Wazap sports fans! The interview with T-Mac came out yesterday at PDI’s 2bu section, so I can now share with you the full transcript below. The interview lasted a full 30 minutes, much longer than anyone expected, and Tracy even mentioned it in his blog here, when he referred to Coach Joel Banal, whom I did the interview with along with 3 of his sons, as the ‘Philippine version of Phil Jackson’.
Some errata: The article mentioned my name as Gabby Mercado, a common error. I also mentioned a video I saw of him at Hallstrengths.com, but the article failed to mention the website was his trainer’s, Wayne Hall. Finally, I would have wanted to ask him to name his First Five, plus Van Gundy’s ‘Rowdiest Fan’ contest, as requested by Benie of Hideyourmonkey, but I really ran out of time and 30 minutes was long as it is. Also, there are some minor details removed to save space, but for the most part it’s complete. Here it is!
Straight Up With T-Mac
Gabriel H. Mercado
Although there are lots of Tracy McGrady highlights, the most memorable one to me is when, still with previous team Orlando Magic in the 2002-03 season, they were visiting the New York Knicks. It happened to be Patrick Ewingâ€™s retirement night, and major NBA stars like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Julius Erving came to honor him as he retired his jersey.
At the sidelines, Jordan and Ewing were being interviewed when someone came up from behind the camera to shake their hands. It was Tracy, all 23 years of him, taking the time to pay his respects during a lull in the game. Both Jordan and Ewing were joking around with the interviewer when they stopped, acknowledged his presence, slapped high fives, and that was it.
While the moment was only fleeting, it was significant to me for three reasons. First, any one of the 10 players on the court could have done the same, but it was Tracy who took the time to do so. Second, it was a special night. The air was electric with many of the Greatest Players of the NBA under one roof to honor Ewing, and not just any roof, the Madison Square Garden, the established Mecca of Basketball. And Third â€“ those two reasons added up to one thing. Tracy wasnâ€™t just exchanging â€˜wassupsâ€™ with his buds, he was paying respects to the Greatest, because he is amongst the Greatest.
That quick exchange of pleasantries could be just like any bunch of guys saying hello like they would if they had met on the street. But for me, that was the moment I realized that T-Mac was more than just another spectacular athlete, of which there are many in the NBA. He had earned the respect of not only his peers, but the established Greats Of The Game. From that single scene, I realized he had truly arrived.
Flash to today, many highlights have come to prove that very point. He was the NBAâ€™s Scoring Champ in â€™02-â€™03, and became the youngest to average 30 pts. per game since the â€˜70s. Last June he was chosen by EASports, makers of the famous NBA Live video game, to grace their cover for 2007. This is a great honor amongst most professional athletes, with some considering it almost as valuable as an MVP award.
Twice named All NBA First Team in â€™01-â€™02 and â€™02-â€™03 seasons, he is a Five Time NBA All Star, and has patented a famous move where he bounces the ball off the backboard as if to pass, but instead catches it for a thunderous dunk, making even fellow All-Stars jaws drop. More recently he pulled off an amazing feat, scoring 13 points in 35 seconds against the San Antonio Spurs. Mostly using 3 pointers, and even including a rare 4 point play to boot, off a foul from fellow All Star Tim Duncan of all people.
Today he is in Manila, the third leg of a four country whirlwind tour for Adidas, as he promotes his new, individually numbered all white Limited Edition T-Mac Ones, of which there are only 1,650 pairs available. He is the first athlete to sign a lifetime contract with Adidas. I had my chance to interview the friendly and animated T-Mac along with the countryâ€™s winningest Coach Joel Banal, who brought along three of his four sons, very excited Juan (21), Miguel (20) and Gabriel (16).
TM – Lucky guy (referring to Coach Banal), four Boys! Who wins (when you play)?
Boys – Uhmm..
TM â€“ Well? Who wins?
Boys – I do. (Juan)
TM – Ok that’s what I wanna hear! Not like ‘Uhmm?’
Coach – I know that you me ntioned that ‘Impossible is Nothing’, and I know you’re gonna win an NBA Championship, I’d like to know how soon?
TM – Well, you’re a Coach, you know how hard it is. Well, you win a lot, so I don’t know. (Laughs). No, I’m sure you know how hard it is to win in the NBA. It’s really hard, you’ve got some great teams. Some teams just do a great job of putting the pieces together to create that chemistry. I think with me and Yao, those are the two most important pieces that you need. We have an inside / outside game. We just need to get that, you know, that other piece that can really get us over the hump. I think with the addition of Shane Battier (Guard, Houston), to our team, he’s a very smart, very blue collar basketball player, he’ll help us be more successful than we were, but I still think we have to do a little more in terms of depth. You look at teams like Dallas, they have Jerry Stackhouse coming off their bench. San Antonio Spurs are deep all around (the Boys chime in: Michael Finley!), yeah they have Michael Finley coming off their bench. So it is really tough to win in the NBA I must tell you, it is.
Coach – I don’t know how they do it in the NBA but my style is, I talk to my players, especially the big ones and I ask them what they think about the team. Do you do that?
