Yes, Tracy McGrady noticed the cheers when he checked in to Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. They were unusually loud for a guy playing mop-up minutes in the San Antonio Spurs' blowout victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. What T-Mac didn't hear was Mark Morrison's song "Return of The Mack" booming through the speakers. "What?" McGrady said when told about it on Monday. "I didn't know that. That's funny, man. They used to play that for me in Toronto." Toronto. That's going back. A different world. Next month will mark 16 years since McGrady was drafted by the Raptors. We're coming up on 13 years since he signed that big contract with the Orlando Magic. It's been 12 years since he played in the first of his seven All-Star Games. Nine years since he led the league in scoring for the second time. Eight and a half years since he scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds of a game to lead the Houston Rockets over the Spurs. And after all the individual accolades, the ones that got him the headlines and the "SportsCenter" lead stories and the commercials, a significant career milestone occurred with little fanfare less than two weeks ago: He participated in a game beyond the first round of the NBA playoffs. He was on the court for only 52 seconds in Game 2 of the conference semifinals against the Golden State Warriors. He didn't take a shot. He has yet to score in the 2013 playoffs, actually. And it's fine with him, all part of the trade-off he's willing to make to be a part of something that he never accomplished when he was the marquee name. "I'm back to having fun again," McGrady said Monday, sitting on a basket support after Spurs practice. "It's a different type of feeling, to really come in the games and hear the cheers, it's overwhelming. It feels good to have that type of reception -- and for different reasons. Usually I get 'em for scoring 30 points. Now I get 'em just for being a part of this team. "It's a great feeling, man. I'm back to having fun. It's great to be a part of this terrific organization ... I'm living a dream right now." This isn't how any of us envisioned it. But it's funny how now that the expectations are gone, there seems to be greater enjoyment of and by McGrady. He used to be derided for his playoff failures. In his first eight trips to the postseason he never made it past the first round. When the Rockets advanced to the conference semifinals in 2009, McGrady watched in street clothes, as he'd entered the phase of his career that was defined by injuries -- back, knee, shoulder, you name it. He never was a double-digit scorer again as he floated to three more teams, then went off to spend the past season in China with the Qingdao Eagles. After the Spurs waived Stephen Jackson in the final week of the season, they brought in McGrady. "We wanted to have another body just as an insurance policy," coach Gregg Popovich said during the first round of the playoffs, and he was just as honest about his limited expectations when he talked with McGrady.
New role, new heights for T-Mac
ESPN | May 21