007nites Presents: Tracy McGrady
Full Name: Tracy Lamar McGrady Jr
Born: May 24, 1979 in Bartow, Florida
High School: Mount Zion Christian Academy (Durham, North Carolina)
Drafted By: Toronto Raptors, 9th Overall, 1997 NBA Draft
Height: 6-8 ; Weight: 225lbs
Position: Small Forward
Career Statistics - NBA (1997-2012)
G - 938
FG% - .435
3PFG% - .338
FT% - .746
Points - 18,381
PPG - 19.6
Rebounds - 5,276
RPG - 5.6
Assists - 4,161
APG - 4.4
Blocks - 807
BPG - 0.9
Steals - 1,136
SPG - 1.2
2 X All-NBA First Team
3 X All-NBA Second Team
2 X All-NBA Third Team
7 X NBA All-Star
2 X NBA Scoring Champion
NBA Most Improved Player (2001)
USA Today High School Player of the Year
1997 McDonald's All American
Tracy was born in Bartow, Florida. His mother, Melanise Williford, was just out of high school, and his father, while caring and interested in Tracy’s welfare, wasn't an everyday part of his son’s life. In need of help, Melanise headed a short ways north to Auburndale, where her mother, Roberta, lived. The two women shared the responsibility of raising Tracy. Eventually he would call both “Mom.”
Auburndale—located between Tampa and Orlando, about 90 minutes from each—was a comfortable town of just 9,000 residents, most of whom were white. Tracy felt completely at ease there. An aunt anointed him with the nickname “Pumpkinhead,” and just about everyone in town referred to him that way. He and his friends bounced around a neighborhood known as the “Hill” as though they owned it.
Life could be rough in Auburndale. One of Tracy’s starkest childhood memories was the shooting death of a cousin’s boyfriend. The incident convinced him that he didn’t want to spend his adult years on the Hill.
Tracy’s family did not have a lot of money, but he grew up with everything he needed. Melanise commuted to Orlando every day to work as a chambermaid in a Disney World hotel. She kept her son clothed—no small task—and there was always plenty of his favorite food, spaghetti with Roberta’s sauce. Roberta helped out, too. She worked as a janitor, and dinner was often whatever she caught while fishing at a local pond. A cadre of relatives, meanwhile, made sure Tracy had lots of spending money come his birthday. He remembers receiving as much as $100 each year.
Tracy discovered sports at an early age and proved to be a natural athlete. He was first drawn to baseball. Tall, thin, and wiry, he possessed a blazing fastball and could whip his bat through the hitting zone with tremendous force. A Little League star in Auburndale, Tracy appeared headed for a career on the diamond until another round ball began to consume his life. He had played hoops all along, but didn't get serious about the sport until Penny Hardaway joined the Orlando Magic, in the fall of 1993. The rookie did things on the court that Tracy had never seen before. Hardaway quickly became his hero, the youngster emulating every part of his game.
Tracy began to turn heads in his junior year at Auburndale High School. In his first two seasons with the Bloodhounds, coach Ty Willis used him sparingly at the varsity level. The teenager matured into a dangerous all-around player by his third year, averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds a game. But off-the-court problems threatened to undo the progress he had made. A lazy student who was habitually late for class—if he showed at all—he was kicked off the basketball team after mouthing off to a teacher. The incident dropped him off the radar screen of most college recruiters. Miami and Florida were the only schools that talked scholarship with him, but neither pursued the matter any further than that.
Tracy did have some influential people in his corner. Among them was Alvis Smith, Tracy’s AAU coach and a street agent for Adidas. In the summer of 1996, Smith wangled an invitation for the 17-year-old to the shoe company’s prestigious ABCD Summer Camp, at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Tracy arrived on the school’s Teaneck campus a nobody. The big name in attendance was Lamar Odom, a silky smooth lefty with the skills to play guard or center. Tracy got himself noticed when he demanded to be matched up against Odom, then blew him away. Later, in the camp’s senior all-star game, he threw down a wicked windmill dunk that sealed his reputation as one of the nation’s top prospects.
