Six scoring titles. 18 all-star games. 14 All-NBA teams. Zero rings. These are the numbers for two great players of the last 20 years who retired within a week of one another. Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. The Answer vs. T-Mac. So, you have to ask, who had the better career?
The debate isn’t that close actually, it’s Iverson. His 2001 season alone exceeds any of McGrady’s individual accolades. He won MVP and the scoring title in ’01, and no one has done that since. He carried a Sixers team to the Finals, where HE, not his team, was able to steal a game against a hugely superior Lakers team. If basketball had pound-for-pound rankings like boxing, AI would have been number one during his whole prime. Even while Shaq and Kobe were winning titles with ease, or while Tim Duncan was quietly winning MVPs and rings himself in San Antonio, Iverson would consistently be referred to as the NBA’s marquee player.
Never had the NBA feared a 6’0″, 165-pound guard before Iverson. You bet swagger had something to do with it. Sure, Jordan and Magic were cool enough to bring the house down every night, but swag was never more obvious before than with Iverson. Covered in tattoos, with a headband, arm sleeve and finger bands to go with, he created the NBA-rap culture that has defined the league from a youth point of view.
But let’s take a look at McGrady anyway. An no, not the T-Mac that played for the Spurs last season. Known in Toronto as a project and also Vince Carter’s cousin, McGrady needed the change of scenery in Orlando to blossom. On mediocre Magic teams in 2003 and 2004, he won back-to-back scoring titles, including an impressive 32.1 in ’03.
The next and last happy chapter of McGrady’s career was in Houston. As the centerpiece of a trade for Stevie “Franchise” Francis, McGrady and Yao Ming teamed up to form a solid duo for the Rockets. These two had potential , but they never caught the needed breaks to make a playoff run. Injuries to both star players derailed Houston for years to the likes of the Spurs, Mavs and Suns. After bouncing around from New York to Detroit to Atlanta and then China, McGrady saw the Spurs as a chance to get that elusive ring. But, you know, then Ray Allen did his thing.
I look at McGrady’s career as an unlucky one. Injuries derailed the latter half of his career and he never really got the chance to win a ring while in his prime. But even if you look at his prime in a vacuum, would you have taken 2001-2007 T-Mac over Kobe from the same time? No. And would you take T-Mac over today’s best small forwards in LeBron, Durant and Melo? I don’t think so. But hey, I’d take him over his cousin Vince any day.
Now let’s close with Iverson. There have only been four better shooting guards in NBA history. Jordan, Kobe, West and Wade. That’s it. We’ll remember his baggy Sixers uniform, his uncanny ability to beat bigger men at their own game and most infamously, this speech. But remember this too: We will never see another Allen Iverson. Just ask MJ.