He is only 23 years old, but the National Basketball Association's Tracy McGrady is a commanding presence in the game. McGrady is fast becoming one of the leading candidates to succeed Michael Jordan as the game's leading player.
Tracy McGrady has the calm air of a champion as he is surrounded by a gaggle of reporters after his Orlando Magic team lost to the Washington Wizards here in the nation's capital by one point. In the game, the last time McGrady would face Michael Jordan in the regular season, the Orlando shooting guard poured in 43 points.
Now, wearing a gray velour sweatsuit and sporting a diamond earring, the 23-year-old Florida native says he thinks he accomplished what he wanted to, showing Michael Jordan that the game is in good hands.
"So it's kind of a message like O.K., you did what you had to do, now it's up to us," he explained. "And passing the torch to guys like myself and Kobe [Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers]. You know being inspirational to a lot of people, which he [Jordan] was and we are just trying to, you know, do what he did."
Tracy McGrady has had several recent games in which he scored more than 40 points, and he and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant lead the NBA in scoring average. McGrady scored 43 points against the Denver Nuggets in only three quarters of playing time in a blowout win, and tallied 43 again in the 106-105 loss to Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.
For his part, Jordan, who at age 40 is in his last season as a player, says that McGrady has grown a great deal since being drafted by the Toronto Raptors straight out of high school in 1997. But Jordan's competitive nature is not quite ready to pass the torch to the young Orlando guard.
"That's a part of maturity and he will continue to mature," he said. "And I guess the best battle would be to see him play against Kobe [Bryant] and not against me. But we won the game and at the end of the day that is what matters."
Magic Coach Doc Rivers said after the loss to Jordan and the Wizards Wednesday night that McGrady's 43 points showed some weaknesses in the rest of the Orlando offense. Rivers said that he wants to see a more balanced offense in the future.
"It goes more on rhythm. More on how we are playing and the flow of the offense," the coach said. "Today our offense was pretty much horrible in a lot of ways even though we scored a lot of points. Uh, because we had to rely so much on one guy. I did not like that balance."
Orlando is in a tight battle with the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks for the final two playoff berths from the NBA's Eastern Conference. If Orlando is to advance to the post season - and a possible match-up between McGrady and Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers - McGrady will have to stay healthy and keep scoring. But even Michael Jordan would acknowledge that Tracy McGrady is going to need help from his teammates if he is to enjoy something Jordan has enjoyed six times, being an NBA champion.