Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 at 11:18 am  |  17 responses

Injury Time

Tracy McGrady lost the explosiveness that could’ve made him an all-time great, but a re-dedication has helped him maintain relevancy.

by Bonsu Thompson | @DreamzRreal

The date is November 2, 2010. The place is the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Detroit Pistons’ arena. The opponent is the Boston Celtics. There are 35 seconds left in the first quarter when Nate Robinson misses a 21-footer. Teammates Charlie Villanueva and Tracy McGrady jump for the rebound. While Villanueva secures the board, McGrady feels a tear in his left knee––the knee that’s plagued him since 2008, requiring arthroscopic and microfracture surgeries in less than a year. It’s the same knee, which along with an assortment of other injuries (including a bad ankle that worsened said knee), demoted his profile from one of the League’s most feared scorers to brittle journeyman.

For the next three quarters, Tracy sits on the Pistons’s bench teary-eyed, thinking, “This shit is over.” The Central Florida native who skipped college to eventually dominate NBA competition for the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets—seven All-Star appearances, two NBA First-Team selections and consecutive scoring titles—was ending his remarkable career from the pine of a Lottery-bound organization. This is not how McGrady wanted to be remembered.

“T-Mac was unbelievable,” says Penny Hardaway, another former perimeter phenom who, too, destroyed on Disney turf. “He was tearing the League apart. He just dominated. With being very athletic and with the size…he passed the ball very well, too. His game reminded me a lot of mine.”

Fortunately, Tracy’s worst fears wouldn’t manifest. After the Boston game, he and his team would fly to Atlanta; the knee pain wouldn’t travel with.

It’s a season later now and McGrady is still in the League, pain-free and a member of the Atlanta Hawks. The weathered 32-year-old is no longer the impossible defensive assignment he once was—a 6-8 2-guard equipped with a first step as quick as it was long and a jumpshot that featured a Dunk Contest-contender’s lift, impeccable apex form and ridiculous range.

What Tracy McGrady is today: an owner of career averages of almost 20, 5 and 5 and—amidst an ’11-12 season that’s as mean to its elders as Bébé’s Kids—the potential MVP of the Hawks’ bench. Did we mention he’s pain free?

The sad part is that McGrady’s deterioration—which lead to his scoring average plummeting to single digits after the ’08-’09 season—might have been prevented. “Tracy had a bad ankle condition years ago when he was in Toronto, and the bio-chemics were never fixed—that caused the knee pain,” says Dr. Keith Pyne, sports chiropractor and the man responsible for McGrady’s relief. “So I fixed the bio-mechanics of the ankle and knee, then said to him, You have really [inflamed knee tendons]. The best guy I know to get rid of that is Dr. Peter Wehling in Germany.”

On a cold January afternoon, the man who once scored 13 points in 33 seconds dials up SLAM to discuss his body’s recovery, sending Kobe to Germany and what it will take for the Hawks to advance him out of the first round for the first time in his 15-season career.

SLAM: Last year you’re thinking your career ends in Detroit. You get to Atlanta and your knee’s fine. What happened exactly?

Tracy McGrady: I was struggling at the early part of that season. I felt good in the offseason, but when I got to camp I had a little setback so my knees   weren’t as strong. Playing Boston, I felt something rip in my knee. At the time I didn’t know what it was; not thinking that when I was training with Tim Grover in Chicago he told me that I was gonna need to keep playing on [my knee] to break up the scar tissue. So after that game  I get to Atlanta and I’m in my room walking around, stretching, and I’m confused because I don’t feel any pain. I wake up the next morning  and I feel good. I get to the arena and I’m doing everything to hurt  my knee—I’m playing on it, cutting—and I don’t feel any pain. So I told my trainer and he said, “You probably broke up some scar tissue.” That’s when I remembered what Tim Grover told me. From then on, I didn’t  feel anymore pain.

SLAM: You’ve suffered injuries to your back, ankles, shoulder, knee… Can you imagine if you went to college?

TM: Oh I would’ve been done. It would’ve been over. Honestly, my first real injury was when I fell on my back in Orlando and started having back problems.

SLAM: Would you say your loss of athleticism stems more from the damage caused by your injuries or you aging while rehabilitating the injuries?

TM: The operation for a microfracture definitely hinders the athleticism, but it’s the aging as well. It’s a combination, but this is what separates guys who suffer injuries from being great players. What are you gonna do when you suffer a significant injury? You’re gonna fall back on your skills. I’m fortunate enough to play after an injury because I have those skills and basketball IQ.

