After debacle in Toronto, Rockets star is going to have to win back Houston fans
MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2009 12:34 PM CST
Copyright 2009 ClutchFans.net
Tracy McGrady had diehard Rockets fans at "hello" when the team acquired him from the Orlando Magic in 2004, and by the summer of 2005 he could have run for public office in the city and won by a landslide.
The 6-foot-8 wing was loaded with natural scoring talent, but his high basketball IQ and innate passing ability brought together a ragtag group of teammates and won over the masses in the city.
13 points in 33 seconds. "The Dunk" over Shawn Bradley. We're talking true Superstarville. Bringing the entire package at just 25 years old and gracing the court alongside Yao Ming, McGrady looked poised to deliver on the "big things" he promised in Houston.
So how exactly, in the span of a Presidential term, have things gone so horribly wrong for McGrady in Houston?
After the Rockets 40-point loss in Dallas in Game 7 in 2005, McGrady said, “I’m 25 years old and I’ve got a lot more years in this league, and I will be back next year. I will be back next year.”
I believed him. We believed him. Only, he wasn’t back the next year. While McGrady sat out some games with a legitimate back injury, the 2005-06 lottery season saw him miss many others for mysterious reasons.
McGrady returned strong the next season and played very well for much of the first half of 2007-08, but he still managed to feed his critics by how he responded when there was an uphill battle to climb. There was that game against Golden State. There was that game in Philadelphia. There were several games he just decided not to play in the final hour. While naysayers mocked McGrady’s "It's On Me" declaration (followed by "It Wasn't Really On Me"), this was something far more concerning. There was a growing sentiment that McGrady, while gloriously talented, was not the guy you wanted next to you in the foxhole if things started to go south.
Yet, while this voice of frustration was starting to build in the city towards McGrady, his rare talent and critical importance to the team drowned it out. He still had the support of the majority of the fans.
Then Toronto happened.
January 2, 2009. The Rockets are in Toronto to face the Raptors. The team and McGrady had just established that T-Mac would only play one game of back-to-backs, and with Atlanta to follow the next night, Toronto was chosen as the game T-Mac would play.
Or so we thought. T-Mac was badly off, shooting 2-9 from the floor to go with a pair of assists and turnovers. His body language was bad. With the game slipping in the third quarter, it went from bad to downright terrible.
The Rockets were down 17 and had the ball with 1:30 left in the quarter. Carl Landry gets the ball in the post, turns to score and hits a wall of two defenders in his grill. Why does he have two guys on him? Because there’s a Rocket player not in the play… not even in a panned camera view.
McGrady is standing a few feet from the halfcourt line.
Landry tries to pass to the only open guy by throwing a risky 30-foot laser. Like a safety, Raptors forward Jamario Moon swoops in to intercept and is taking it to the house. McGrady, because he was out of the play to begin with, has a good 5+ feet on Moon almost the entire way back down, but as they get to the basket, T-Mac plays the matador, letting Moon go right by him for an easy dunk.
McGrady is not in the play. Again. He’s standing just inside the halfcourt line. Again. When Scola gets an offensive rebound, he gets the ball back up top to McGrady, who has no interest, playing hot potato with it immediately.
By now it was evident. This wasn’t an injury. This was showing apathy. This was pouting. This was quitting.
McGrady confessed after the game he was a "little frustrated", but his source wasn’t an injury -- "It's kind of hard to get in the groove when you're only touching the ball once every five minutes," said McGrady.
And there you go. The effort qualified as both the straw that broke the camel's back for many Houston fans and the smoking gun for his critics.
From there, McGrady and the team went in opposite directions.
T-Mac took two weeks off to get in shape, proclaimed that he was now back to his normal self, then two weeks later announced on his own through ESPN, without so much as a Post-It note to the Rockets organization, that he was shutting it down to undergo microfracture surgery. When McGrady did show up at the arena, he was booed regularly by the Houston faithful.
Meanwhile, the team won 22 of their final 30 games, broke the first round playoff curse, pushed the eventual champions to 7 games and endeared themselves to the city by establishing an identity as a fearless, hard-working squad that never surrenders.
Now, just 6 months later, this same franchise is supposed to trumpet the return of the anti-Cal Ripken, the embodiment of apathy, excess and entitlement, as their offensive leader -- a forced marriage that now seems a painfully awkward fit.
This shouldn't be about hate, love, payback, insurance or rehab. It's also not about his talent, which isn't in question. It's about being confronted with the reality of what last season confirmed. It's about having a clear knowledge now that McGrady is not a guy you can count on. We know this now – we’ve put it to the test.
I've been a diehard Rockets fan for as long as I can remember, and I've often said I would EBay my soul for a few extra 'W's. As fate would have it, that's exactly what it would feel like I'd be doing by welcoming back McGrady with open arms and pretending the Toronto game just never happened.