Photo: Tracy McGrady, seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA scoring champion, retired Aug. 26 at age 34. Flip through this gallery for shots from his career. (David J. Phillip, AP)
CHICAGO -- Looking dapper in a white shirt and brown tie, which he tucked neatly beneath a matching brown sweater, 34-year old Tracy McGrady has grown plenty since entering the NBA as an 18-year old high school phenom in 1997.
A guest at ESPN's First Take morning show early today, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound serial scorer was a natural in front of the cameras: self-assured, well-spoken and refreshingly candid.
Without much preamble he announced his retirement, a mild surprise given how his knees have betrayed him the last few years.
"It's been 16 years, man, playing the game I love, dreamed about and I think I've had a great run and it's come to an end. I'm excited and I'm happy about what's next to come, and it's time to walk away. It's over," he said.
Grilled about the San Antonio Spurs' painful Game 6 meltdown where they surrendered a five-point lead with 28 seconds left and subsequently lost a Game 7 soon after, McGrady confessed, "I haven't recovered from it. Still having nightmares about it."
Although his quest for a championship ended only last June, his careers slow and steady decline began in the 2008-09 season when he missed 47 games following left knee surgery. Also battling back spasms and shoulder problems, he was sidelined for 32 games in the 2009-10 campaign.
Robbed of the explosiveness that made him a star during his Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic days, McGrady's minutes dropped like the stock market when he balled with the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks from 2010 to 2012.
Photo: The author with T-Mac in a January 2007 interview at the United Center.
After a brief foray with the Qingdao Eagles in the Chinese Basketball League, the Spurs signed McGrady without any guaranteed playing time last April 16. He ended up logging just 31 minutes in six playoffs games and did not score.
Like so many other greats before him -- Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing to name a few -- Tracy didn't win the Larry O'Brien trophy. Even so, he was a stunning success whose exploits filled arena seats and made countless fans jump for joy.
Nicknamed T-Mac, he was explosive as a Mac-10. He could spot-up, catch and shoot, dribble penetrate and knock down the 3 from the parking lot. And he won back-to-back scoring titles in 2003 and 2004, averaging 32.1 and 28 points per game respectively.
Whether or not he is Hall-of-Fame material is for the more qualified voters to judge. His critics will be quick to point out that prior to hooking up with the Spurs he had never reached the second round of the playoffs as an active player. They would also argue that he wasn't always unselfish and that other stars didn't exactly line up to play with him.
But I'm not into negative vibes. That's why I like reading obituaries where all the good stuff are sprinkled like pure, white snow while the bad stuff are conveniently neglected. So if I had a say, I'd stamp McGrady's name in the ballot, sign, seal and deliver it to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Why not, T-Mac's numbers were fat as pork barrel --- 18,381 points, 5,276 rebounds and 4,161 assists in 938 regular season games. The 7-time All-Star also sank 3,882 free throws and 1,081 3-pointers.
Of my few run-ins with T-Mac over the years, my fondest memory was an encounter in the winter of 2007 when the Houston Rockets visited the United Center on a frigid January night.
Surrounded mostly by Asian reporters who were there to cover Yao Ming, one scribe had the temerity to ask T-Mac about his gaudy watch, which had more diamonds than a Cebuana Lhuillier pawnshop and rumored to be worth at least $130,000.
Instead of scowling at the personal intrusion, T-Mac's sleepy eyes woke into a bright smile and he joked that it was "worth like a house." And we all had a good laugh.
According to basketballreference.com, T-Mac has earned $162.9 million in NBA salaries. The Associated Press also reports that because of his lifetime contract with Adidas, he is entitled to "royalties from every pair of shoes and sports clothing sold under his name for the rest of his life."
A businessman, who owns a bottled company in Florida and a tech company in Washington D.C., T-Mac is set for life and looks swell in those fancy suits and elegant dress shoes.
But he looks even better in a bust along the hallowed corridors of the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame.