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Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady

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Published by: bwana1895 on Mar 06, 2011
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03/06/2011

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Tracy McGrady, 'freakish' talent and the peril of ease 
ByDan Devine I walked into the 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference thinking I needed to be quick onthe draw with a graphing calculator and had to know my way around a scatter plot to keep upwith the next-lev chatter whizzing past my ample Irish melon. At Friday's first session, though, Iquickly found out that I mostly just needed to be willing to ponder Tracy McGrady's(notes)placein basketball's space-time continuum. Done and done!Well, that, and two other things. I needed to be willing to consider that being AMAZING atsomething ² like, tallest letters on the marquee, top five in the world, stunningly and nigh-on-unfathomably gifted ² could be not only bad, but also a massive impediment to becoming thebest version of yourself.Huh and huh?Best-selling author and noted hairsman Malcolm Gladwell introduced the concept whilemoderating the opening session of this year's Sloan conference. The talk dealt with how the"10,000 hour rule" that Gladwell discussed in his 2008 book "Outliers" ² that the key to successin any field is the purposeful practice of a specific task for 10,000 hours ² relates to an athlete'sdevelopment.In considering that notion, Gladwell asked the panelists what value should be placed on purenatural talent ² the innate genetic gift that we often view as the line of demarcation between the
 
elite and the merely professional ² in relationship to, say, work ethic and the capacity to acceptinstruction.As often occurs when discussing abstract ideas, talk turned quickly to a physical example ² inthis case, McGrady, whose combination of size, speed, power and grace beguiled the NBA in thelast years of the 20th century and made him one of the league's most dominant offensive forcesin the early years of the 21st.But while McGrady's abilities were awe-inspiring, his willingness to further cultivate themwasn't, according to panelist and ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Florida-born star with theHouston Rocketsfrom 2004 through 2007.Van Gundy estimated McGrady at "probably 1,000 hours of practice," just one-tenth of Gladwell's rule, a figure that elicited laughter from the crowd. Noting that McGrady was as closeto he's ever seen as a basketball natural, Van Gundy went on to say that T-Mac "should be a Hallof Fame player.""His talent was otherworldly," Van Gundy said.Van Gundy's tone was echoed byhis fellow panelist and former employer, Houston Rocketsgeneral manager Daryl Morey,who inherited McGrady when hetook the Rockets' reins in 2007.After praising McGrady's talents,Morey said, "I do think [thatability] got in the way of Tracy'sdevelopment.""Much of the game was so easy² you see this in the AAU level,where they have freakishlytalented players," he continued."When it's that easy to dominateat that young age because of your physical tools ² hiswingspan was freakish, his sizewas enormous, his IQ ² mysense was, all that did get in theway of Tracy reaching hishighest heights."The basic principle makes somesense. If you're bigger, stronger,
 
faster and more talented than the competition you're playing against, you're not forced to developthe finer points of your game, because when push comes to shove, you can just rely on your superior gifts to give you the edge you need. And when those gifts start to fade, if you haven'tbeen developing new skills (or sharpening old ones) for a rainy day, you'll find yourself soakingwet in a storm that might just wash you away from the league.A fastball pitcher coming back from major arm surgery should be working to make sure he's gotsecondary pitches and doesn't have to rely on the old No. 1 all day. I get that part.And the sentiments that McGrady has, to some degree, squandered his gifts and failed to makethe most of his talent aren't new ² they've been covered in the press for at least the last decade,and they play a key role in the narrative of the chapter on McGrady in thefirst FreeDarko book .While it was pretty surprising that two of McGrady's former bosses would so willingly throw dirton him in a public forum, apropos of nearly nothing, it's not alarming information or breakingnews.Listen, Jeff Van Gundy's forgotten more about the game than I'll ever know. If he tells me thatMcGrady could have ramped up his practice habits to a level that would've increased his body'sability to stay healthy and execute the directives delivered by his sharp-as-a-tack on-court mind,I'm not going to sit here and call him a liar.Still, I can't help feeling like selecting McGrady as the poster boy for wasted chances is at leastpartially a function of our own propensity as writers, observers, executives and fans to jamtalented players into a hyperbolic chamber, imbue them with whatever dreams may come andthen get all pissy when they don't pop out, pure and perfect, exactly the way our imaginationsenvisioned.Maybe more diligence would have enabled McGrady to avoid the lower back, left knee and leftshoulder injuries that have cost him wide swaths of playing time over the past nine years, firstwith the Magic, then with the Rockets and, in a playing-out-the-string sequence, theNew York KnicksandDetroit Pistons. Maybe adhering to a better class of regimen would have mitigated the fallout of the injuries, or would have gotten a healthier version of T-Mac back on the courtsooner. These are reasonable possibilities.But all that said, it would be ludicrous to act like McGrady hasn't turned in what one can argue isstill a Hall of Fame-caliber career, even
with
the allegedly abysmal habits and all the time he'sspent on the shelf, especially considering that this is a Hall of Fame that includes the likes of myriad college and foreign players that never attained
nearly
the level of individual notorietythat T-Mac has.McGrady has led the league in scoring twice and finished in the top 10 six times. He's madeseven All-NBA teams (two first-team, three second-team, two third-team) and produced a 2002-03 season for theOrlando Magicthat Zach Lowe of SI.com's The Point Forward blog calls"perhaps the most under-appreciated great season in NBA history."And according to theHall of Fame Probability Rankingson Basketball-Reference.com, McGrady has the 13th-best shot for enshrinement of any active ballplayer, right betweenChris Paul(notes)andAmar'e

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