Though it seems like a lifetime ago, there was a point in time when it could be argued that Tracy McGrady was one of the best players on the planet. At 6-8 and armed with a silky smooth jumper and devastating athleticism, T-Mac was a menace on the offensive end and a complete matchup nightmare for opposing players and coaches. Need proof? How about his incredible 13 points in 35 seconds in ’04 to take down the Spurs? Or how ’bout his huge dunk on Shawn Bradley during the ’05 Playoffs? For his career, T-Mac eclipsed the 40-point mark an astounding 45 times and the 50-point mark four times. Today, McGrady turns 33 and to honor his born day, we’re bringing you an in-depth interview from SLAM 46 conducted by SLAM O.G. Scoop Jackson just after a 21-year-old T-Mac signed a huge contract to play for the Orlando Magic back in ’01.—Ed.

words Scoop Jackson

The Prelude: “There was one moment in my life when I knew all of my hard work would pay off and it was time for me to rise. Now, you have to understand, I love this cat with all of my heart, this is my boyee. I saw this cat playing, playing in the Finals, and I said, ‘There go my boy.’ When Shaq went down in Game Four, I was watchin’ the whole game and I was just watchin’ Kobe, man. And it was like…it was like he turned into a different ball player, man. I mean…I saw…it was like watching Jordan. The cat took the game into his hands and he took over—the rest of the game! It was the Kobe Bryant Show. And right then, at that moment, I was like…that could be me.”—Tracy McGrady. Aug. 3, 2000

Eerie is the only word that comes close to describing it. The jersey, the team, the height, the weight, the number, the same. The person, not. The player, hopefully. Quiet (as kept) and hateful (as it can get), Anfernee Hardaway was the only player in the history of the Orlando Magic franchise to make the all-NBA first team. That list represents the five best players, by position, in the world. Orlando hated Penny. Penny made the list twice.

It’s Aug. 3, 2000; the day after. The day after “one” signed his soul to the highest heaven. If he stops for a minute to look towards heaven, his view is now interrupted by a computer-altered banner of himself, Grant Hill and Darrell Armstrong in Magic uniforms. Already ballin’. The word on the banner reads: “Imagine.” Yeah, imagine. Imagine how it must feel to be 21 years old, back home, unchained, $92.88M wiser, about to re-fill Penny’s old Nikes with adidas, about to move into a fat crib in Isleworth, and if all fails, watch the heat come down on Grant Hill. Imagine.

SLAM: Are you worth it? No disrespect, but are you worth the money, the pressure that’s about to be placed on you, the attention that was given to you? Or put it this way; would you have given you this?

T-Mac: That’s a great question. Uh, I guess my work on the court speaks for itself. I didn’t ask for (the money), the label was already on me that I was getting it.

SLAM: Yeah, but if you were a GM, if you were a DeVos [the family that owns the Magic], would you have invested this in you?

T-Mac: Young guy, 21 years old, got a lot of talent, got a good head on his shoulders, doesn’t get in trouble, going to do the right things, playing with an All-Star, behind a great organization, you’ve seen the things he’s done in the past and he really hasn’t had the chance to get loose…yeah, I would’ve made the investment. It’s a good investment.

SLAM: Was that the key? Or should I say, would that have been the key with you—as GM—in signing you; the fact that as well as you’ve played, you still haven’t gotten loose?

T-Mac: I mean, that’s it right there. I haven’t had the chance to get loose. You’ve seen the things that I’ve done, and that’s with someone holding me back. And once I get loose, it may be a different story.

SLAM: Was that your thought process on coming to Orlando, being able to come somewhere where you can release the chains so that you can do your thang?

T-Mac: No question, no question about it. That was my thought process in coming here. I saw their style of play, saw how Doc [Rivers] coached—uptempo—and that’s my style. Plus, Grant [Hill] committed and that made my decision a lot easier. Plus, this is home [McGrady is from nearby Bartow, FL]. Ain’t no place like home.

SLAM: Yeah, but this ain’t The Wizard of Oz.

T-Mac: True. Some say home ain’t for everybody but I don’t believe that. I plan on provin’ them wrong. I’m going to come in and make it happen. This city is about to be live! You remember how it was when Shaq and Penny had it? It’s ’bout to get back to that.

SLAM: Speaking of Penny, do you feel any pressure wearing that number?

T-Mac: Naw. Penny’s my man but he didn’t get along with the people here. This is a different person with a different attitude in this uniform now. I have to look at it like that. Penny’s my guy, but it’s T-Mac in this “1” now. It’s not the same thing.

SLAM: How do you think this whole thing is going to change you? I mean, the change of spots, the amount of playing time, the starting, the money, the not playing with Vince…everything.

T-Mac: I think it’s going to bring out my game. I also think my confidence will be at a higher level. My game’s just gonna get a little tighter. The skills are going to improve simply because I’ve matured by learning more about the game as each year has gone by. But as a person, nothing’s going to change. Mentally, I think everything is going to be pretty much the same.

SLAM: Really? It’s not going to be a difficult transition?

T-Mac: I don’t think so, not at all. See, I know myself, I know what type of person I am. I’m a humble person and I’m going to stay humble.

SLAM: Explain to me why you left Toronto? I mean, what was missing there? Because I don’t see it.

T-Mac: The main reason was…let me break it down to you: We had all of these veterans on the team, and I got along with the whole team, but all of these older players who’ve been around were giving us everything. I mean, they played their roles to the fullest, they didn’t care about scoring. They gave up their bodies every night for the sacrifice of the team. Now they’re only going to be there for another one or two years. Once they’re gone, it’s going to be hard to find guys to come in and do the job that they did, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s gonna be hard to have a new group come in and replace them, it’s going to be hard to find another group of guys that’s willing to do that, make that type of sacrifice. It’s a lot of young cats out there that want a lot of shots, want to put up numbers, and want to get paid. What I’m sayin’ is that those guys in Toronto weren’t worried about that. And then you have Vince…

SLAM: Fam.

T-Mac: Right. Vince only has another two years on his deal. And once they’re up, I don’t see him staying in Toronto. Just for the type of player that he is, he has to go to a bigger market. That means that I would have been there by myself. And I wasn’t going to let that happen.

SLAM: That clears a lot of shit up.

T-Mac: See, I’m going to tell you what people are probably saying in Toronto right now: “Oh, Tracy, he’s just jealous of Vince. He’s tired of being in his shadow.” Naw, wrong. I didn’t care about that. I was doing my own thing. Plus, me and Vince, we balled together. So that jealousy and overshadowing stuff…no. We’ll see after these two years what Vince is going to do.

SLAM: Plus, coming here, you may be the number two option to Grant and it possibly could have been Tim, too. And in Miami it was still going to be Zo. Evidently, that wasn’t what it was about.

T-Mac: Not at all. This right here is the perfect situation for me. I mean, just playing with Grant. Even if he didn’t come here, this was my first option, but him committing here had a lot to do with my decision.

SLAM: Was it true that Zo was callin’ you?

T-Mac: Was he! He was drillin’ it in my ear! “[Miami] is where you need to be, man. This will be our city. We can do something, we can win it here.” Then Pat Riley…Coach Riley is a good salesman.