Listen to Jeff Van Gundy.
The former NBA coach and current ESPN color analyst is at a loss for hair, but his supply of hot knowledge exceeds that of yours, mine and probably your neighbor’s too. So when he calls the recently retired Tracy McGrady an all-time great, accept what he’s saying as fact.
While on a phone interview, Van Gundy, who coached McGrady with the Houston Rockets, designated the retiree one of the best to ever play the game, as quoted by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star (h/t hoopshype.com):
“At his peak, I defy anybody that played against him, coached against him, played with him or coached with him, to tell me he wasn’t an all-time great,” Jeff Van Gundy, who coached McGrady in Houston, said in a phone interview. “People are going to look at the lack of playoff success and say, ‘He wasn’t a winner.’ But so much of whether you win or lose in the playoffs is based on who you play with, who you play against, and health.”
So. Much. Truth.
Too much emphasis is placed on championships these days, like rings are the be-all, end-all of player reputations. Titles are nice, but they don’t make the player. Not exclusively. Michael Jordan still would’ve been great had he not won six titles; Kobe Bryant would still be great if he didn’t have five of his own; LeBron James—yes, even him—would still be the best player in the NBA if he didn’t have two.
Rings are a means to enhance a players legacy, not define it outright. Reputations can be ruined by a failure to procure some shiny hardware, but only within a certain scope. Once more, they’re not everything.
And when looked at through that lens, McGrady is indeed an all-time great. He has no ring to his name and injuries derailed his production much sooner than it should’ve, but he’s still great; he’s still a future Hall of Famer.
Some will take issue to that, like McGrady shouldn’t be elected into The Hall. But he’s going to be. And he should be. Because he’s great.
Those who have a problem with T-Mac earning such an honor, really have a problem with how we definite greatness in today’s NBA. To their credit, they have a case. A superfluous amount of players are considered “great” or “stars” that it can be pretty redundant. Overuse of such terms diminishes their value considerably. Tossing them around like they mean nothing, makes them mean nothing.
Does that tarnish McGrady’s legacy in any way? It could, depending on who you compare him too. It does not, however, completely disqualify his status as one of the league’s best ever. I’m not calling him Jordan or saying he’s a top-25 player ever. Nor am I suggesting that the absence of a championship means absolutely nothing. There is something to be said about the void left on his fingers.
All I’m saying, all Van Gundy is saying is that at his peak, McGrady was one of the greatest. That’s how we’ll remember him. That will be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. That will immortalize his greatness.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.