Rolling with T-Mac
SLAM picks Tracy McGrady up at the airport in China.
It was 11 p.m., and I was just beginning to wind down in my hotel room. We had a long day of sponsor activities and had just finished up a dinner at Hooters—during which Gary Payton ran the table in pool—when I heard a loud continuous bang on my door. Upon allowing my contacts to adjust in my eyes, I got up to answer the door. “Rodger, he’s here.”
Jetting through the streets of Chengdu in city streets only illuminated by the massive buildings in the capitol of the Sichuan province, we were going to pick up Tracy McGrady from the airport. We routinely approached speeds of 100 miles per hour on narrow side streets and often ran red lights because driving in Chengdu, anything is legal—provided you don’t get caught. Our driver did not speak much English, but mentioned that he was not a LeBron James fan as the Black Eyed Peas blared through the speakers of his modified 2013 Mercedes.
We arrived at the Sichuan Province Sports Arena to meet with the security team and get into a motorcade to pick up McGrady. Ten cars filled with sponsors, security guards, and people within the tour descended to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. There was a sense of excitement blended with elements of fatigue, as some of us had been up around 21 or 22 hours straight at this point. Our interpreter Echo, Jon Solomon and I rested our eyes for a good 20 minutes before our slumber was interrupted by the pandemonium that we encountered as we pulled up.
It was around 1:20 a.m., and there were nearly 1,000 fans standing outside of the airport. They were donning every T-Mac jersey you could imagine. I’m talking old-school Raptors, Knicks and even a few Hawks throwback jerseys. They had some variations that I had never seen before, too. There were signs, bouquets of flowers, marriage proposals, T-Mac tattoos, and just about everything that you could imagine that a die-hard fan would own. It was immediately evident that as the crowd chanted for nearly a half hour that T-Mac is more than a basketball player—he is a cultural icon.
The 6-8 swingman emerged from the baggage claim with rocking a thermal, baggy sweats and a Florida Marlins fitted. He had Jay-Z blasting through his headphones and given the chaos, there was no time to stop for more than a few autographs. The crowd quickly descended upon the future Hall of Famer, busting through the security tape to get a glimpse at their favorite player.
We were quickly shuffled into a van in which Solomon, myself, T-Mac’s little bro Chance, T-Mac’s security guard, and the man himself sat in the back seat. Still baffled by the chaos that had just ensued, I asked McGrady’s bodyguard if that was the norm.
“That was nothing,” the 14-year employee of McGrady who simply goes by ‘H’ said with a chuckle. “It’s 1 a.m. now. Wait ‘til we get to the next city.”
The ride back to the hotel was around 30 minutes, and we conversed about the accommodations, travel schedule, cuisine and some hoops. The trio in the McGrady camp was visibly fatigued from the 33-hour trek that they had just completed after Game 7. When one season ends, another begins, as T-Mac was about to embark on a two-week journey throughout China with the USA Legends Tour.
Four cities and four games with the Bayi Rockets later, Tracy will be back home to spend the 4th of July with his fam. After a CBA season and NBA Playoff run that went as far as it could possibly go, most players would want to shut it down and chill for a while. Not this future Hall of Famer. He has to show love to the people of China.
“Man, the love fest that I get over here is overwhelming,” McGrady admitted. “I had some great memories in my four months in China and to be back is truly unbelievable.”