Tracy McGrady officially announced his retirement from the NBA today after parts of 16 seasons in the Association, and while only three of those years were spent in Toronto, we’d be remiss as a Raptors-related blog if we didn’t spend at least a few words on T-Mac’s legacy here.

There are many Raptors fans who look back at Tracy McGrady as one of their all-time favourites, some who loathe him for being another in a long list of “ones who got away,” and even a chunk of younger fans who don’t have a single memory of McGrady in Raptors purple.

Either way, here’s a quick reminder…

Taken out of Mount Zion Christian Academy with the ninth overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, 18-year-old Tracy McGrady became just the fourth ever draft selection of the Toronto Raptors. Eventually paired with (distant) cousin Vince Carter, McGrady was one of the faces of the Raptors’ exciting ‘up and coming’ years, a time when the team looked like a sure force to be reckoned with in the not so distant future and it was legitimately “cool” to be a Raptors fan, whether you were from Canada or not.

T-Mac often played Robin to Carter’s Batman, but he was adored by the team’s most passionate fans and in his third and final season here, helped the Raptors qualify for the post-season for the first time in franchise history. Not to mention, despite the ludicrous Darrell Walker comments and the vitriol McGrady received for leaving, he was pretty darn good in those three seasons.

In his first three NBA campaigns, all with the Raptors, McGrady averaged 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals in just 24 minutes per game. His per-36-minute numbers were excellent. His defence was game changing. His 2000 dunk contest performance, while overshadowed as always by Carter’s, was memorable in its own right.

He posted a combined Player Efficiency Rating of 19.5 over those three seasons. He recorded 20 double-doubles. He posted 25 points and 10 rebounds in his and the franchise’s playoff debut.

And he did it all before his 21st birthday. For comparison’s sake, Vince Carter didn’t play his first career NBA game until he was 22-years-old.

Just think about that the next time you make the argument that McGrady was holding something back in Toronto and you cite his explosion the following season in Orlando as evidence.

He wasn’t holding anything back. As a Raptor, he provided plenty of evidence to suggest that he was a dynamic two-way star in the making. It’s just that 21-year-olds who show as much ability as McGrady did in his first three seasons and are then given the reins to an offence, and a franchise for that matter, are pretty safe bets to burst onto the scene once given said opportunity.

It’s also hard to fault him for leaving. Sure, we can ridicule the decision as foolish in hindsight given that the Raptors likely would have been an Eastern Conference contender for years to come had he stayed, but at the time, it was a 21-year-old free agent (Teams didn’t have as much long-term control over young players at the time) deciding to go play in his hometown. In Florida. With Grant Hill in his prime.

I’m sure all of you who criticized McGrady’s loyalty would be just as appalled if Andrew Wiggins or another Canadian star decided to leave his original team for Toronto’s greener pastures, right?

He may have welcomed the boos and publicly admitted being fueled by the Air Canada Centre jeers on numerous occasions, but he also never put down the city or the organization after leaving, and he reminded us about that not too long ago while simultaneously throwing Chris Bosh under the bus in this classic soundbite:

At the end of the day, I simply salute you on your potential Hall of Fame career, Tracy.

I’ll always be disappointed in the fact you left us just before your peak years, and I’ll always wonder “what if?” just as you surely will, but as a Raptors fan who hasn’t been given much to cheer about over the last 18 years, I’m also proud to say that you started that memorable career in Toronto.

So here’s to T-Mac. He may not have been around long enough to become a certified Toronto hero, but he dazzled us for three years and was never deserving of the villain role, either.


UPDATE: On Wednesday, McGrady sent out personalized thank yous to the three cities (Toronto, Orlando and Houston) where he spent the majority of his career. Here’s his Toronto tweet: