the first round before this past spring is disappointing, and it will be a topic of discussion whenever his name is brought up, but it shouldn't be enough to remove him from the Hall of Fame conversation.
“People are going to look at the lack of playoff success and say, ‘He wasn’t a winner,’ Van Gundy opined, per Feschuk. "But so much of whether you win or lose in the playoffs is based on who you play with, who you play against, and health.”
For the latter third (half?) of his career, McGrady wasn't healthy. He also wasn't the only one who lost those games.
Superstars are supposed to find a way, I get it. But McGrady tried to. It's not as if he coasted through 15 consecutive healthy campaigns without a playoff series win under his belt. He lost in the face of injuries and injury-stricken rosters (Yao Ming, Grant Hill, etc.).
"I said this team was going to go as far as I could take them,” McGrady lamented with tears forming in his eyes following a series-deciding Game 7 loss to the Utah Jazz in 2007, as quoted by Julie Takahashi of CBS Houston. “And I tried my best. … I tried, man. I tried.”
When we look back on McGrady's career, we should remember that he lost. That he left the NBA without a ring. But we should also remember it was not for want of trying or personal resolve.
Those are the memories that matter most.