Tracy McGrady’s career accolades include seven All-Star selections, seven appearances on All-NBA teams, two NBA scoring titles, his number retired by a Chinese basketball team after playing there for one year, and, perhaps most notably, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yet even he couldn’t help but find himself in awe of Kobe Bryant’s aura during his early years in the league. He explained just how captivating the late Lakers legend was whenever he was on the court to Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on Thursday’s episode of the “All The Smoke” podcast.
“To be around Kobe at 19 years old, bro, you would’ve thought Kobe had been here before and been around the greats of the game because his mindset was so different than I’ve ever experienced and ever seen in anybody at 19 years old … This man really, truly thought he was better than Michael Jordan.”
It’s rare for players as great as McGrady was to express such reverence for a fellow competitor, but he does not mince words about how great Bryant was. In fact, his feelings about Bryant might have served as a detriment had things in his career.
The Toronto Raptors of the late 1990s featured the high-flying duo McGrady and his cousin Vince Carter. Like with any breakup of superstars — or eventual superstars, as McGrady was a late bloomer — the question of what could have happened had things remained intact begins to arise.
Just how far could Carter and McGrady have gone in the postseason if T-Mac decided to stay in Toronto instead of signing with the Magic in 2000? In the eyes of McGrady, the Raptors would have been competing with Kobe and the Lakers for a league title.
“We would’ve played for a championship,” McGrady said of the Raptors team he played on. “We would’ve faced the Lakers if I would’ve stayed, there’s no doubt about that, but, there was so much stuff going on in Toronto with the organization. There was no way I could’ve stayed.”
What McGrady is referencing is that his decision to leave Toronto was fueled in part from his desire to emerge from his cousin’s shadow — something that wasn’t going to happen on the Raptors. But even if you quell that emotion, it’s hard to know exactly how much success the team would actually have against a team like the Lakers, especially when you consider how McGrady felt about Bryant at the time.
It’s tough to imagine that someone who’s starstruck by an opponent will do too well against them.
You can watch the whole episode of the podcast below (The bit where McGrady talks about Kobe starts at about the six-minute mark).