Over the course of the aughts, Tracy McGrady arguably possessed as much skill as any other player.  His athleticism was unmatched, his creativity unimaginable  and, at times, his J was deadly. Sadly, for him and fans of the game, too often T-Mac was shelved with injuries, missing games by the dozens. As we head into the 2009-2010 NBA season, McGrady has a lot to prove—both to himself and NBA fans. Regardless of what Tracy brings to the table this year,  we’ll always have the highlight-filled memories that he created for us. For that we pay homage. T-Mac was the third of three (Wade, Iverson) to be on the cover of KICKS 8. Who’s standing front-and-center on KICKS 12? Find out August 25th.—Tzvi Twersky

by Lang Whitaker

Thank goodness for patience. Without it, Tracy McGrady would not be where he is today. After playing a supporting role for three years in Toronto, his patience paid off with a move to Orlando, where he immediately showed his All-NBA talent. But after a freak injury to his expected running mate, Grant Hill, Tracy’s patience was once again tested, as McGrady had to carry the Magic for four seasons. Then, after being shipped to the Rockets, McGrady once again showed patience while spending most of this year learning Jeff Van Grumpy’s system and how to effectively team with Yao Ming. That learning process began to blossom during the Playoffs, where T-Mac averaged 30 per game and the Rockets pushed the Mavericks to seven games before being knocked out.

The entire time, from his breakout at the then-adidas-sponsored ABCD Camp up through his eight years in the NBA, Tracy McGrady has been down with the three stripes. While so many players jump from company to company as quickly as they can cash the checks, Tracy has been the face of adidas, his own rise to prominence dovetailing with its ascension.

If we weren’t completely certain of T-Mac’s patience, he confirmed it for good when our initial interview with him was eaten by a surly tape recorder. A few days later—this time from a completely different continent—we got him on the phone again to discuss the T-Mac 5.

KICKS: So where are you right now?
T-MAC: I’m in Czechoslovakia, shooting this new adidas commercial. But now we’re almost done and I’m flying back to Houston tonight.

KICKS: I heard you guys were messing with pyrotechnics in this ad, lighting a guy on fire?
T-MAC: I didn’t see it, but the commercial’s gonna be sick. This might be the best one yet. It should be out sometime in October.

KICKS: The Rockets just signed Stromile Swift. How will the Stro Show help you guys out?
KICKS 8 cover; Tracy McGrady T-MAC: Well, that’s a great addition to our team. Stromile is young and very talented, and he has a huge upside. Before we got him, we were really lacking that athletic ability at the four position. He’s gonna be a huge addition to our team. I’m going to do my best to make him a better player.

KICKS: How will Stro fit with Yao?
T-MAC: I think he’ll be great for Yao. A lot of times, Yao has to play out of position and he ends up on guys that are quicker than him. Now we can put Stro on some of those guys, which means not having Yao get in quick foul trouble. He can also help Yao on rebounding, grab a lot of offensive rebounds and run the court.

KICKS: What else do you need?
T-MAC: I honestly think we’re set. We bring most of our guys back from last year, adding Luther Head and Stro, and we’re set. I think they’re still looking for a true point guard to help run things.

KICKS: On to the topic at hand. What was the first shoe you ever bought?
T-MAC: I think they were Jordans, the first ones, the black, red and white. My parents got ’em for me.

KICKS: Despite that, you’ve been down with adidas for a while, right?
T-MAC: Ever since my junior year in high school. The relationship we have is good, we have a great marriage. As I’ve said, I don’t see us breaking up anytime soon. That tells it real good.

KICKS: Kyle, the designer, was saying he thinks the 5 is more aggressive than the 4.
T-MAC: Definitely. What really stands out is the strap that goes across the front. I call it my safety belt. The motion I have on the court, at times when I take off and dunk on guys, I need that safety coming down. Another part of the shoe that’s interesting are the pieces of wood. That’s part of the game. Wherever I go, I take the game with me, even off the floor.

KICKS: So could we call the safety belt the “Shawn Bradley Belt”?
T-MAC: The Shawn Bradley Belt? [laughs] Naw, don’t put that in. Shawn’s my man.

KICKS: What was your initial reaction when you saw the shoe?
T-MAC: Aw, man! I lost it. Because I thought the 4s were tight. Each year these guys do a helluva job of changing the style. These reminded me of some Jordans, but with the wood and strap, it’s crazy man, real crazy. By far, this is definitely the best pair I’ve had of the five T-Macs.

KICKS: Compared to last year’s shoe, the 5 seems completely different.
T-MAC: Last year we were just trying out something that hasn’t been done before. Playing ball in a shoe that doesn’t have any shoelaces? But it worked out well. With this one we kind of hide the shoelaces.

KICKS: What’s your favorite part of the 5?
T-MAC: I have to say…probably the “1” on the side, and just the fact that I have “T-Mac” on there. It’s one thing to have your logo there…but to have your name actually on the shoe is something else.

KICKS: When they bring you the shoe in the early stages, do you give a lot of feedback?
KICKS 8 Feature; Tracy McGradyT-MAC: We all work together on it. I give my input and it’s definitely a team thing. Nobody goes off and does their own thing. I give my opinion and they give theirs and we find that middle ground.

KICKS: You actually wore the 5s in the Playoffs last season, right?
T-MAC: Yup. I’m trying to be like Mike, man, you know how Mike used to wear one shoe, and then during the playoffs he’d break out the next year’s shoe?

KICKS: Yeah, but All-Star has always been your big thing, right?
T-MAC: For sure. I was the first one to do that crazy thing of wearing different colored shoes. Since then I’ve seen it across the country. This year the All-Star Game is gonna be in Houston, so we’re going to have to do something really wild.

KICKS: What do you look for in a shoe?
T-MAC: Nothing really special. Obviously, comfort is first, and then style is next. I don’t want it feeling too heavy. I don’t like high-tops, either—I like mid-cuts.

KICKS: How many pairs of shoes do you go through in a season?
T-MAC: About 20. I can wear them fresh out the box, but I like to wear them for a few games at a time. I know some guys go through a pair a game [What up D-Wade!—Ed.], but I just can’t do that.

KICKS: How much difference does a shoe really make? Could you drop 30 wearing some old-school Pro Keds?
T-MAC: Um…yeah. [laughs] But definitely, the comfort is what matters, man. It’s all mental. When your shoe feels good and you know it looks good, you feel better.

KICKS: What’s up with the T-Mac 6?
T-MAC: We’re working on the 6 already, but there’s nothing concrete, yet.

KICKS: Is there any one element you’d like to put in a shoe, something completely crazy that’s never been done?
T-MAC: [Laughs] Man, I’m a very creative thinker, but I don’t think that far ahead