T-Mac Says He's Not Like Kobe
He was named to the All NBA First Team in ’01-’02 and ’02-’03 seasons, plus T-Mac is a five-time NBA All Star.
He spent much of a very frustrating season last year on the sideline with an injured back. However, he has found health in the offseason and regained his hunger for basketball. In August and early September, he made a four-country whirlwind tour of Asia for Adidas, to promote his new, individually numbered all-white Limited-Edition T-Mac Ones, of which there are only 1,650 pairs available. He is the first athlete to sign a lifetime contract with Adidas.
He phoned Roland Lazenby from Hong Kong during the final days of his tour to talk about his life and the upcoming season.
Q: You have experienced some special things in Asia. What has that been like?
McGrady: Coming over here and experiencing the passion that these people have for the game of basketball is unbelievable. You wouldn’t know it until you come over here to Asia. Just to see the fans that I have in the different countries, to see the love, the respect, that they show, it’s really crazy. It makes me feel like a rock star.
Q: Has touring Asia changed your life in some way?
McGrady: It has. It changes your perspective to see all of the fans in Asia. It makes you realize that you can’t take things for granted. It makes you realize just how many people do know what you do and respect what you do and love what you do. It makes you realize that you’re an inspiration to a lot of people you really didn’t know about. I’m now starting to realize that, that I’m really an icon. A lot of these kids over here in Asia really look up to me and watch my every move. They can tell me stories of things I’ve done, and I don’t even remember it. But it is true. Those things really happened. I just didn’t remember them. So this response was a lot more than I expected. So that’s a great feeling, for them to really be following my every move.
Q: Was there any one stop in Asia that brought an unusual experience?
McGrady: It really wasn’t one stop in Asia, it was literally every single place I went. From the time I got off the airplane, as I walked through the airports, to meeting all the people. It was just a hell of an experience, man. I would do it all over again. It was just that much fun. I really got a kick out of it, just the way they treated me, from the hotels, all the hospitality, to the actual events that adidas set up, it was pretty much the funnest thing that I’ve done in my career.
Q: Will a trip like this have an impact on the season ahead?
McGrady: It does have an impact on the upcoming season. It really does. With Yao being Asian, we’re on TV a lot over here. There are millions of people tuning in to watch us play. I didn’t realize just how many fans I have over here. To know that now has me really excited. They know I’m healthy now. After having gone through the injuries that I had last year, it’s just motivating to me to get back on the court and really do well. They’re really expecting a lot out of myself and Yao. It’s just that time. Last year was a frustrating season and we couldn’t get it done. But I think this season will be different.
Q: Speaking of the upcoming season, what do you think of the moves made by the Rockets?
McGrady: I think we made an important move with the addition of Shane Battier. This is a guy who’s a very smart, competitive basketball player. His presence is going to be important, with all the extra attention, all the double-teams, that Yao and I receive. We’re confident in his ability to knock down open jumpers. Also on the defensive end, Shane can hold his own with a variety of types of players. There are a lot of good players in the Western Conference at the 4 position, and Shane can match up with those guys. His versatility is amazing. He can play multiple positions and fit in a lot of places where we need him. We have to play Dallas four times a year in our division. Shane’s the kind of guy who can match up with Dirk Nowitzki at the 4 position, even though Dirk’s a seven-footer. Shane doesn’t do everything great. But he’s the kind of guy who does a lot of things well.
Q: The Rockets also picked up a couple of young guys in the draft. What are your thoughts there?
McGrady: We have a rookie Steve Novak who can really knock down the outside shot. I haven’t seen him play, but our coaches tell me he can really shoot the ball. I asked to compare him to somebody in the NBA, and they said he’s a lot like a Pat Garrity in terms of shooting the ball. In Orlando, I played well with Pat Garrity. He was one of our equalizers, standing out there shooting the ball. A guy like Novak can do that for us. He can open the court up for when I try to penetrate. And he can open things up for Yao as well.
And we got a guy from Greece, Vanoulis Spanoulis. I was just watching him play in the WBC. He looks like a point guard who really likes to push the ball. I think that he could help us if the coaches let us get out and run.
Q: Do you think their presence will help open up Houston’s offense?
McGrady: (laughs) I sure hope the offense opens up some this year. Down in Orlando we opened it up some and that was a lot of fun.
In Houston, we’re going to be a great defensive team, because that’s what Jeff (Van Gundy) likes to do as a coach. That’s what he brings. He’s a genius at defensive execution. So if we can open up our offense this year, we’ll definitely have the best of both worlds.
Q: Last year was pretty much a nightmare with your and Yao’s injuries. Injuries put a mental strain on athlete’s too. How’s your health now?
McGrady: I had never really been injured in my career before. It really set me back. I missed 35 games, played in 47. It was one of the most frustrating seasons in my career. A back injury can really play on your mind. But now I’m healthy, so my back isn’t really on my mind this season. I’m excited about playing again, and I can’t wait to get out there.
Q: There was a huge change in the NBA last season. New rules interpretation meant that defenders were no longer allowed to touch guards on the perimeter, which meant that a guy like Dwyane Wade could drive to the basket again and again during the playoffs. Are you eager to play under the new rules interpretation?
McGrady: In my nine years in the NBA, the rules have constantly changed. And I’ve had to change with them. They’ve added zones and other changes. I know how to make adjustments, so the new rules interpretations won’t bother me. I’ll make the adjustment. I’m excited to get back to competing. The rules changes don’t motivate me. I’m motivated by the opportunity to play with my team. I’m motivated just by the thought of getting out on the floor again. I’m in the best shape of my career, so rules changes really don’t bother me.
Q: There have been reports that your conditioning is now exceptional. How have you been able to do that with such a busy summer?
McGrady: Being away and on the road has made it kind of hard (to keep up with conditioning). I’ve just had to push myself to get it done on the road no matter how tired I am. I’ve just had to push myself to be very dedicated. Seeing all the fans in Asia has certainly helped motivate me. Right now I am ready to go and begin the season.
Q: Are you ready to make another run at a scoring title? How about a run at Kobe’s single game scoring record?
McGrady: I’m not in Orlando. I HAD to score when I was in Orlando. Kobe has to score in L.A. in order for those guys to win. His team needs him. I don’t take that many shots in Houston. That’s not needed for us to win. Maybe one of these nights I’ll try to make a run maybe sometime at my career high of 62 points, but that’s not my focus.
Q: Have you been amazed to learn how much Asian fans love shoes?
McGrady: It really is amazing. My shoes sales are crazy. Asian crowds are really into shoes. We have video clips of guys lining up a couple of hours early just to get my shoes. That’s a great sight.
Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers In The Words Of Those Who Lived It, released earlier this year by McGraw-Hill. Lazenby also edits Lindy's Pro Basketball Annual, just out on news stands this month.