A couple of months ago, I wrote about the retirement of two NBA stars who, just days apart, announced they were hanging up their sneakers. When Grant Hill and Jason Kidd said goodbye to their NBA playing days, it was sad, yet there was a clear sense of fulfillment, of accomplishment, and an acknowledgment from both that they knew they had done all they could and that the time had come to move on. True, Hill never won a championship ring, but his character will be emulated for generations. Kidd, who won a ring with the Mavericks, is now on a quest to win another one, but this time as Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Good luck to him.
In recent days, two more certified superstars, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, announced that they were formally retiring from the NBA. Some may argue that their accomplishments overall may be even greater than those of Kidd and/or Hill. McGrady dazzled fans and opponents with moves never before seen, lethal beyond compare at a certain point in his career because he could make shots from anywhere at any time, even surpassing perhaps Kobe and Jordan (I said perhaps!) in shot-making ability. Iverson was the idol of the “little guys”, those who were slight of build and lacking in height, as he brandished on his sleeve a heart bigger than any seven-footer. He was emotional beyond control, boundlessly determined, possessing a resolve to accomplish more, and with the ability to actually do it.
Look at highlight reels and you will see McGrady scoring at will, with defenders draped all over him, slamming in the paint amongst the giants, passing to himself off the board (albeit sometimes unwilling to pass to others), stringing thirteen points in just a few seconds to bring his team to a come-from-behind victory, and all the while keeping that sleepy-eyed look on his face, as though he had never exerted any effort in doing what he did. I remember T-Mac as the young rookie with Toronto, having to play second fiddle to his cousin, Vince Carter, showing the occasional flash of brilliance and spectacular play.
Unleashed in Orlando, McGrady should have teamed with Hill to form one of the most potent one-two combinations the NBA would ever see, but unfortunately that never panned out and McGrady oftentimes had to do it on his own. No worries, he did a lot. He was thrilling, a crowd-drawer who left the audience gasping for air as he made plays that would “suck the gravity right out of the building.” His move to Houston would not derail his magnificence, as he brought the house down time and again with his heroics. But then, the injuries began to hit, and he would never be the same. He was called a ballhog. He started bouncing around from team to team, even playing in China. His last run these past playoffs with the Spurs should have netted him a championship ring, but Ray Allen and the Heat decided otherwise. It might not have been fitting anyway for McGrady to get the ring that way, as a seldom-used non-factor sitting on the Spurs bench cheering on his contemporary in greatness, Tim Duncan. The man scored sixty-two points in a game one time. This just wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.
Iverson also had his chance at a ring. He etched in the NBA annals the only loss suffered by the mighty 2001 Champion LA Lakers team in their almost-flawless playoff run, with a superhuman performance in Game 1 of the championship series (48 points). Yes, the Sixers actually led the Finals 1-0, thanks to The Answer. Sadly though, that would be his only chance to win it all, and, great as he was, hitting outside jumpers over anybody despite not being heralded as a pure shooter, finishing at the rim time and again, his image now is not one of greatness, but of disappointment. When Iverson left the Sixers, he could still put up awesome numbers, especially in his specialty category, scoring. He had success with the Nuggets, but it was short-lived. It seems everything just came crashing down for him. He just wasn’t the right fit for Denver, Detroit, Memphis (three games), and, finally, back “home” for Philly. The 2001 NBA MVP ended up going abroad, just like McGrady, but opted for Turkey rather than China.
For those that appreciate basketball in its purest form, Iverson will always be spoken of with reverence. His size never mattered. Well, maybe it did, in that it made him work harder, strive to be quicker, made him think a little more than those bigger than he was. But, it’s hard to see him in any form that can be called “pure”, he of the cornrows and tattoos, the sassy drawl in his voice, his reputation for trouble, his disdain for practice, and his perhaps misconceived lack of respect for authority. Even when he thanked Coach Larry Brown, it struck many as insincere. His constant legal and recent financial woes only underscored the character that many had come to know Iverson for – not a winner. Was he misunderstood? Perhaps. Is he under-appreciated? Certainly.
As these two former superstars walk off into the NBA retirees’ village, it is disheartening to think that perhaps, unlike Kidd and Hill, they are second-guessing themselves. They might be saying quietly to themselves that they still have it, that they can still compete. They probably would want to give it another go, but realize the decision is not up to them at all. What they should be thinking of, however, aside from how they will spend the rest of their lives, is that they were once on the top of the basketball world, the best at what they were doing, pleasuring countless fans as they shared their basketball greatness. As they walk away from the NBA at the same time, they should forget the “what might have been” and “could have or should not have happened”, and instead hold their heads up high and take in the applause and adulation of their countless fans. Now wouldn’t that be a better way to end it?
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