He'll Never Walk Alone

This conversation started the second the Rockets lost. Look for a related TSN column tomorrow, too.

Joey Litman: It's never going to happen to Tracy
Bethlehem Shoals: I can't take it
JL: He is just never going to seize the moment and become bigger
JL: I am destroyed by this
BS: I want this series to end
JL: A 2-0 sweep. Just call it already
JL: I don't feel as though I've failed, but I also feel personally defeated in some way
JL: It's like my brand as a fan has been tarnished. And I don't mean that to sound accusatory. I am not mad at Tracy. I just want to give him a hug. For him and for me. JL: I need that
JL: no homo
BS: I can only hope, at this point that he reads the essay i wrote on him for the book
BS: And knows that I care

JL: That is well said, because part of my yearning is not even for a playoff-series win. I want him to know that he's appreciated and loved
JL: And really, I empathize with him. It was crushing—I honestly keeled over—to see him dish to Scola with his team down three and with an open lane to the basket
JL: The best left-handed finisher among righties, in crunch time, chose to meekly dish it to Scola instead of trusting a move he's made so many times
JL: Do you know how helpless that made me feel?
BS: I think his shoulder is also kind of fucked
JL: I guess so. But you only hear about fucked shoulders from NBA lore when it enhances the heroism. I so wanted this for him. Which human in the NBA deserves it more?
BS: No one. I wonder if there's a critical mass to be reached with this. Like eventually, the NBA gives him an honorary pass past the first-round
JL: I think that would make me feel bad. Like those debates among little-league dads concerning whether you treat the gimpy kid like everyone else or whether you underhand it until he makes contact
BS: That's the paradox about McGrady. I know he's a man and a total bad-ass. But i just want his pain relieved. Like why can't things go right for him just once?

JL: I guess that tonight, I finally had to accept a certain fear that permeates Tracy's game. He can mask it with the reasonable assertion that passing to open teammates is both strategic and good for morale, but it nonetheless underlines that he isn't taking and isn't hitting the shots that ultimately win games and series. That's a failure of a star, and it has become this sad yoke.
JL: I kind of wanted a T-Mac telethon to replace the post-game show
BS: But he's so good. He's not perfect. But fatally flawed?
BS: That fear has to get him every fucking time?
JL: I don't speak with him, so i can't say for sure, but watching him, he projects the sense that he's tried, tried some more, and is resigned. I thought that two years ago, against Dallas, he was valiant in defeat
JL: And the number he did on Dirk as a defender seemed to earn him widespread respect. i thought that emotion would foment and carry him on to something greater
JL: But then he could get over the hump, and he positioned last season as a referendum on his ability as a leader and a winner. When that fell through, especially after going up 2-0, I think it might have made him figuratively throw up his hands is desperation.
JL: It's almost like he is us--WHY? EVERY FUCKING TIME?!

BS: But he played his ass off tonight. And the jazz are a far superior team, and doubled him all night with kirilenko. Plus the bum shoulder
BS: Like, that's tough
JL: Look at how he ended the game, though. That rushed three that was hasty and grazed off the rim; that total cop out drive when he dished; some of those laconic drives. Some of it is just how he plays, but it all belied the notion of burning desire
JL: I realize he played well, overall, and i know it was a difficult circumstance for the reasons you cited, but come on.
JL: Did he resemble a Kobe or LeBron? Not necessarily in form, but intensity? In the manifestation of his will? his effort? Not in crunch time, he didn't. But i am not mad. i am just crestfallen.
BS: The other thing is, we're not talking about winning a ring. Just getting past the first round
BS: The tragedy of McGrady is that he's a monster so much of the time
JL: I can't believe someone as good as mcgrady, and as effective as he is, can always lose like this. The tragedy is that what he can do will forever be obscured by what he can't, and he deserves better, as a player and person
BS: If he were only a little better, it would happen. That's the tragedy. He's not essentially flawed, just always a little off.
JL: I was thinking about that as i watched him miss a few jumpers. It's not mechanics or physical ability—it's almost something ethereal that separates T-Mac from the guys who are just a little better and correspondingly more accomplished.

