On opening night, the Magic honored one of the more polarizing figures in Magic history. OK, that is really saying something with the way several Magic players have left the organization in the past 25 years.
McGrady though became a victim of circumstances in his four years in Orlando. And, ultimately, seeking to avoid the long road of rebuilding and suffering through a 21-61 season, he forced his way out of town.
In those four years though, McGrady set all kinds of Magic records and wowed the entire league with his individual scoring ability. Even when the Magic were struggling, McGrady was worth the price of admission.
His appearance at Amway Center on Nov. 1 though was a chance to look back on all the good he did in his career and recognize his legacy both with the Magic and in the NBA.
"This is so surreal to me that I am being honored for things I did in the past," McGrady said. "It's definitely a special feeling. I feel honored and excited about the opportunity just to be the first guy that is being recognized. It feels good to be celebrated.
"I think the organization understands what took place now. It was an individual. If it wasn't for an individual, I'd still be in an Orlando Magic uniform after '04. It was just one individual who ruined that for the whole organization. I think it took some years for them to understand because that individual was no longer here and I heard some things that happened with him. That being said, I'm not surprised that I got the call."
In those two quotes from McGrady regarding his time in Orlando, you can see why he was so polarizing.
On one end, he was absolutely brilliant. A scorer that made the Magic relevant despite a mediocre team that always fell short of its expectations (although maybe not its talent level). He averaged 28.1 points per game, 5.2 assists per game and 7.0 rebounds per game in his four seasons with the Magic.
He was also a star who longed for more and to make good on the talent he was gifted with. He clashed with that "one person" within the organization — safe to assume that it was former Magic general manager Jon Weisbrod — and the Magic moved him on as they began rebuilding with Dwight Howard as the centerpiece.
McGrady said he was perhaps unprepared for the pressure that was going to be put on him when he came to Orlando as a free agent in 2000. Then again, Grant Hill was supposed to take away some of that pressure off him. It was a good time for McGrady, some of the best year's of his too-short career.
"This was a special time in my career coming here at 20 years old," McGrady said. "They put a lot of trust in me. They believed in me, not being that elite caliber player before signing here. I was a part-time starter when I was in Toronto. They put that belief in me. That just instilled confidence that I had an organization that believed in me. From the time I set foot on the basketball court at the TD Waterhouse [Centre] I always wanted to not let the organization down. I was very exciting to be back home in front of friends and family.
"It was just a great opportunity and a dream come true. I grew up down the street and watched these guys — Nick Anderson, Penny and Shaq — and I wanted to be in that uniform. I didn't want to let anybody down and I worked my ass of to reach the highest of the highest and take my talent to where I could take it. We had some great moments here."
McGrady's legacy as a player is ultimately incomplete because of the injuries that robbed him of his athleticism in his prime. That will hurt his resume should he gain any kind of consideration for a plaque in Springfield. Should that come.
McGrady's legacy though will be in the generation of players he inspired. For someone born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were coming into basketball when McGrady was at the height of his powers. His off-the-backboard dunks and breathtaking scoring performances made his teams must-watch occasions.
Talking to players, particularly wings, about McGrady and his impact and influence on them is pretty clear. McGrady is one of the formational and foundational players for an entire generation of the NBA.
"T-Mac was one of my favorites growing up," Maurice Harkless said. "He paved the way for kind of tall, slender wings like myself. He's a great player and it was great having him in the building [Nov. 1]."
"That was my favorite player coming up," Tyreke Evans said. "I know a lot about Tracy. Him and Penny Hardaway were my two favorite players coming up. I would watch every game. I love his game. He was awesome on the court. A guy that I kind of modeled my game after a little bit. I'm just thankful I got a chance to come up and watch him play and try to do moves and learn the things he did when I watch them play. I'm happy for him, he had a great career."
"He was a big-time player, very talented, could score whenver he wanted to," Eric Gordon said. "He is like Kevin Durant today — big, long guard who could score whenever and however he wants. He's definitely a hall of famer for sure."
Even Andrew Nicholson, a son of Toronto, said he enjoyed his days growing up and watching McGrady and Vince Carter. It is all part of the foundation and legacy McGrady left for everyone that watched him.
McGrady sees the impact and the legacy he left too. His style of play opened the door for the wiry, athletic players like Kevin Durant and Paul George to build off of what he did. McGrady was a one-of-a-kind talent. While he may not be mentioned many places in the record books, he is one of the major influencers and a favorite among a whole generation of players.
"I do [feel like I made a lasting impact on the NBA]," McGrady said. "I look at a lot of these guys, and I get a lot of respect from these guys, guys like Kevin Durant, Paul George, when I announced my retirement a lot of these guys sent messages out there respecting what I did. It feels good to know that you put it down on the basketball court and left something behind for these young players and they respect what I brought to the game. It was a great feeling to see those tweets and some of the other guys reach out to me."
A lot of that came in a Magic uniform. The lasting image of McGrady is him sauntering over the mid-court line and pulling up for that unblockable 3-pointer or exploding past the defender to finish at the rim.
"I don't know if there was anybody who could stop him," former teammate and Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "Doc would put me against him every day in practice. A lot of guys would run from Tracy in practice. I kind of liked the challenge of going against somebody that was that good.
"He is probably one of the most talented people I've ever been around. You really couldn't stop him from scoring, you just made it hard on him by trying to hit him. He is one of the best I have ever played against or with. If he hadn't hurt his knee, he would be a first ballot, if he isn't, Hall of Famer."
McGrady said he still physically feels he can play. The desire is just not there anymore. Too many what ifs plagued McGrady's career. He tried too much to come back too quickly rather than rehab too quickly.
"My career is based off of a lot of what ifs," McGrady said. "I look back and, what if we had a healthy Grant Hill? We possibly could have been contenders for a championship. I felt a lot of pressure considering I was 20 years old and they gave me all this money. I had all this pressure and I felt it at times."
Unfortunately, all McGrady can do is look back now with his career over. There were a lot of great memories for a lot of basketball fans. And a lot of players in today's NBA.
Who knows what McGrady's legacy will be in 20 years. YouTube will keep his story alive, much like the urban legends and playground stories in New York kept Bernard King alive (a hall of famer with a comparable story to McGrady, mind you). But no one will likely mention him in the same breath as Kobe Bryant as they once did. That part of his story likely will be forgotten.
Players like Durant and George, whom McGrady mentioned, will likely go on to bigger and better things and inspire new generations of NBA players and fans, leaving everyone to forget about the player who inspired them. That is how history goes.
Undoubtedly today, we can all see the impact McGrady had and the influence he had in the league. For Magic fans, that will be very hard to forget despite the short time he stayed in Orlando.