For those first three years, hidden away in the relative obscurity of Toronto and overshadowed by his instant-superstar cousin, Tracy McGrady was raw potential personified. Just the fourth player in the modern era to make the high school to NBA jump, McGrady averaged single digits and started just 19 games in his first two seasons, before emerging as a starter midway through his third year. He looked like a player on the verge, but of what? It would take a move south—all the way south—to find out.
It was the summer of 2000 when T-Mac made the free-agent leap to Orlando, at once a homecoming for the Florida native and a chance to escape the long shadow of Toronto teammate (and distant cousin) Vince Carter. It seemed like a great fit for the Magic, too—at least potentially: Without a superstar since the all-too-brief glory days of Shaq and Penny, Orlando was coming off a season in which 31-year-old Darrell Armstrong led the team in scoring. It wasn’t that the Magic were awful—they were a .500 team the season before McGrady’s arrival—as much as they were unexciting and irrelevant. With T-Mac in town, those days were over.
He made that clear on opening night, when he posted 32 points and 12 rebounds in a home win over Washington. It was an explosive debut, but it quickly became clear that neither McGrady nor Orlando were finished products just yet. McGrady had his share of up-and-down games early on and the loss of fellow free-agent signee Grant Hill just four games into the season due to injury meant growing pains and a 3-10 start for the Magic. But it wasn’t long before McGrady figured things out—and when he did, it quickly became clear that the Magic would ride their new star as far as he would take them.
He got it rolling in back-to-back wins over the Nets in early December, scoring 31 at home and 40 in Jersey the following night. He had officially set a tone for a season of breakout performances in that star-studded blue away jersey. Later that month, he went for 39 in Portland and then dropped 43 at Indiana on Christmas Day. In January, he scored 36 against the Knicks at the Garden before matching that total in New Jersey a week later. And he never let up, giving the Spurs 38, putting 36 on the Nuggets, dropping 44 on the Sixers, and, in the final week of the season, posting a season-high 49 at Washington.
He finished the regular season at 26.8 ppg, good enough (even with Hill sidelined) for the Magic to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. He upped his game in the postseason, short as it was, averaging 34, 8 and 7 in an opening-round loss to the Bucks. It was a sign of things to come for the 6-8 dude with the 7-foot wingspan: At season’s end, he was just 22 years old. Those shiny blue jerseys might have been covered with stars, but in just one season, McGrady had made it clear that none would shine brighter than his.
Jersey photo via Mitchell and Ness. Action photo via Getty Images.