Testing His Strength He has three pro years under his belt, plus the big bucks and fancy house. Now, at the ripe age of 21, can Orlando's Tracy McGrady fill the role of superstar?

Oct. 30, 2000
Oct. 30, 2000

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Oct. 30, 2000

NBA Preview 2000-01

Testing His Strength He has three pro years under his belt, plus the big bucks and fancy house. Now, at the ripe age of 21, can Orlando's Tracy McGrady fill the role of superstar?

Beyond the front gate, which is inscribed with a large PS, is a
modern five-bedroom house on a lake. Across the water are the
homes of Ken Griffey Jr., Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods. The
property's new owner, Tracy McGrady, sprawls in an oversized
chair in the basement, manipulating the controls of an NFL video
game with his thumbs. "You want to see the house?" he asks.

This is an article from the Oct. 30, 2000 issue Original Layout

He first looked at the five-acre Orlando spread in July, nine
months after the private jet carrying Payne Stewart and five
others crashed on a farm in South Dakota. Payne's widow, Tracey,
led McGrady from room to room. The huge walk-in closets were
layered with Payne's outfits. "All his hats, all his golf
clothes--what do you call those short pants he used to wear?"
McGrady says. An artificial turf putting green was in the
utility room alongside the water heater; a mirrored exercise
salon was in the basement. Behind a large painting at the end of
an upstairs hall was a tall safe inscribed FORT KNOX/CUSTOM

"At the closing it was really emotional," says McGrady, who paid
$6.6 million for the house and moved in in September. "His wife
started tearing up. I think that's why she wanted to sell it,
because the memories would have been too hard for her."

The walls have been redecorated with African art, and McGrady
says he has big plans for the front garden. Most of all, he must
do something about the six glass cabinets built into the walls
near the front parlor. "These were full of his trophies," McGrady
says. "I don't know too much about golf, but Payne Stewart was
one of the names I'd heard. He had a lot of trophies."

The cabinets are bare now. Despite all the sights inside and
outside the house--the new paintings and sculptures, the lush
Florida gardens, the lake through the living room window like a
Thomas McKnight scene--the new proprietor is crouching in front of
the empty trophy cases, looking through his own ghostly image in
the glass. "I'm about to start on that," he says.

Payne Stewart's old house belongs to a 21-year-old Orlando Magic
swingman who has never gone to college, never made an NBA
All-Star team, never won a playoff game, never even been in a
starting lineup for an entire season. He grew up in a
three-bedroom house with his mother and grandmother just 40
minutes southwest of Orlando, in Auburndale, Fla. Only four years
ago, as a junior at Auburndale High, he was suspended from the
basketball team for mouthing off to a teacher.

"It's blind faith," concedes coach Doc Rivers of the Magic's
decision last summer to pay the 6'8", 210-pound McGrady $93
million over seven years. "If he begins to meet his potential in
a year or two, we can be a great basketball team. We think he can
be a scoring version of Scottie Pippen--and Scottie is a pretty
good scorer."

After spending his senior season at Mount Zion Christian Academy
in Durham, N.C., a prep school with a powerhouse basketball team,
McGrady was the ninth pick in the 1997 draft. His first job was
mainly to sit on the bench of the Toronto Raptors. "You could see
he was so young just by his body language," says guard Dee Brown,
who played 2 1/2 seasons with McGrady in Toronto and also came to
Orlando as a free agent. "Every time he would make a mistake, he
would look straight to the bench. I told him, 'Don't do that. It
makes it look like you're expecting to come out.'"

McGrady was an 18-year-old millionaire orphan placed in a
dysfunctional home. The Raptors had fallen into disarray when
executive vice president and part owner Isiah Thomas resigned 10
games into the 1997-98 season after a falling out with his fellow
owners. Coach Darrell Walker was handling McGrady in the
traditional rookie way, like a raw recruit. "You could tell Tracy
was wondering if he should have gone to college first," Brown

One person who could relate was Los Angeles Lakers swingman Kobe
Bryant. At the time Bryant was 19 and in his second year with the
Lakers, but he spoke with the authority of an older brother. "I
used to talk to Kobe a lot," McGrady says. "He'd say, 'Don't lose
your confidence. When you get a chance to play, show some sign
you can do it on this level.' He said my time would come."

It came rather quickly, in February '98, when Walker was replaced
by one of his less traditional assistants, Butch Carter, who made
a deal with the rookie: McGrady would earn his minutes by
attending individual workouts before and after practices and
before games. "We worked on trying to get a groove on his shot,"
says Carter, who coached the Raptors until he was fired last
spring. "Tracy's shot may not be technically sound, but he can
will the ball into the basket as well as anybody I've ever seen."