Given Tracy’s questionable standing at Auburndale, Smith scouted out a new high school for the soon-to-be senior. The pair settled on Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina. The Mighty Warriors were one of the state’s perennial powerhouses, thanks in large part to coach Joel Hopkins. A strict disciplinarian with a hot temper, he liked to refer to himself as the “black Bobby Knight.” Smith thought Tracy would benefit from the coach’s intense style, and convinced him that Mount Zion was the place for him.
Early on it appeared that Tracy had made a wise decision. He devoted himself to an aggressive conditioning program and followed Hopkins’s instructions without so much as a peep. Player and coach grew closer, the two spending several nights a week watching NBA games together. The results of Tracy’s hard work and dedication were evident on the hardwood. Mount Zion twice beat Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, annually one of the nation’s best teams, and climbed up USA Today’s Super 25 rankings. Tracy was the catalyst. Playing all five positions and averaging nearly a triple-double, he did it all for the Mighty Warriors, acting as a defensive stopper on one end and an unstoppable scorer on the other.
Tracy, however, slipped into old habits as the season neared its end. When Hopkins challenged him at practice one day, the two got into a heated exchange, wrestled one another to the ground and almost came to blows. Ironically, the ugly confrontation accelerated Tracy’s maturation process. When cooler heads prevailed and he and Hopkins made amends, he suddenly felt like a man. The metamorphosis colored his thinking in the following months.
A McDonald’s All-American, Tracy led Mount Zion to the #2 ranking in the country, and was named national Player of the Year by USA Today and North Carolina’s Player of the Year by the Associated Press. His final numbers for 1996-97—27.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game—attracted the attention of every major college coach. After Odom, he was rated above other prep stars such as Shane Battier, Ron Artest and Marcus Fizer. Leaning toward Rick Pitino and Kentucky, Tracy seemed ready to commit to the Wildcats.
But then word filtered down from NBA super scout Marty Blake that he was being projected as a potential first-round pick by several pro teams. Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn were the only clear-cut lottery picks—after that there were no impact players. When Smith and Hopkins both advised Tracy to skip college, he decided to try his luck in the draft.
Of the teams interested in Tracy, the Chicago Bulls appeared the most serious. GM Jerry Krause negotiated to send Scottie Pippen to the Vancouver Grizzlies for their selection, #4 overall. But hours before the draft Michael Jordan nixed the deal, promising to retire if Pippen were traded.
That opened the door for several other teams, including the Toronto Raptors, who also had their eye of Tracy. Two years earlier, GM Isiah Thomas, hoping to land Kevin Garnett, had outlined a plan of attack to bring along a high school phenom. Now he dusted off the blueprint in anticipation of selecting Tracy. When the 18 year old was passed over by the first eight clubs in the draft (Duncan and Van Horn went 1-2), Toronto grabbed him. Tracy consulted with Hopkins and Smith, who agreed that at least one of two would stay with him throughout his rookie campaign. The NBA rookie salary structure took all the intrigue out of contract talks with the Raptors, while Smith used his contacts to arrange a sweet deal with adidas, which paid Tracy $12 million over six years.
Thomas was praised in most circles for his efforts to build a winner in Toronto. With Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Camby already on the roster, he had assembled the makings of a talented nucleus that might one day challenge for the NBA title. Tracy seemed to fit perfectly into this picture. As it turned out, however, his first year as a pro was a nightmare, as was the 1997-98 season for the Raptors.
The problems started early for Toronto when injuries to Camby, Carlos Rogers, Popeye Jones and Walt Williams decimated the front-line. Coach Darrell Walker quickly lost control of the team, and Toronto won just two of its first 24 games, dropping 17 in a row at one point. Eventually, Thomas jumped ship, accepting a life raft with NBC as an announcer, and Walker was fired and replaced by Butch Carter. Meanwhile, a couple of February blockbuster deals sent Stoudamire, Rogers, Williams and Jones packing. In their stead arrived Alvin Williams, Gary Trent, Chauncey Billups, and Dee Brown, among others. Suddenly the youngest club in the NBA, the Raptors bungled their way through the rest of the campaign, finishing at 16-66. Among the few bright spots on the team were Camby, who demonstrated All-Star ability when healthy, and swingman Doug Christie, who began to mature into a solid scorer.
