Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tracy McGrady in 2010: What now, T-Mac?

BACK in 2006, Tracy McGrady or T-Mac as he is fondly referred to by fans was one of the world’s best basketball players, an A-list superstar that’s right up there with the likes of Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and his own cousin, Vince Carter.

But a series of back, shoulder and knee injuries hampered the rest of his career from thereon and even when healthy enough to play, T-Mac never took any of his teams including the Orlando Magic and the Houston Rockets beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Fast forward to 2010, T-Mac is the highest paid NBA player in the league’s current season with an expiring US$23 million contract. But his inability to bounce back from microfracture knee surgery has forced his team to put him on the trading block. Even though he insists he’s regaining the form that once made him a force to reckon with above and below the rim, the Houston Rockets thinks his comeback progress has been slow and refused to grant him the additional playing time he wants.

So until he’s traded to a new team or his contract finally expires at the end of the season, T-Mac is on an extended leave of absence. The Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat are interested but until a team picks him up, McGrady’s immediate future, at least for this year and as of this writing, remains uncertain.

But back in 2006, he was pretty much at the top of the world and at the top of his game. An extended tour of Asia to promote his then much-coveted Adidas T-Mac 1 shoes allowed us here in Manila to see that for ourselves.

And here’s how I remember Tracy McGrady back then:


IT was quite the second coming indeed.

Tracy McGrady or just plain T-Mac was back in Manila again. Yes, one of the world’s best basketball players who took Manila by storm six years ago was recently in town for a four-city Asian tour to launch and promote his latest basketball shoes and clothing line made by adidas.

There were several activities lined-up for T-Mac during his two-day sojourn here, the highlight of which was the launch of the adidas Limited Edition T-Mac 1 held at the Music Hall of the SM Mall of Asia.

Not even a slight drizzle could turn away the full house crowd that came in droves to get a glimpse of the 27-year old Houston Rockets forward whose game is defined by silky-smooth moves and strict adherence to team spirit. T-Mac is the only professional athlete to sign a lifetime endorsement deal with Adidas, the athletic footwear manufacturer responsible for definitive basketball shoes worn by other NBA greats like Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

When T-Mac finally emerged from a slowly rising elevated platform, it was such a glorious sight for fans that kept chanting his name over and over again. Visibly overwhelmed by the very warm reception, T-Mac can only exclaim, “Mabuhay, Philippines! It’s great to be back!”

A much-awaited portion of the show was a mini-shooting clinic conducted by T-Mac himself for the Future T-Macs of The World. These are two groups of kids who are in their pre-teens and teens that dazzled T-Mac with their respective basketball abilities. T-Mac has always said he’s impressed with the way Filipinos played basketball. He was, however, particularly amazed with the ball-handling abilities of a couple of 12-year old boys.

“I couldn’t handle the ball that well when I was their age,” he enthuses. “These kids are way ahead of schedule. They’re ready.”

Teaching kids the proper stance and posture for shooting free throws and three-pointers, T-Mac enjoyed every minute of his brief clinic as he dished out assists, shot free throws with his eyes closed and gave high fives to those who made their shots. He even brought the house down when he performed a spectacular back-to-the-rim slam dunk that elicited more than its fair share of jaw-dropping oohs and aahhs.

As a player, T-Mac prides himself as someone who can play more than one position in the court. “I am a versatile player,” he declares. “I’m a player who is not one dimensional, someone who can do it all - pass, rebound, play defense, get my teammates involved, just do it all.”

T-Mac’s ideal game-winning scenario would go something like this. “I just ran off 15 straight points to put our team back into the game,” he narrates. “We are down by one and there is about 10 seconds to go. I have the ball and I am isolated at the top of the key. I break my man down and the defense collapses on me. I kick it to one of my guys and he hits a three, and that is the ball game.”

When asked how he’d like to be remembered for when the time finally comes to hang his jersey, T-Mac’s reply was very emphatic. “On the court I want to be remembered as a great player and winner. Off the court I want to be thought of as a great person with a great personality, a humble person.”

With his equally warm demeanor and dazzling display of basketball prowess, T-Mac showed why he is the personification of adidas’ popular tagline, “Impossible Is Nothing.” It was indeed quite a second coming.

And here's one of T-Mac's greatest performance ever:

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