Tracy McGrady Wants to Build the UFC of Basketball

There’s only 450 players in the NBA. But there’s millions of guys that are out there that could play in my league. There’s millions of them. We would never run out of that talent, ever. If you look at the UFC platform, of course these guys went to college and they was fighters, whether a wrestler, they were Taekwondo, whatever their martial art was, but we didn’t know that before they got on the UFC platform, right? They created these stars. It’s no different with my platform and what I’m doing.

You’ve played with and against some of the greatest players in basketball history. You’ve seen it all. What’s the distinctive allure of one-on-one?

If we’re playing to seven, we’re playing in front of an audience, and I’m guarding a guy that’s shifty as hell, got crazy handles, and he do something spectacular on point one? And he sways the crowd to him, and I’m out here by myself? It’s like, Fuck, I really gotta lock in and fight through this shit. I’m not only fighting a dude that’s really fucking good at one-on-one basketball, but now the crowd is on his side. So how can I shift this? Mentally, there’s a lot of tough guys that played in the league, and that wanted that smoke. Listen, I played against some guys in the NBA that don’t want that. They don’t want that. I’m talking about All-Star guys that I faced throughout my career that just don’t have that mental fortitude.

So, related to that, within the last few months we’ve heard both Patrick Beverley and DeMar DeRozan basically say that half of the players in the NBA don’t really love the game. Did you think the same in your time?

I agree to that. You have some guys that are talented, and they do it because the money is good. In my era, you used to have guys that make it to the league, and they’ll be shitty for two or three years, but on their contract year? Oh, they’re gonna have their career highs, right? And then they just fall back and they get their money, and then they relax. You don’t love the game if you approach it that way. It’s been going on since I entered the league, and it’s still going on.

Can you tell when you watch now? You don’t know all these guys personally, and you’re watching from a distance. But when you’re watching League Pass, can you tell who’s really about the game, and who’s just doing it because they can, and they like the lifestyle?

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t watch a lot of it. I will watch playoff time, when everybody is pretty much locked in. Throughout the season? No. I don’t watch too much NBA. I watch more college basketball.

And that’s because?

It’s more exciting to me. I like college basketball because they play hard. And it’s competitive basketball. I’m not saying the NBA is not competitive, but it’s too much of everybody shooting threes. You’re jacking up and taking terrible basketball shots. I don’t see that on the college level.

So, which two active NBA players would you want to see play one on one?

Man, I’d love see Kyrie [Irving] and Steph [Curry], or Kyrie and D-Book [Devin Booker]. I think Kyrie and Book are the two most skilled guys in the league, offensively. I would love to see that.

If you could pit any current player against any player from the past, who’s your dream historical pairing?

Um, man. [Long pause.] That’s a good one. I’d really love to see KD [Kevin Durant] go up against somebody like KG [Kevin Garnett]. I just know the shit-talking that KG is gonna bring to that game. Wooo! I would love to see that.

Garnett was basically the original unicorn, the virtual 7-footer who could play everywhere on the court, guard every position, handle the ball and shoot—the forefather of guys like Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Now we have Victor Wembanyama, who’s maybe the ultimate version.

He’s new, from France, I get it.

You seem a little skeptical.

No, I’m just saying the hype is crazy to me. It’s too much, bro. I’ve seen this before. Y’all act like you haven’t seen it. That shit that Bol Bol can do? He’s just not given the real opportunity, like I think he should. That kid is skilled. [Kristaps] Porzingis was highly skilled when he first came out, just like that. And hell, he’s 7-3, too. So I’ve seen it. The hype is just crazy. But I get it. It’s the media, they’re looking for a face for the NBA, and you got to have a new star that you got to build around. Bron is about to be on his way out, Steph and those guys, I get it.

You were a little younger when you came into the league, straight from high school, but you had to deal with a lot of expectations and pressure as well. What would you tell Wembanyama?

I mean, to me he’s in a perfect situation, because he’s around greatness. One of the greatest coaches ever, greatest power forward ever, one of the greatest centers ever. Sit down and have those conversations with those guys, and just soak up all the advice you possibly could. And I’m sure he’s having those conversations. You’re not gonna get any better than sitting down talking to Tim Duncan and Pop and David Robinson.

So, the NBA and the players association just agreed to a new labor deal, and they left the age limit in place. How did you feel about that, as someone who came straight from high school?

Of course, I’m gonna be biased about it. I think they should allow high school players to come in. Leave it up to a team to draft these guys. But also have a rule where they can make themselves eligible and go back to college, though.

The new CBA also attempted to outlaw superteams, but the Suns are trying anyway, acquiring Bradley Beal to play with Durant and Booker. Is it going to work?

When you say work, are you saying win a championship?

Well, that’s the only standard there is when you have three stars and a payroll that big.

I don’t think they’re going to win a championship. I think they’re gonna be good, but I don’t think they’re gonna be great enough to win a championship. When you look at the three guys, it’s like, somebody is really going to have to sacrifice their game. And to me, I think Bradley Beal is going to have to sacrifice and be a defender. His role is gonna have to change. You’re not going to be that 29-30 point scorer no more. If you want to win, your focus should be on: I’m gonna be that guy that guards the best perimeter player, and then I’ll get my crumbs as I get them throughout the game. Because I know KD and Book, between the two, they can get you 65 to 70 points a night. Deandre Ayton can be a rim protector, he could be a rebounder and just be a flat out defender and run the floor and finish. I think if [Beal] can accept that role and they can find some good complementary pieces around their guys? Maybe they can win a championship, but that is a lot of asking for those guys.

As we speak, we’re waiting on potential blockbuster deals involving Damian Lillard and James Harden, who both made trade demands. We’ve seen a massive surge of forced trades in recent years. Any thoughts?

The evolution of the NBA. You get hit with some shit each and every year. Dame, to me, it was time. But if I’m Portland, I got to do what’s best for our franchise, as well. I’m not gonna give away you, Dame, with you just coming off averaging 32 points. You still got game. I gotta get someone back that’s All-Star caliber. And I don’t understand for the life of me what James Harden is doing. Why are you trying to get out?

He’s demanded a trade away from the reigning MVP!

That makes zero sense to me. Not only that, but I look at all the teammates he’s played with. James has probably played with more Hall of Famers than anybody in the league, and he doesn’t have a ring to show for it. I don’t know what he’s looking for. And maybe there’s some internal bullshit that is going on that we don’t know about. Because it doesn’t make any sense to me to leave the MVP, and the Eastern Conference, where you have a shot to at least play for a championship. It’s got to be something deeper than what you know. Get over it, man.

A couple last questions here. Do you want to say anything about the Jeff Teague thing? [Teague, on a recent podcast, said he wanted to fight McGrady during their one season together on the Atlanta Hawks, the last year of McGrady’s career, and that McGrady was “pissed” that Teague was the starting point guard.]

Nah. He got a new podcast, let him enjoy his time. If people believe that shit, then they really crazy. Everybody’s got a story to tell. It doesn’t make sense. Why would I be mad that he’s the point guard, when I don’t even play point guard? I’m on my way out of this league. I’m done. I’m not even the same player playing for the Hawks. Come on. I’m gonna let him have his time. And enjoy it, Teague.

Adam Silver keeps hinting that expansion is coming. Where would you put two new teams?

I’ve heard that for the last three years, that it was gonna be an expansion team out here in Las Vegas. I heard that LeBron James is going to be the owner of that. It’s his team. I heard it through league channels.

So where should the second one go?

Seattle, of course. And then I think you move New Orleans to the Eastern Conference. I love Seattle. I loved the city. And I loved the arena. I had some big games in KeyArena.

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