BS: I don't think i'm going to put this chat up. I'm beginning to feel like doing this every time McGrady goes down is taking a toll on me
BS: I mean, emoting like this in public. This whole McGrady is extremely personal to me, for some reason. Do i really want the whole world to see me suffer?
JL: The only reason it would be worth posting is that in some small way, I hold out hope that when i publicly mourn his plight, it could somehow make it back to him and he'd know that he is treasured.
JL: Just so dearly want him to know how deeply he is appreciated. For whatever reasons, he's been the anchor of my basketball identity for so many years, now. Only he and Scottie have ever affected me like that
BS: Is this what real fandom feels like?
JL: It must be.
JL: I think that a lot of times, even passionate sports fans immerse themselves in the rituals of following sports but aren't necessarily drawn to it as a result of inescapable emotion. Like, i get excited about watching the Nuggets and the Lakers, but I don't feel it in my body and my heart the way i do when i watch Tracy. And the only other time i am as affected is when i watch Michigan football.
JL: Like I said, I want to contribute to the catalogue of recorded words that demonstrate how dearly McGrady is loved
BS: (fin)

UPDATE: Sporting News column is up.

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At 4/22/2008 2:28 AM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Would raising the possibility that Tracy could still pull this one out be insensitive?

At 4/22/2008 3:22 AM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

T-Mac will rise again and again. It's never easy. Mike Finley got a ring, you think it meant any less to him that he was a bitch by the time he got it?

At 4/22/2008 4:09 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

a Laker fans attempt at throwing a bone...

Remember Garnett was this man before T-mac was. 7 straight first round defeats.

Then the injection of man-sized nuts named Sam-I-Am and Spree.

Then two seasons of not even making the playoffs.

Now Boston...

Mcgrady may yet fly again.

At 4/22/2008 4:10 AM, Blogger Kaifa said...

So JL is saying that T-Mac is Clyde Drexler 2.0? I still blame Grant Hill's ankle for this sad downward spiral.

At 4/22/2008 4:43 AM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

Obviously take this with a grain of salt, but T-Mac has said has said he wanted to retire when his current contract runs out. It makes sense, given the combination of his back problems and his lack of success. If that's true, his time grows short.

What of that, though? The overwhelming sense I get from T-Mac is that he's tired, and I know that this has been written about somewhere before--I might have read it in an airplane magazine, but I've definitely read the words "Tracy McGrady" and "tired" in the same sentence.

What is he tired of? The physical grind? Of being beaten? Of carrying players that are never quite ready farther than they should? Of having to be a Playmaker instead of a pure scorer because he's never had a real PG (Skip To my lou during the win streak was the closest...)? Of being paired up with the latest Center to inherit the Mister Glass title (Yao, from Camby, except Camby could grab a god damn rebound and Yao is terry-cloth soft).

The whole thing is so fucking depressing. I think at the heart of it is the question: Is T-Mac tired of Basketball? Not the game as a whole, because you can't separate the player from the game completely, and he'd never ever admit as much anyway.

I think he is tired of the place in the league that he's come to embody. He is archetypal, the gifted loser who, for whatever reason, just falls an inch short. I think, on some level, he recognizes this, and it fills him with resignation.

Imagine if Kevin Dyson knew he'd be tackled one yard short of immortality in Super Bowl 34, and then had to play the game anyway. And the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

After so many painful defeats, could that be the way that T-Mac feels? Is he tired of feeling that such a fate has been consigned to him?

The thing about Garnett is that even with all the losing, you never felt like he was going to lose when he stepped onto the court. You never felt like his past demons were haunting him. The baby powder was up in the air at the scorer's table and it was ON.

When the Rockets were still listless before the streak, I wanted T-Mac to be traded badly, just so he would be in a new situation, revitalized, with the help that he deserves (ideally back in Orlando, as a wealthy man's Rashard Lewis).

I guess, and this is almost too sad to type, that we're either going to watch him win and be vindicated, or watch him continue to lose and see his competitive spirit slowly crushed out of him. He deserves a KG-esque shot at vindication, I just think he'll be around long enough to get it.

At 4/22/2008 4:44 AM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

err...WON'T be around long enough to get it.

At 4/22/2008 10:19 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Ain't this the same conversation one could have about T-Mac's cousin? I mean, why the sympathy for T-Mac and his back injuries, and his "bum shoulder" (sh*t, a bum shoulder never keeps Jamal Crawford from chucking without borders), but Vince Carter is just a bum and/or a pussy?

