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Runnin' Smack With T-Mac

Orlando's McGrady is proud that he's one of the NBA's leading trash-talkers, and the forward can back it up.

October 20, 2002|Sean Deveney | Sporting News

There's a sense of relief by the time you pull up to the winged "1" that sits square in the middle of the gate outside Tracy McGrady's deluxe Orlando, Fla., home, complete with a basketball court in the front yard and jet skis emblazoned with Orlando Magic logos in the lake out back.

McGrady has been bobbing and weaving through traffic in his plush white Bentley -- his "cruising car," he says -- and you can't help but worry that you will lose him among the cars on Interstate Highway 4. But then you remember that there probably aren't that many Bentleys mixed into central Florida traffic. And when you watch McGrady pull the Bentley into his garage, where a slumbering silver Ferarri sits, well, you realize things could have been worse.

"You kept up," McGrady says in mock surprise. He smiles. "I thought I might lose you out there."

Hmm. If you're not mistaken, McGrady is talking a little smack to you and your rental car. It's a Chevy Malibu, so there is no effective rebuttal. When McGrady sees you're wearing jeans on a 90-degree September day in Orlando, he can't help but say, "You must be enjoying this weather. I would not even call this hot. It could be a lot hotter." Wait, did he just trash-talk the sun?

This is Tracy McGrady, NBA superstar and proud talker of trash. McGrady simply likes talking. He would just as readily trash-talk your lame set of wheels while standing in his driveway as he would trash-talk some lame effort to guard him on the court. McGrady trash-talks during games, in the locker room and in the media. You get the feeling that on garbage collection day, he waits by the curb to trash-talk the trash collectors. "Hey, I don't mind mixing it up with anyone who wants to," McGrady says. "As long as they take it the right way. I'm not out to hurt anyone's feelings."

There's the rub for McGrady: Folks don't take it the right way, and he winds up portrayed as a self-centered blowhard. As McGrady sees it, there has been a decline in the rivalry-building ragging that fueled NBA showdowns during his childhood. There still is plenty of junk being jawed in the NBA, but many players are restrained by the threat of technicals, fines and public opinion. McGrady finds this lamentable and aims to change it.

"I don't know when people got so sensitive," McGrady says. "Muhammad Ali would never be able to talk the way he did today. If I say I am one of the top five players in the league, people say, 'Why did he say that? Why is he talking about himself?' It does not matter if it's true."

Just 5 1/2 months ago, as the Magic's season was ending thanks to a first-round playoffs loss to the Hornets, McGrady took a public flogging for stating that he was the best player in the series. He said that if Hornet star Baron Davis put up better numbers, it was because he had better players around him. McGrady's point about truth in trash-talk seems valid -- among the floggings, few stopped to ask whether what McGrady said was true. Few considered that there isn't a general manager in his right mind who would swap McGrady for Davis. Few asked whether the well-stocked Hornets really were better off than the Magic, who have not been able to surround McGrady with much talent, thanks to Grant Hill's recurring foot injury.

McGrady just shrugs. "Clearly, he had a lot more depth than we did," he says. "That's what I was dealt. I was not putting down my teammates. I love my teammates. It was just reality. Look at what Baron Davis has on his team. He's got guys who can rebound, who can score and who play defense like (crazy). People said I was disrespecting my team. That's not it."

That sort of criticism, McGrady says, does not bother him. He is not going to clip his lips simply because some people don't like what he has to say. He thinks he could average a triple-double someday. Ask him who he'd pick first if he were building a team from scratch, and he won't hesitate: "Me." Who does the best job of guarding him? "Ain't no one," he says. "No one who can do it every night."

McGrady is 23, still two years away from his prime by his reckoning, and probably the NBA's most gifted player. Certainly, no player will be called upon to carry a bigger load for his team, and if you're forecasting the MVP race, that makes McGrady the top candidate. He followed a breakthrough year in 2000-01 (26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists), with a big '01-02 (24.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists). He can score from the perimeter and the post, frequently defends the opponent's top player, passes like a point guard and rebounds like a power forward. Shouldn't he be given some trash-talking latitude?

"With his skills," says Buck guard Sam Cassell, "Tracy has the right to talk all he wants. He can back it up."

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