Will Tracy McGrady ever gain forgiveness for his ugly exit out of Orlando? Stephen Dunn/Getty Images/PicApp
One of the bigger debates among Magic fans during these dog days of summer is about retired jerseys. Especially since Orlando has not retired a jersey (besides “The Fans” No. 6) in its 21-year history and the team has had a pretty talented players come through the building and play in their primes, it is a topic worth discussing and debating. At least it passes the time.
So who should it be? Nick Anderson, the team’s first draft pick? Shaquille O’Neal, the team’s first superstar? Darrell Armstrong, the team’s heart and soul throughout the late ’90s? Or should the team wait to win a title before hoisting jerseys into the rafters?
You will find opinions all over the place. And plenty of ill feelings toward some of the team’s former superstars.
Last year, Orlando Pinstriped Post did a fantastic job analyzing the candidates for that first jersey in the rafters and why or why not certain players should receive the honor. The debate will likely not go away until it happens and the team does not appear ready to approve even a process for retiring a jersey. But that does not mean the question will subside.
The one name you noticed was missing above? Tracy McGrady. Perhaps the sorest spot in Magic history to their fans.
Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball (who also wrote the series on retired jerseys while he was at Orlando Pinstriped Post) devoted almost the entire week to explaining why McGrady was misunderstood and why Magic fans should appreciate him more. His Tracy McGrady Manifesto is a must-read for all Magic fans.
With McGrady just signing a minimum contract with Detroit (fancy that?) this weekend and the memory of his talent slowly fading away, all the seems to remain is the bitter way he departed Orlando. What is not remembered (and Eddie over at Magic Basketball has done a very good job reminding everyone this week) is how McGrady was an unstoppable scoring force. How he would come off a screen — most likely set by the likes of Andrew Declerq or Pat Burke — with a little daylight smoothly rise up and shoot with that slight fall away that made you know it was a difficult shot. Or how he would take the ball off the inbounds waltz down the court and pop an ill advised 3-pointer that always seemed to go in.
McGrady, was unquestionably a great talent who often goes unrecognized and gave his all to make a mediocre at best Magic squad respectable during his five years in Orlando.
The same could be said for Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Both those guys did incredible amounts for Orlando in building the franchise and creating buzz in the city for the team. A lot of Magic fan nostalgia comes from the Shaq and Penny era when the team made its first postseason and first Finals. Those two did a lot of firsts for Orlando.
But they too left on bad terms and, while recognized for their contributions to Magic history, are often met with bitterness when discussing the team. Very few talks about Shaq’s time in Orlando end without mentioning his departure from Orlando and how either he — or the team — betrayed the franchise and left it in the dust for nearly a decade.
It has been very difficult for many fans to put these feelings of betrayal that all three players cause behind them. I can hardly remember Shaq’s playing days in Orlando. All I can feel is the anger I felt when he left and how anything that bared his name or the number 32 suddenly became evil. I even believed Brian Evans changes his number from 34 to 11 because that was the number O’Neal chose in Los Angeles (silly, right? Do you think anyone in Cleveland might be doing the same thing?).
The same could be said for Hardaway. He allegedly led a player coup that ousted Brian Hill. While that may have well been within his role as the captain of the team, it was not handled well and the team suffered for it (irony of all ironies, Hill cut Hardaway from the Magic nearly 10 years later). That image and the image of his missing 86 games the first two seasons after O’Neal left, including playing in only 19 during the 1997-98 season. It far outweighs the memory of his two 40-point performances in the 1997 Playoffs against Miami and the mastery he showed as O’Neal’s first sidekick.
For these three, the last memory is the one that sticks. And, unfortunately, it paints how the three are often viewed by the general Magic public.
And it is completely unfair.
Orlando should be willing to celebrate the accomplishments these three men had while playing in Orlando. And they were a lot.
O’Neal was the team’s first superstar and a dominant force even in the first three years of his long career. Magic fans should feel blessed to have seen O’Neal and seen him blossom into a great young superstar. Orlando completely botched contract negotiations with the young (and proud) O’Neal and if he wanted to go to L.A. from the beginning, Orlando pushed him that way. There was blame to go around, but O’Neal should be remembered for turning the Orlando Arena into the hottest ticket in town and putting the Magic on the NBA’s map.
The same should go for Hardaway. He was an incredible scorer and playmaker who was writing checks his body was soon not going to be able to cash. Was it his fault his body broke down? Was it his fault he was frustrated with mediocrity after being spoiled by the success of his first three years in the league? Hardaway had high expectations for himself and his team, and he pushed for it to his image’s detriment. Often that is something fans admire. In this case they derided him for it.
Which brings us back to McGrady. He did a lot of things right. He carried a team on his back and put it in the Playoffs often when it had no business being there. He almost single-handedly pushed a conference finalist Pistons team to the brink of elimination in the first round as an eight seed. He was frustrated by not winning, complained the worng way and was painted as something he is not.
Like Hardaway, his injuries kept him from realizing his full potential. Like O’Neal, his departure unfairly paints his contributions to Magic history.
Should these three have their jerseys retired at the new Amway Center? Eventually, perhaps. Do these three players deserve to be villains in Magic history?
Unequivocally no. It is time to reminisce on these three great players and remember the good, far more than the bad.