Double standards aside, it's the same in both cases - they don't really care that much about winning or losing. They don't have that gear, that intensity. Not all athletes are competitive. Some are just, well, really athletic guys who worked hard to get good, but maybe with the purpose of setting up their lives, not because of any love for the game. They would probably rather play volleyball. See Eddy Curry, gymnast.

The moral: avoid ballers from Florida.

At 4/22/2008 10:29 AM, Blogger Joey said...

sml--the part of the conversation shoals didn't post was the part when we differentiated between tmac, vince, and webber.

vince is not tmac is not webber. vince is a "facsimile," to use shoals's word. i call him a vessel. he's this athletic entity that in no way feels the game. he can just carry out the maneuvers. i often think that watching vince is like watching this sublimely talented actor who read a manual about how basketball stars are supposed to carry themselves. nothing about what he does feels sincere.

and webber--oh man. another actor, though more connected to the game. he was someone who was always searching out an identity. and unlike vince but like tmac, i always felt there was an air of sadness around him.

At 4/22/2008 10:37 AM, Blogger rebar said...

this really moved me. i totally feel everything discussed.

you can't tell me mcgrady doesn't want to win. the man cried on national television because he lost.

i pray for an offseason trade. to a contender. does NOLA have the resources? what about the wizards? the magic?

please, someone relieve this man of his burdens. make him realize he is a god and he will get his ring. i don't care if he had to be traded to the celtics to get it, just give him one.

At 4/22/2008 11:26 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

One should explore that branch of the T-Mac/VC family tree.

At 4/22/2008 11:31 AM, Blogger bernard snowy said...

the only way I make it through the day is by taking my laptop outside and rewatching 13-points-in-33-seconds during every smoke break. I came here for commiseration, and I'm glad I found it, but T-Mac/VC comparisons leave me feeling worse than before.

At 4/22/2008 11:31 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

We did, and also brought in Webber, but I cut it out of space concerns. And because I kept talking about Frankenstein.

The gist--and Joey can correct me if I'm wrong--was that McGrady is more committed to basketball, more comfortable in it, than Carter or Webber. And yet in some ways, more distant than either of them, since at least Vince and Webber always tried to follow the script. McGrady never got it in the mail.

At 4/22/2008 11:40 AM, Blogger Kaifa said...

Joey, I second what you and Shoals are saying about Vince as actor or facsimile. Whenever I see his pathetic motorcycle celebration after a made basket I cringe. This just screams "a baller needs to have a signature gesture so this will be mine".

Vince's raw dunks during his first two seasons (pre-slam dunk crown) were real though, in my opinion, back when he wasn't trying out for the role of elite SG but just killing the older and less athletic guys trying to guard him.

I have to disagree with SML that T-Mac doesn't have "that gear" if he means that McGrady never had it. I keep coming back to the Orlando years where he was an absolute assassin. But thinking about it, wasn't that team built like Iverson's 76ers or now his 22-games-streak Rockets? The lone scoring star surrounded by scrapping hustle guys but ultimately falling short. Any connection?

Also, I could live with T-Mac giving it a try on another team a la Iverson as co-star on the Nuggets. Even if he tried to recreate that early Raptoes magic with Carter in a trade for Richard Jefferson and change (and Oakley returning as a Nets assistant coach).

But I'd rather have T-Mac leave after this contract than ending up on Michael Finley's path.

At 4/22/2008 11:51 AM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Part of me feels that TMac should maybe pull a Jordan and take a year off once his contract is up, just try to get his body right and get his focus clear. Maybe he should look to get paired with a superstar who truly wants to be The Man so McGrady doesn't have to be. Go join LeBron in New Jersey in 2010 or something.

Watching that game last night I felt like TMac is this generation's Jerry West, especially when Korver hit that desperate fling after bricking it off the side of the backboard. Reminded me of Don Nelson sinking West's Lakers yet again with that ball that got poked away and went right to him only to have him sink a shot after it bounced straight up off the heel of the rim. Sometimes it just seems like the gods are against you, but TMac may still have a lot of years left in him so you never know what the future may hold.

At 4/22/2008 11:54 AM, Blogger Martin said...

Wow that post really brought the misery of TMac's futility to the forefront- deep. A couple of things I’ll add- firstly; I wonder which lingering and ever-present demons cause greater anguish to their victims; the ghoulish tormentors of the Mavs, which are manifest in surprise defeats when everyone including the players involved expected victory? The demons that make lazy sports writers summarily condense a player’s entire narrative into one disdainful appellation, ‘CHOKER!’ On the other hand, could it be that the yoke of assured defeat borne by TMac is more torturous to bear? It’s funny, that even during the Rockets amazing win-streak, countless commentators on this blog, including myself, continued to cast a jaundiced eye on Houston’s success and forecasted the team’s inevitable first round collapse. Contrast this to the irrational exuberance over a pretty inexperienced and unproved LAL squad sans the Mamba. We can’t even assign a derogatory label like ‘CHOKED!’ to the Rockets defeat. The Jazz are simply a better team- coincidentally every team- from the Pistons down to the Jazz, that has ousted TMac from the playoffs have been better than TMac’s squad. It will require a transcendent performance from TMac to pull of a single victory let alone steal the series against the Jazz. I guess that is the best way to describe TMac’s failures- lacking in superhuman feats. That might be TMac’s legacy, the superstar that was never able to become a super-duper star (a quality that is better known among commercial circles as being ‘Jordanesque’).

At 4/22/2008 12:07 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

This was obscured by a graphic of Sager's suit:

At 4/22/2008 12:30 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

In case you're only reading the comments:


At 4/22/2008 12:53 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

For years, I've only been able to watch the games in which McGrady's team wins (thanks, TiVo). Then I can just imagine an alternate reality in which, although he doesn't win the LOB, he at least goes down in heroic fashion much later.

Someone who wanted to really delve into the concept of a "psychology of luck" should look to Tracy as his Anna O. Dude never gets a break.

And this has gone beyond tragic flaw to dimming my view of the universe.

At 4/22/2008 2:36 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Shoals- great column on TSN, I am totally in favor of playoff euthanasia. Any glimmer of hope gained from stealing one or two games will only make the inevitable crash landing that much more gruesome and gut-wrenching. Unless ofcourse you are the Hawks whose humble goal is to steal one to two games.

I guess the only solace to be sought is the glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe, as long as there is one more game or even just one more quarter to be played, that AI's Nuggets still have a chance to realize their destiny as the most talented team in the league and that TMac will finally see the second-round. Ofcourse this tiny glimmer is fraught with emotional peril.

Speaking of the Nuggets- game one was simply too emotionally draining for me to watch. I was totally suckered into giving a damn! How foolish of me- there I was perched on the edge of my couch, holding my breath for the first three quarters. I was yelling out in joy and high-fiving my confused and uninterested girlfriend whenever JR Smith would cross up some fool and take it to the hole with authority. Whenever A Carter was in the game I would loudly curse at George Karl, wishing onto him the kind of evil that makes me cringe to recall. But ofcourse the depressing fourth quarter came around... I just dont want to talk or think about it anymore.

At 4/22/2008 3:57 PM, Blogger Babydaddy said...

Note--Webber's curse was that, unlike TM, he had it all within his grasp repeatedly, only to see it slip away. 2x in college (although I guess those results would have been voided?) and then with the '02 Kings, who played the Lakers so hard that it seems odd to call them underdogs in retrospect. Tracy reminds me of Sisyphus or Charlie Brown (the latter vis-a-vis football). Sigh.

At 4/22/2008 4:00 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

T-Mac could play the role of Drexler if not Finley... and join the surge that will be Portland circa his contract expiration.

At 4/22/2008 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel for TMac as well, even though he's just made more money in the last minute than I will all year. Having said that, expecting him to advance with a decimated team about as good as his Orlando squad was in the WESTERN Conference is just unfair.
Tired, beaten, hounded by death even, I think 22 should let him hold his (and the other Rockets') head(s) high. Golden State would love to be 0-2 right now.

His time will come- very quietly the Rockets have managed to get younger and better in an aging division. I just can't believe the Spurs will stay good forever- they're just way too lucky with injuries and age, Dallas is CLEARLY at the beginning of the end, Phoenix has about a 2 year window, only the Lakers, Jazz, and Nuggets seem equally stacked for the future.
Unless Yao gets fucked up at the Olympics (very possible), this is the last year the nice guy finishes last.