The following summer McGrady hired a full-time personal trainer,
Wayne Hall, who had worked with him at Mount Zion. They worked
hard through the following January as the opening of the season
was delayed by a lockout. "Tracy went from being a guy who used
to get through practice to a guy who dominated practice," says

It all came together last season when, led by McGrady and his
distant relative, Vince Carter, Toronto made the playoffs for the
first time. Carter was the one scoring the points, making the
last-second shots. McGrady, a sixth man most of the year, was
Carter's precocious sidekick, handling a lot of the dirty work
and making it look pretty. During the regular season McGrady
averaged 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a team-high
1.91 blocks.

Fun though it was, McGrady says, he was determined to leave
Toronto as soon as his contract was up, at the end of last
season. Late in the year, while playing against the Detroit
Pistons, he was courted by another soon-to-be free agent, Grant
Hill. "During the game he'd make these comments: 'Where are we
going next year? Orlando, man, Orlando!'" McGrady says. "Soon I
was telling him, 'I'm going to Orlando; I don't know about you.'"

"He was whispering Chicago; I was whispering Orlando," Hill says.
"We were just messing around."

The Magic has gambled that McGrady will be the kind of player who
wins titles. "I hate to put pressure on him," says Hill, who made
good on his word and signed with Orlando, "but I think I'll be
telling my grandchildren about him. He has so much talent."

While he was being recruited as a free agent, McGrady showed
signs that he's older than his years. On a trip to Chicago to
meet with the Bulls in July, he was greeted at the airport by the
LuvaBulls cheerleaders and a blues band, and at Wrigley Field he
threw out the first pitch to the Cubs' Sammy Sosa, but the pomp
didn't sway him. McGrady says he ruled out the Bulls because he
doubted they could win. "That's the same reason I left Toronto,"
McGrady says. "I was looking around to find what team is going to
be a perfect fit for me for the next five to six years."

With the Raptors, McGrady developed into a gifted defender and a
streaky scorer. He has made it clear that he wants to become the
kind of player who deserves the ball in the last seconds of a
tight game--a role denied him by Butch Carter, who worried about
how he might be damaged by failing in those situations. "Tracy
has the ability to make the best play," Carter says, "but he was
sheltered in Toronto. There was a constant mental battle between
us; he wanted more rope."

Once McGrady decided he wanted to earn that rope in Orlando, the
Raptors swung a sign-and-trade on Aug. 3. McGrady got the maximum
deal allowed under the salary cap; Toronto got a future
first-round draft pick. In the weeks after he shook hands on his
new contract, McGrady set his alarm each day for 6:30 a.m. Some
mornings he'd strap 20-pound weights on his arms and legs and run
an eight-minute mile. On others he'd run the steps of the nearby
Disney World stadium. In the afternoons he would play basketball.
Later in the day he would lift weights.

"The thing about Tracy is that he's come home to play for the
Magic, and that's giving him even more drive," says Hall, who
moved to Orlando to train McGrady year-round. "If your hometown
doesn't like you...that's what he's looking at."

Which is not to say that McGrady isn't going to act his age
occasionally. After moving into the Stewarts' house, McGrady
would ride his Jet Ski across the lake to spend the afternoon at
Shaq's house in Isleworth, and on Friday nights he would go back
to see the Auburndale High football team play. McGrady lives with
his two younger brothers, Sherrod, 20, and Chance, 15, along with
his best friend from high school, Bradley Rogers, who acts as
McGrady's personal assistant. On a September afternoon the house
was a hive of activity. McGrady's chef was in the kitchen, two
cleaning ladies were vacuuming the living room, and an uncle, Joe
Bob Williford, was supervising the gardeners. "I have to give
credit to the late Payne Stewart; he sure did some wonderful
things with this house," says McGrady. "When I came in here with
my boys, they were looking around, saying, 'Do you realize what
you have? Do you realize?'"

But here's the thing about the house that Tracy McGrady lives in:
He bought it because of the tennis court in the front garden.
"When he was looking at houses, I came with him," Hall says. "We
looked at houses in Isleworth, but those places don't have enough
land. Then we saw that this place had the tennis court." It won't
be there for long. In the next few months it will be dug up and
replaced with an indoor basketball court and workout room. It's
the equivalent of the Stewarts' putting green. High expectations
must be met. "That's what they pay me for," McGrady says.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER GREGOIRE HOME IMPROVEMENT McGrady, who grew up in nearby Auburndale, fits right in the regal Orlando spread owned by the late Payne Stewart.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO D FEATS Shot blocking, in which he led the Raptors last season, is the kind of dirty work that the 6'8" McGrady does best.
"It's blind faith," Rivers says. "We think Tracy can be a scoring
version of Scottie Pippen--and Scottie is a pretty good scorer."