Tracy McGrady wishes he had stayed in Toronto

In the spring of 2000, all things seemed possible for the Toronto Raptors.

If the hope was genuine and the hype was mostly justified, it’s because the nascent NBA team had been graced with the presence of two giant talents. Vince Carter, the league’s reigning slam-dunk champion, was at the time one of the most popular basketball players on the planet. On his best nights, he was also one of the most unguardable. And then there was Tracy McGrady, still mostly a backup player in those days but already the subject of whispers that he might one day turn out to be better than Carter, his distant cousin.

That day, it turned out, didn’t arrive with McGrady residing in Toronto. With his three-year rookie contract expiring at that the end of a 1999-2000 season that saw the Raptors make the first post-season appearance in their then five-season history, McGrady was an impending free agent with no end of suitors, the citizens of Toronto among them. Fans carried signs that urged: “Come Back T-Mac!” Shirtless young men painted the same message across their chests. The Raptors set up an email address with which fans could flood their six-foot-eight hero with pleadings he stay.

He didn’t stay, of course. McGrady, who grew up in tiny Auburndale, Fla., fled to nearby Orlando only months after his 21st birthday, and his return trips to the Air Canada Centre would be accompanied by the vicious boos of a jilted populace. But more than 13 years later, in the days since he announced his retirement from the NBA last month at age 34, McGrady has been looking back fondly on his time in the NBA’s Canadian outpost.

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady was saying in a recent telephone interview from his home in the Houston area. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often. But if ‘if’ was a fifth, you know?”

Reported by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star