Tracy McGrady isn’t my favorite athlete; it’s something I discovered as a kid when my friends and I were talking about our favorite athletes of all time. Up to that point, I hadn’t really thought about it that much – I could list off a top ten or top five favorite athletes from various sports, but never placed them in a specific, unchanging order.
The list was fluid, changing as my interests did. Basketball overtook baseball, which was then surpassed by soccer, which for now is at the top of the theoretical sporting totem pole. At some point, my list of favorite athletes would have to follow suit.
When I was around 14, Tracy McGrady was a fluid number one overall on my list, falling to two or three depending on how LeBron James or Cristiano Ronaldo were performing. LeBron and CR7 make the top three for obvious reasons, the most obvious being they’re fucking GOATs and do amazing shit on a weekly basis.
Tracy made my top three for a few reasons:
- His jersey number was 1 (most of the time), which is like saying, “Hey, I’m better than you at this, and I’m going to make sure you’re all aware of it.”
- He played for the Magic when I played for the Magic on my very stacked Parks & Rec team in 4th grade.
- He had his own line of signature shoes with adidas and they’re fire as hell.
- He wore a leg sleeve and an armband, which was swag on another level.
- He could dunk on you (RIP Shawn Bradley) and then hit a three in your face.
- Tracy McGrady is a great name, and “T-Mac” is meant for the Nickname Hall of Fame
Those are solid reasons to place a guy in one’s top three favorite athletes, but there’s another one that pretty much guarantees he can never fall out of the top three.
On December 9, 2004, my fucking guy did something that no one will likely ever do again in human history.
Down 76-68 to the San Antonio Spurs, Tracy and his fellow Houston Rockets had a hill to climb and no time at all to do it – they were down 8 points with 43 seconds to left in the game, a deficit that is improbable, but not impossible to overcome.
It helps to have a Tracy McGrady on your team, a lanky 6’8” guard with speed, tenacity, and the ability to take over a game single-handedly but guys like him come around once in a generation, maybe.
Okay, so 43 seconds to go, down 8, and T-Mac brings the ball up the court, Bruce Bowen guarding him closely. Typical Spurs, playing till the clock runs out like a bunch of nerds.
Also, very typical Bruce Bowen here. If you don’t know who he is, he’s this bald guy that was really very extremely good at defending, especially around the perimeter. Like, being guarded by him all night was really annoying. I say that like I’m not awful at hooping but you can tell when a defender is a pain in the ass.
Tracy does a little spin, executing it kinda poorly if we’re being honest, but he gets saved by a screen which Bruce blindly cascades into, freeing up Tracy for an open three, which he drills like he’s tightening a screw into a wall or something. I don’t know, just know he made the shot, and it was beautiful.
There’s a video at the bottom of this, of course, but you should stick around for the words. Please.
36 seconds on the clock as the ball goes in, and the Rockets are now down by five, 76-71.
The Spurs then scored in their typical boring fashion. 78-71 with about 32 seconds to go. Gulp.
Tracy brings the ball up the court again. Bruce Bowen is guarding him too closely again.
Guess what? Bruce got his ankles broken by a McGrady crossover then got screened again thanks to Yao Ming’s incredible stature and ability to take up space by being absolutely fucking ginormous.
Using the screen Tracy hits another three, this one being wet as shit and in Tim Duncan’s eye. Celebrations ensue despite the deficit. Home crowds can sense a comeback, and they were in for a legendary finish to an altogether ordinary game (you know, excluding the final 43 seconds).
Houston is down 4 points with 24.3 seconds left, barely more than the shot clock limit. (That’s 24 seconds long, but I mean, you gotta know that, right? It’s pretty common knowledge. Your crotchety middle school gym teacher from some Soviet bloc might not have enforced a shot clock, but there is one.)
Fast forward to 16 seconds left, and the Rockets are inbounding the ball. At this point, who really cares what happened when the Spurs had the ball. Houston is down five, and the clock is ticking.
T-Mac receives the ball, once again stuck to Bruce Bowen by his freakish defensive gravity, luring opponents so close their jerseys blended together to make one four-digit number. Scrambling for space, Tracy manages to create just a few inches of separation for a shot, which he launches with some apparent difficulty. It was honestly an uglyass shot, one that should never go in, but the shot wasn’t about to miss, not after the last two threes he hit.
Bang! Houston now down two, 80-78 with 11.2 seconds remaining. Tracy was feeling it, the crowd was feeling it, and Gregg Popovich was trying his best not to let his team feel it too, as they were losing their grip on a game they should’ve locked down before this run ever started.
San Antonio took a timeout, hopefully using the time to draw up a plan, which probably consisted of running around and using up every second while their lead was still intact.
If that was the plan, they only got the ‘running around’ part right. As for the ‘using up every second’ part, they only ate up four seconds; there were still seven remaining, which is great but only if you play for the Houston Rockets.
During the four seconds they had the ball, the Spurs managed to give the ball away to the man of the final 43 seconds, Tracy McGrady. Oops.
T-Mac has seven seconds to run up the court, avoiding all of his teammates at any cost, as they were all pretty trash. Well, they were.
Once again staying behind the three-point line, Tracy finds the nearest Spurs player with terrible, no good very bad hair (Brent Barry) and pulls up in his face. Not even two seconds left on the clock: splash.
81-80, Houston Rockets. A low-scoring affair, but one that instantly placed itself in the annals of basketball’s greatest moments. 13 points from 33 seconds. I don’t know if there’s a sport where that wouldn’t be spectacular.
(In golf, that’d be terrible, but golf is barely a sport and I played it in high school. We sucked.)
It wasn’t showing off or during a meaningless All-Star game, where defending is a seemingly unwritten and long forgotten rule; it was in the first few months of the season, and against a local rival during a comeback, one of the quickest in memory.
A feat like that will likely never happen ever again, one that I was alive to cherish.
Well, I saw it that night on SportsCenter, but it was still amazing to see, especially since Tracy has always been one of my favorite athletes.
No one else did that. Nobody. Go ahead, name someone – nope, they didn’t do it.
It’s a sacred moment in sports history, not just basketball. It’s likely that only basketball heads will know of it or remember it, but that’s enough. Let the greatest comeback ever achieved in 43 seconds by one person be cherished by those that truly appreciate how uncommon that was.
13 points in 33 seconds in an NBA game? Dude went from high school to the NBA and then did that. If you ask me, the second achievement is far superior.
As a reward for your patience (or for scrolling for two seconds) here’s the video in all its glory.