Michael Jordan, Dikembe Mutombo, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Duncan were inducted into the NBA’s hall of fame last year. None of them made a bigger impact on the league than another innovator, who did so long before any of them.
Tracy McGrady, the seventh overall draft pick out of high school, played for five different teams during his 18-year career in the NBA, making a total of 11 All-Star teams and leading the league in scoring in 2004 with a record 27.1 points per game. Now, he is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a four-time champion and has found success in the Chinese Basketball Association after retiring from the league in 2012.
With that kind of resume, it’s no surprise McGrady thinks there is another player in the NBA that will soon have the same impact on the league as himself. According to McGrady, that man is Stephen Curry.
“He’s going to make the game a hell of a run,” McGrady said in an interview with MLB.com. “He’s an elite player, but he’s super-human in that way. With (Tim) Duncan being down at the end of the Spurs … we’re almost running out of bodies. We’re just not going to be able to do the things that we used to.”
Curry has taken the NBA by storm, winning three championships – in the 2010-11, 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons – and becoming the league’s first unanimous Most Valuable Player. The Golden State Warriors are due to begin their first season on the Western Conference’s top tier for the first time in two decades in 2015-16.
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McGrady is not the only one who believes that Curry will have the same kind of impact as his childhood idol. Shaquille O’Neal, a four-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, nicknamed Curry “Point Breaker” and remembers the looks of shock in the faces of his teammates and coaches when he dribbled past them for a layup.
“We were just in shock. Because we thought the guy was just crazy, that he couldn’t dribble the ball,” O’Neal said. “But then when the shot went in – like, we all embraced him. I mean, it took me a minute to understand how special that kid was.”
From the moment he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, McGrady had a huge impact on his team – at the time, Charlotte was one of the league’s most underperforming franchises. He won Rookie of the Year in 1997 and joined the Nuggets the following year for a seven-year run that ended when he was traded to Toronto in 2002.
Shaquille O’Neal and Tracy McGrady together in the 2002 NBA All-Star game. Photograph: James Guillory/Reuters
Once McGrady returned to the Rockets, he had a chance to win a championship alongside some of the greatest players in the game, joining them on a mission to become the first team to return from the first round of the playoffs to win the title.
After getting off to a slow start, McGrady saved his best for last, scoring the go-ahead basket in a game seven win over Dallas in the Western Conference finals and then finally won a title with Houston in 2004.
McGrady’s scoring average soared up to 26.4, in part because of the influence of his frontcourt teammate Yao Ming, who was only able to play 15 games in the 2008-09 season because of a foot injury.
McGrady says he expects Curry to continue that level of success as well, adding: “Hopefully, he continues to go out there, block every shot, play like he’s allergic to defense and be the best shooter. He’s just going to be phenomenal.”