Tracy watched most of the misery from the bench. First, he landed in Walker’s doghouse for what was interpreted as a bad attitude. The coach criticized Tracy’s work ethic, telling some that the youngster wouldn’t last two years in the league, and almost never played him. When Carter took over, he used a more delicate touch with the rookie. The new coach sat down with Tracy and explained that he had to develop into an outstanding practice player before he could even think about being an NBA starter.
Carter’s stern-but-forgiving hand was just what Tracy needed. He called his coach “Uncle Butch,” and listened attentively to everything Carter said. By season’s end, Tracy was flashing his talent on a nightly basis. He also found an ally in Kobe Bryant. The two had become friendly by virtue of their membership in the NBA’s “Jumpa Straight From Prepa” fraternity. Bryant, in his second year with the Los Angeles Lakers, advised Tracy to seize opportunities in practice and games to impress the Raptors. That, he said, was all the organization wanted to see.
In the second half of the year, Tracy began to gain a better feel for life on and off the court in the pros. He hit the weight room and pushed himself and teammates in practice. His first career NBA start came in late December against the Washington Wizards, and he hit for 13 points and grabbed five rebounds. In 10 minutes of action in the Schick Rookie Game during the All-Star weekend in New York, he scored nine points. Against the New Jersey Nets, also in February, he recorded season-highs with 22 points and eight rebounds. Carter rewarded Tracy’s progress by inserting him in the starting lineup for the last 11 games of the campaign. For the year, playing 18 minutes a night, he averaged seven points, four rebounds, and one assist. Most important, he weathered the storm of a rocky rookie year and learned from his mistakes.
Things began to look up for Tracy in June when the Raptors pulled off a draft-day trade that brought Vince Carter to the club. The two had originally met while playing AAU ball in Florida, and their friendship grew during their days in North Carolina—Tracy as a senior at Mount Zion and Carter as a burgeoning star for the Tarheels. Their bond strengthened after they discovered they shared the same bloodlines. Indeed, at a family reunion, Tracy found out that his grandmother and Carter’s grandmother were cousins.
Thanks to the NBA lockout, which dragged into the winter of 1998, Tracy and Carter had plenty of time to get reacquainted. But the second-year pro did more in the prolonged off-season than hang out with his new teammate. On the advice of Joel Hopkins, he worked out with a personal trainer named Wayne Hall. Uncle Butch, meanwhile, visited him in Florida and put him through the paces at a football camp run by his brother, All-Pro receiver Cris Carter. When the labor dispute finally ended, Tracy, who added 15 pounds of muscle to his once spindly frame, looked like a new player.
As a team, the Raptors featured more bulk, too. Most notably, GM Greg Grunwald acquired veterans Kevin Willis and Charles Oakley, who gave Toronto a sorely needed physical presence in the paint. Their impact was immediate. The club broke from the gate in the NBA’s abbreviated 50-game schedule playing with passion and confidence. In February, the Raptors christened their new home, the Air Canada Centre, with a 102-87 victory over the Vancouver Grizzlies. From there, they battled hard night in and night out. With a final record of 23-27, Toronto enjoyed its best season in franchise history.
Carter, who was named Rookie of the Year, set the league on fire with his high-flying dunks and high-scoring performances. Alvin Williams gained valuable experience running the point. Christie rounded out his game with a more consistent effort of defense. And Dee Brown led the NBA in three-point baskets.
Tracy also became an integral part of the team. Coach Carter found a role for him as a sparkplug off the bench. Though the increase in the teenager’s minutes was minimal, he often entered games in crucial situations. Tracy split time between small forward and point guard. On defense, he was the key to Toronto’s trapping defense. Under the boards, he was so quick off the floor that he kept balls alive that normally would have fallen harmlessly into enemy hands. Tracy finished second on the Raptors in blocked shots (1.35) and field goal percentage (.436), third in rebounding (5.7) and steals (1.06), and fifth in scoring (9.3) and assists (2.3).
Part of Tracy’s improvement was linked to his friendship with his cousin Vince. The two were rarely seen apart from each other. Tracy spent most of his off-time at the rookie's apartment, playing video games, listening to Busta Rhymes and feasting on fried chicken and pork chops. Teammates jokingly referred to them as Siamese twins. Coach Carter took note of the chemistry between the two and made sure to get them on the court together more often.
At times, however, the cousins took their relationship too far. That was apparent in the fall of 1999, during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The pair was so focused on playing to the crowd that they forgot to play defense or pass the ball to teammates. Toronto fell 112-102, and forward Antonio Davis, newly acquired from the Indiana Pacers, called a closed-door meeting and administered an old-fashioned dressing down of the two young stars.
Tracy had already stirred some controversy when he told the media he deserved to see the floor at least 30 minutes a game. The Toronto front office didn’t appreciate him popping off, especially since his game still needed honing. Consistency was his biggest flaw. The Raptors couldn’t count on him for the same effort and production every night. Until they could, he would remain the club’s sixth man.
Tracy and his agent, Arn Tellem, kept close tabs on how Toronto dealt with him. Due to become a free agent at the end of the season, the 20-year-old felt he had tremendous leverage. When he turned down an offer from the Raptors for six years at $70 million, it was clear that he might bolt for greener pastures when the campaign ended.
Playing both for a new contract and Toronto’s first real shot at a playoff berth, Tracy gave the Raptors a strong lift off the bench as the team’s sixth man. Going into the All-Star break, the club boasted a record of 22-19, its best mark ever at the midway point. Tracy’s scoring was way up, and he was getting everyone in the offense involved with smart passing. More impressive was his commitment on defense. Often assigned an opponent’s most lethal scorer, Tracy responded well to the challenge. In back-to-back games, he shut down Grant Hill of the Pistons, then Allan Houston of the Knicks. In the game against Detroit, he and Hill—also a free agent after the campaign—kidded about where they were headed. Both mentioned Orlando as a possible destination.
By the end of February, Coach Carter had to make room in the starting five for Tracy. With him, Vince, and Doug Christie teaming up, the Raptors presented matchup problems for everyone they faced. Toronto won 11 of its first 13 with Tracy as a starter. He pulled down 15 rebounds against Chicago and blocked seven shots against Houston. At season’s end, his average in every significant category—15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.91 blocks and 1.14 steals—represented a career-high.
When April rolled around, the Raptors, at 45-37, secured their first post-season berth in franchise history. Drawing the Knicks in the first round, Toronto appeared ready for a playoff upset. But tensions simmering below the surface spoiled the fun. Some veterans weren’t happy about the team’s offensive scheme, and the relationship between Tracy and his cousin had cooled somewhat. When the Raptors blew a chance early in their best-of-three series to win one at Madison Square Garden, New York breathed a sigh of relief, then completed a sweep with an 87-80 victory at the Air Canada Center, the first NBA post-season game ever contested north of the U.S. border.
Though it was small consolation, Tracy played fantastic end-to-end ball. In his playoff debut in New York, he poured in 25 points and hauled down 10 rebounds, and completely disrupted the Knicks in the paint. He went on to average nearly 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists for the series. With the NBA executives around the league watching, Tracy established himself as one of the league’s most treasured prizes on the free-agent market.
MAKING HIS MARK
After the playoff loss, it was time for Tracy to start thinking about his future NBA home. Elton Brand of the Bulls tried to persuade him to go to Chicago, but he was uninterested in a rebuilding team. Tracy ruled out the Raptors, too—partly because they fired coach Carter. The two teams in hottest pursuit were the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat. Joining either would also allow Tracy to return to his home state and reunite with family and friends. During his three years in Toronto, he had often bankrolled relatives and childhood buddies on extended visits, but he relished the idea of seeing these familiar faces on a regular basis. Heat center Alonzo Mourning gave him a compelling sales pitch for the Miami organization, but Orlando coach Doc Rivers was even more convincing.
Rivers had taken the reins a year earlier and guided an undermanned team to a surprising .500 finish. He charmed Tracy with a mix of intelligence, warmth, humor and no-nonsense basketball philosophy. The second-year coach promised to put the ball in his hands in late-game situations and concocted a hybrid position similar to Scottie Pippen’s during Chicago’s championship years. In a sign-and-trade deal between Toronto and Orlando that netted him $93 million over seven years, Tracy joined the Magic and claimed uniform #1, the number Penny Hardaway had once worn.