SLAM: Today your knee is healed because of the German injection process that Kobe brought attention to. But you received it first and even advised Kobe to have it, correct?

TM: Tim asked me what I thought of the surgery and I said, Shit, it did wonders for me. He told me that Kobe was having some issues with his knee so I recommended that Kobe go over there.

SLAM: So last summer was the first off-season in years where you didn’t have to rehab. What was your workout regimen like?

TM: I train extremely hard during the offseason. I don’t play any pickup ball. Never did. I work on my individual skills. So this summer, having come off of this injury, I told myself I was also gonna play a lot of pickup ball to get my body ready for back-to-back games. I played a lot of pickup. Went down to Houston and played with guys like Rashard Lewis, TJ Ford, Kyle Lowry, Reggie Evans, a bunch of them. We got it in.

SLAM: You’ve said that playing now is more of a mental game and you know your limitations. What are some specific things that you can’t do on-court?

TM: In my day, it was nothing to take anybody off the dribble on any night. It was nothing for me to go left or right and spin back to create a shot. I can’t do all of that now. I probably can do it, but in my mind I’m like, Ummm nah, don’t do that [laughs].

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  • seun

    the story of t-mac’s career is one of the saddest story every; he could have been one of the greatest ever butinjuries as well as hi stsruggles in the first round runined him. to me this is depressing cause there are few guys like him i mean if you talking about the 21st century from a talent standpoint there has been lebron,t-mac, and vince carter; like those three were sort of like those once in a generation talents that come by ever so often and its just a sad thing to see those guys fail to be anything close to what they could have been.

  • thetalkingcomb

    I’ll always remember his “1 is the loneliest number” campaign.

  • hushabomb

    I still reckon TMac should be in Boston. He would be backing up Rondo and Jesus. And give Johnson and Bradley great insight and instruction. And imagine if TMac stayed with the Knicks. TMac and Lin together would be awesome!!!!!

  • Paul H

    T-mac was the first real superstar I ever seen live in person, dropping 26 on the ‘Toine and Pierce Celtics (Pierce didn’t really have that “holy shit!” luster for me at the time). I absolutely idolized the man In my late teens. 32/8/6 In a season, 60 point game, 13 points in 35 seconds, he did so many amazing things I just HAVE to see him pick up a chip before he goes.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    ugh, I hate watching broken T-Mac…it makes me feel old. He was one of my favorite players in the league. He was an unstoppable force. Now he’s adapted to his injuries and age and is playing well, but it kills me. I want old T-Mac back!

  • K.a.

    I like tmac n this is a good read, thx slam. Its amazing what training n Medicine do these days to the tmacs n ghill n its nice that theyve manage to prolong a steady career what was once spectacular. Makes u aporeciate the lebrons n kobes more.

  • CB

    :( ..kevin durant and tmac dont play alike at all…theyre just both skinny

  • dazzy

    Thinking about what he could’ve been if he was healthy and worked hard, it’s almost scary what could’ve been. Best offensive TALENT since MJ.

  • Rainman

    @ CB: they’re similar in terms of scoring alone, but i ffeel like T-Mac attacked the basket even more, and had a much better all around game, meaning his ability to pass and run an offense himself, on Magic teams which really werent all that great

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    The Hawks need to give him more minutes.

  • Mark

    T-Mac will always be my favorite NBA player, regardless his injuries. And he should at least try the German treatment Kobe Bryant received prior to the season.

  • http://www.slamonline.com TADOne

    TMac and Grant Hill should have been challenging for championships in Orlando. It’s weird to think that Grant is now the healthier of the two.

  • Sxxmi

    Co-sign Paul H, T-Mac is legit and it would be a shame to see him go without a decent playoff run… Imagine if he stayed in Orlando and ended up with Jameer and Dwight! But I guess the Magic would never have got those picks if T-Mac was still there.

    @Mark read the article; he had that procedure and recommended it to Kobe!!

  • http://slamonline.com The Philosopher

    In his prime, he was better than Kobe, too…

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/san-dova-speak-easy/ San Dova

    The funny thing about Tracy is that he was a point guard in high school. Played point for Toronto on many a night, including his rookie year. And he’s closer to 6’10″ now.

  • J. P.

    Co-sign the Philos’… check them All-Star games from like 00-04 when he’d throw Kobe’s shot back in his face. Since then KB got a little mo’ explosive & TM a whole lot less…

  • LA Huey

    Interesting to see cats talk about T-Mac, in the same way I talk about Penny. I wonder who’s next?