How To Remember Tracy McGrady

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There were a lot of terrible things about the way this went down—for instance, that he announced it on First Take, the program where sports go to cheapen, shout and die—but nothing bothers me more, just like nothing bothered me more during the playoffs, than the continuous reminders that Tracy McGrady never progressed past the first round until his just-concluded stint as well-paid, towel-waving bench insurance for the Spurs. There was a narrative to Tracy McGrady's NBA career, because there's maybe a narrative for every NBA player; if you did enough watching and enough appreciating and enough thinking, maybe you could write about that. But Tracy McGrady, regular season genius but perennial playoff choke artist or victim or at any rate non-genius, was not that narrative.

And of course, there has to be a narrative, because columnists have to write columns and those columns have to have phrases like "perennial playoff choker" when a player keeps losing in the first round of the playoffs. Just as the argument could be made and was made that Cleveland-era LeBron and pre-2011 Dirk Nowitzki lacked the necessary supporting cast to win it all, the Perennial Playoff Choker thing could be solved with a simple link to a Basketball Reference aggregate of the players who received big minutes on those early 2000 Magic teams—spoiler: a late-mid-thirties Horace Grant was heavily involved. But that kind of defense, however justified, merely reverts the T-Mac discussion to a place where it never belonged—a dim, First Take kind of place.

But that's the horrible, sad side of the post-retirement T-Mac reverie. Fortunately, there's another side—a tamer, snark-less side—where no one makes jokes about T-Mac making it past the first round of Hall of Fame voting. Or maybe it's less of a side, or less a willful opposition to that sort of basketball curmudgeon-tude, than it is a collection of Tracy McGrady memories worth recalling here at the end of their minting.

So, a rabbit-hole: fall down if you will, and remember the good times. The frothy smooth, droopy-eyed, "this game is easy" good times. There's the Shawn Bradley poster. The 13 points in 33 seconds. The eight threes in a half. The first Knicks game. Some other thing that maybe only you saw, some pull-up three from the fringes of the halfcourt logo, some finish or flourish that sticks in the memory—there are hundreds of them.

This is the way to remember Tracy McGrady, outside of the context, which never made much sense anyway. As a playlist of YouTube clips that linger, so that the next time you catch fire in a pick-up game, you can smile to yourself and flatter yourself to think that maybe this is how T-Mac felt, much of the time, over a period that stretched across something like half a decade.

And do you remember how his legs would never land in the same place twice in a row? He'd elevate, hang, shoot, and land, seemingly irrespective of how he took off. Tracy McGrady jump shots were not created equally, but they were always created, borne of the specific circumstances of their occurrence, always smooth, always different. If Ray Allen was a jump shot capitalist, honing and repeating and serially producing, never any wasted motion, then Tracy McGrady was the wild aesthete, never imposing upon the jump shot but letting it take him where its flow would.

Do you remember that the Rockets lost that Mavs series, the Shawn Bradley posterization notwithstanding? Yeah, probably. And do you remember that T-Mac's time with the Knicks ultimately flamed out, without climax or significance? Well, sure. And do you feel some need to forcefully connect the dots, draw a narrative between those isolated moments, the transcendent ones and the dull ones, and try to make sense out of it? I hope not.

Because it doesn't make sense and more to the point shouldn't make sense. Certainly Tracy McGrady, in all his legs-flailing, arcless-jumper glory, never did. Because sometimes—frequently in fact—as defiant of characteristically ideal form as those jump shots were, they all went in. That seems worth remembering.

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