Tracy was also swayed by the Magic’s commitment to building a winner. Though he heard stories about fickle Orlando fans, he was impressed by the organization’s pursuit of other big-name stars. Indeed, after being rebuffed by Tim Duncan, the club signed Grant Hill. Tracy figured that he and Hill could put Orlando over the top.
It didn’t happen in the 2000-01 campaign, mostly because early in the year Hill went down with an ankle injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. The loss of the six-time All-Star changed everyone’s role on the team. Rookie shooting guard Mike Miller was expected to shoulder more of the scoring load. Darrell Armstrong, who had blossomed into a legitimate point guard in 1999-00, was pushed to speed his development even more. Big men Pat Garrity, Andrew DeClercq, John Amaechi, and Bo Outlaw had to increase their production in the paint.
No one, however, was asked to do more than Tracy. He prepared for the campaign by strapping weights to his arms and legs for distance runs and sprints, pumping iron, and honing his game on the court of one of his new neighbors, Shaquille O’Neal. Posting career-highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and minutes played, Tracy led the Magic to a 43-39 record and a trip to the playoffs. He topped or tied the team in scoring 58 times, in rebounding 35 times and in assists 24 times. He was named NBA Player of the Month in February—the same month he spearheaded a nine-game winning streak and made his first All-Star appearance.
Tracy got stronger as the season progressed. He beat Philadelphia in late March, banking in a buzzer-beater as he swooped down the lane. Weeks later he torched Washington for 49 points, and dished out 11 assists in a game against Boston. Tracy’s 26.8 scoring average was the highest ever for a player younger than 22. For his efforts, he captured the NBA's Most Improved Player Award and was named second-team All-NBA.
The season wasn’t all smiles for Tracy. In November, he criticized GM John Gabriel, the 1999-00 NBA Executive of the Year, for dealing Outlaw to Phoenix for Jud Buechler. Tracy caught heat for his comments, though he was simply echoing the thoughts of his coach. In the playoffs, he couldn’t lift the Magic over the Milwaukee Bucks. In Game 1 he finished with 33 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. In Game 2, he scored 20 straight in the first half. In Game 3, he exploded for 42 points (becoming the second youngest player behind Magic Johnson to score 40 or more in a post-season contest) and added 10 assists. All along he played suffocating defense, holding Glenn Robinson to less than 20 points a game and barking about it night after night. Still, it wasn’t enough, and Orlando fell in four.
Tracy and the Magic looked forward to Hill’s return in the fall of 2001, especially after the club added veterans Horace Grant and Patrick Ewing to provide muscle and leadership. Also, Miller, the 2001 Rookie of the Year, developed an effective low-post game that promised to give Rivers another reliable option in his offense. Yet once again, Hill suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for virtually the entire year. While Orlando tried to plug the hole with contributions from Garrity, Troy Hudson and Monty Williams, the onus was back on Tracy to raise the level of his game. He welcomed the pressure for the second season in a row.
Tracy was the story for Orlando from opening night until the club’s first-round exit in the post-season. During the summer, he had studied video of Magic Johnson to learn how to handle the ball against smaller opponents. He also watched film of Larry Bird, picking up important information on using screens. In turn, Tracy became a more complete player. He led the Magic in scoring (his 25.6 points a game ranked fourth in the NBA), rebounding and minutes played, and finished second to Armstrong in assists and steals. Named to the All-NBA First Team, he was one of only two players in the league to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists. He also earned the respect of writers, who placed fourth in the balloting for MVP.
For Tracy, the 2001-02 season was an educational experience in more than one way. Several times during the year, including twice in the playoffs, pain flared up in his back. Since he had never before been slowed a serious injury, Tracy was greatly concerned by the problem. To his relief, he found the treatment to be very simple. He wasn’t getting enough fluids. Tracy now makes sure to drink plenty of water when training and during games.
Though the Magic improved by just one victory, they entered the playoffs with high hopes. The Eastern Conference had no clear-cut favorite. Unfortunately, Orlando ran into Baron Davis and the nothing-to-lose Charlotte Hornets, and fell in four frustrating games. Tracy played well, but again didn’t get support from his teammates.
JockBio: Tracy McGrady Biography
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