For four seasons in Orlando (and a few more in Houston), Tracy McGrady was one of the most popular players in the league. His No. 1 jersey in blue dotted opposing stadiums and he was the lead advertiser for adidas for several years. There was no doubt he was an All Star and each game a treat for the fans that bothered to show up.
It was not the best time to be a Magic fan with mediocre attendance and a mediocre team, hiding McGrady's brilliance from the nation. It was hard to get excited when the Magic were hovering around .500, struggling to win even a single game in the first round and destined for an early Playoff exit.
One of the league's best players was hamstrung by Grant Hill's injury and poor cap management. It made it easier to forget McGrady's brilliance in a Magic uniform.
Let Monday's announcement serve as the cue to be nostalgic. Tracy McGrady officially announced he is retiring from the NBA, having struggled to latch onto a team these past few years. He kept the door open to playing in China next season again.
McGrady averaged 28.1 points per game and led the league in scoring for two of his four seasons in a Magic uniform. That includes a 32.1 points-per-game average in 2003. He was simply a scoring machine, and every night was a treat to watch.
Even in a nightmarish 21-61 season in 2004, McGrady's last in a Magic uniform, each night was a potential treat. Yes, there were the games where McGrady suggested retiring after he could not solve Minnesota's 2-3 zone designed to shut down this one-man scoring machine of a team and the games where McGrady's effort was questioned as his team drifted toward the bottom of the standings.
Then there was the Christmas duel with a rookie LeBron James and the legendary 60-point game and scoring showdown with Gilbert Arenas. He always gave season ticket holders a reason to show up every night. You never knew what he was going to do.
He threw the ball off the backboard in an All Star Game, announcing himself to the national world. He did it against against the Raptors at home.
McGrady dropped 50 points against the Bulls in three quarters. He lithely danced his way up the court, pulling up for 3-pointers and drilling them no matter the hand that might have been in his face. His greatest failure was never getting out of the first round of the Playoffs. The Magic did not give him the team to do that, and the West was just too damn good when he got to the Rockets (Yao Ming's injuries did not help either).
Watching a young McGrady, it makes the fates all the more crueler. After a couple seasons in Houston, his knees and backs gave out on him and zapped him of his athleticism and the fluidity that made him such a superstar. It was an awful twist of fate.
It was an awful twist of fate that kept him and those Magic teams from 2001 until 2004 from realizing their full potential.
Either way, they were fun years. McGrady's departure may have been messy — he played himself off as the disgruntled superstar upset with the team's direction — but his best years were always with Orlando and he is forever one of the greatest players in the franchise's history.
The NBA missed out on a truly unique talent. Luckily, Magic fans got to experience four years of his brilliance.