Monday , May , 07 , 2007 Oly Sandor

The Take: In Defeat, Tracy McGrady Emerges As An Elite Player And Leader

The post-game press conference showed it: Tracy McGrady’s commitment to winning can’t be questioned. Forget the saga in Toronto, all the problems in Orlando, and losing game seven to Utah. Ironically, by sharing the Rockets with Yao and even losing in the playoffs, McGrady has gained a measure of respect around the league and emerged as a true leader …

The Take: I admit it. For a long time I was never a fan. I always thought he was too preoccupied with himself.

In Toronto, he worried about being ’s sidekick. In Orlando, he referred to himself as the team’s superstar before playing a single game. Then he got locked into a dispute with the Magics’ front-office before getting traded to Houston.

Despite his enormous individual gifts, I felt he never reached his full potential. He should have been the NBA’s best two-way player: a lockdown defender on defense and an all-round superstar on offense.

On-paper, he had all the tools to be . Off-the-paper, in reality, he seemed to lack desire and drive.

I could never understand why he kept coming up short in the playoffs, losing in the first round to lesser players and opponents.

Over the last two years, my opinion has completely changed. Even if Houston lost game seven to the Utah Jazz.

It started last season when T-Mac started sharing the mantle of franchise-stud with emerging center Yao Ming. Many superstars refuse to do this because they fear falling down the NBA’s pecking order.

McGrady gave Ming much of the spotlight. This wasn’t a sign of weakness. He could still go off for 50 points, but he made a conscious choice to include others in hopes of fostering a more balanced and competitive squad.

He even started this year by deferring to Yao, letting the center carry the Rockets. Then an injury sidelined the Ming-dynasty and McGrady simply took over.

He became everything he always should’ve been. He scored big buckets, knocking down fade-away shots and taking the rock to the rim. He facilitated for others, making both the simple pass and dropping the prime-time dime. He rebounded and defended.

Most importantly, with Yao out and T-Mac running-the-show, the Rockets posted an impressive 20-12 record.

I thought McGrady’s 2006-07 performance was slept on. He should’ve been an MVP candidate. But the NBA-hype machine has passed him by, focusing on a different set of players.

But his play and Saturday’s post-game press conference showed that hype and individual accolades no longer matter to McGrady. He’s no longer preoccupied with himself. And I’ve definitely become a fan.

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