At 4/22/2008 5:58 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

I wonder if TM went to college - where he would be good enough with some good sidekicks - and got a taste of victory, that he would resemble more of a Webber-type player. The problem with Webber was that he was constantly searching for a redux of the Feb-Five, which is why he moved around so much. He never fulfilled what he thought he should, and existed in a sort-of purgatory for the rest of his career.

TM, on the other hand, was not exposed to any kind of success resembling a league-championship (except maybe high school?). He does not know how to play that role and he has been too dogged down to develop this ability. Webber was able to look God in the face while TM doesn't even know what s/he looks like.

Along these lines, should there be some kind of argument for emotional players who have some self-awareness and self-doubt to go to college if only to get a sense of what success is before they are thrown into the league, where there is an oligopoly of teams that are "winners" while the others are poorly managed or unskilled? Should these insecure players play in a small pond before being thrown in with the big fishes?

Also, is there some kind of data (anecdotal or whatever) about the success rates of players who go directly out of high school into the pros in terms of championships, not just stats, when they are a focal point of a team? Just throwing some out there: KG (needed Sam-I-Am / Allen and Pierce, if they even win), Kobe (lucked out with Shaq), Amare (in Suns system, but apparently insecure), LeBron (still a ?), etc...

At 4/22/2008 7:50 PM, Blogger knowing is maxo said...

@ Fun With Logic: I think the idea of "if T-Mac went to college" is really interesting, and probably spot on, especially with the C-Webb analysis.

@Tredecimal: you said, "Unless Yao gets fucked up at the Olympics (very possible), this is the last year the nice guy finishes last."

Do you really think Yao's going to play 70+ games next year, and be healthy for the playoffs? Really?

At 4/22/2008 9:50 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Off Topic:

I've been a faithful follower of this site for several years at this point, but I can't remember there ever being a discussion of Chris Paul.

Tonight, he crossed the threshold from "nice debut, young fella" to something much more historic, important, and profound. 32 and 17. 32 and 17. Each time I type it, I literally get chills down my spine. 32 and 17. 22 damn years old, third damn season in the league, first damn time in the playoffs.

32 and 17.

At 4/22/2008 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@knowing is mayo- Beats me, hence the parenthetical 'very possible'. Playing for the CNT has already been made out to sound like their practices alone will be responsible for him missing 20 games next year.
With Yao, who knows. I mean in 2005 he lost the majority of his time to...osteomyelitis?! About the best way to look at it is that at least it hasn't been his left foot all three times. Just twice..

At 4/22/2008 11:22 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Tom: 32 and 17 is "Monday" for Chris Paul. I have a strong feeling he'll top that before these playoffs are over.

At 4/22/2008 11:26 PM, Blogger The Hypnotoad said...

The Spurs win. Clinton wins. The world is cold.

At 4/22/2008 11:35 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Chris Paul is awesome, but he had a lot of help from the Washington Generals and their brain dead head coach.

I honestly do not understand why they don't put Josh on Paul and have Kidd on Peja. Kidd is 6'4, he can body up Peja and get a hand in his face just fine since he's pretty much just a spot-up shooter.

And I'd stay home on everybody else and turn Paul into strictly a scorer. Just go under him on the screen -- if he beats you by hitting jumpers, then tip your cap to him and wish him luck in Round Two. Because letting him get into the lane, or trapping the hell out of him and letting the Hornets swing it to the open guy is a recipe for defeat. That's not a perfect solution either, Paul is still going to be terrific, but the Mavericks were pathetic tonight.

At 4/23/2008 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Knowing & Logic + people who write slash about TMac in college, here are your crib notes:

I've read he was leaning toward Kentucky, so if you figure he stayed only one year, he would have played on a 35-4 team his first year with the likes of Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Jamaal Magloire, and Chris Mills. Oddly enough, none of those guys were their leading scorer that year (I aint telling. Go look!) If he'd have stuck around for two years, all those guys + Tayshaun Prince.
Tayshaun, TMac, AND Saul Smith?
Feel the quality, and my god, the length!

At 4/23/2008 2:36 AM, Blogger Tom said...

@ tredecimal:

Certainly would've been a healthier development environment than an Isiah fucking Thomas culture, that's for damn sure.

At 4/13/2009 3:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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