TM – Yeah we do that of course. I think its important that Coach talks to the best players to see, you know, what can we do to make our team better. I think its important that you have a great relationship between the Coach and the best player. You know the Coach and best player usually have some run-ins. You’re both competitors, you both wanna win. But its all about getting on the same page and making your team better.
Coach – In connection with that, if you were asked, what do you think would you need to get closer to a championship?
TM – It is important that you reach out to your best player and let him have some sort of opinion on where the team’s future should be. Who is out there that I think can make our team better. That happens in the NBA, it really does. I know it happened with the Rockets when they asked me, because I have a great feel of talent. I recognize talent whenever I see it and they know that.
13 in 35
Boys – At home we always watch this clip of you against the San Antonio Spurs, where you made 13 points in less than a minute…
TM – I watch that all the time! (everyone laughs)
Boys – We watch it over and over again and there was this one player who was just stunned, after the game!
TM – Seriously I honestly watch that play over and over cause it was a really a moment… after I hit two of those threes, I knew we was pretty much gonna win the game. You know after I hit that four point play on Tim Duncan (everyone laughs), it was over. Our confidence was sky high. It was like we are gonna do this! So we just had to find some way to strategize to foul those guys without a lot of time coming off the clock, put them on the free throw line, and I was just throwing up threes. And it was crazy, I thought that after I hit my third three, I think we were up two. They inbound the ball, and the guy (Devin Brown) lost it. Nobody touched him. It was like.. that was really meant for us to win that game. Nobody touched this guy. He fell down, loses the ball and who the ball comes to? Me! You know so I’m thinking, I’m not gonna shoot a two, we’ve come this far, I did all this work, dammit we gonna win this game. That was my whole thing, we were gonna win this game. I put up a three and it went through the net, and it was crazy. It erupted in there, it was definitely a great feeling, guys.
GHM – It seemed extra difficult because you looked like you were moving to the left.
TM – Yeah I was drifting to the left (gestures)! But I was straight up, and I was looking for my spot on the court. And you’ll realize, a lot of great players, in a moment like that, and it’s a last second shot, they’re always looking down trying to find that spot on the court to knock down a jumper. If you go back to the playoffs last year, Kobe, when they played Phoenix, when he hit that game winner in LA, he got the ball off the tip and he was looking for a spot, dribbling to the right. He saw the spot, pulled up and knocked down that shot, so next time y’all see, when the game’s on the line, a player’s got the ball and he’s in a situation like that, look for him to look for that spot on the basketball court.
GHM – Was it a favorite spot?
TM – Yeah it was a favorite spot. A sweet spot. I was just looking for an opening.
Boys – I think the best shot was when Tim Duncan fouled you. That was it.
TM – You know what, Tim’s 7 foot I can’t believe I got that shot up over him and made it. That was crazy. All he had to do – he was trying to avoid me but all he had to do was just block the shot. He was right there cause I didn’t really get off the ground that far, so he could’ve blocked the shot.
Coach – After you made a couple I think they felt the pressure that they might lose the game.
TM – Yeah they were missing free throws, and I just seen it on their faces. And I tell you, our arena, there was so much energy in that building, and.. a lot of people had left.
GHM – Yeah. How do you feel about something like that? Whenever that happens.
TM – I told them, I looked at the camera and said you just missed a hell of a game.
GHM – So when you’re playing, how do you feel when you see the people filing out?
TM – You know what? They paid good money, they came to see a good game, and when they feel the game is pretty much out of reach they leave. It really doesn’t bother me. But that night? I’m sure it bothered them. (everyone laughs)
Coach – How often do you feel like you own the game?
TM – You know, I pick and choose. I like to see who’s rolling on my team. So what I do know, because I play with Yao, I like to get Yao going first cause I know I could get myself going at any time. So I like to get Yao going, and if I see him struggling then I like to take over. Sometimes I have shots, but I like to get my other guys involved because it’s tough when you have somebody demanding the ball all the time and you don’t really get that feel for the ball and when you shoot the ball, it kinda feels weird. So I like to move the ball around, get them confident, and when it’s my time, I take it over. Now with the Rockets, I don’t look to score 62 points (a record he set in Orlando). I don’t have to do that now. I just control the game, try to get us a win.
On Yao Ming, Learning to Play, and Baseball
Coach – When you were growing up did you have a hero in the NBA?
TM – Yeah I loved Magic Johnson.
Coach – In your career, when did you feel that you had established yourself?
TM – After my second year in Orlando, I really emerged to being a superstar in this league. Before the 13 at 35 I was most famous for putting the ball off the glass in the All Star game and that really put me on a pedestal.
Boys – How’s your relationship with Yao? Is there a language barrier?
TM – Yao speaks good English! Yao is a funny goofy guy. He’s real down to earth. I talk to him every now and then, check up on him make sure he’s doing ok, and we have a great relationship.
Coach – Have you learned Chinese?
TM – You know I learned Chinese, but I forgot (laughs). I went to Yao’s restaurant in Houston and there was one time, the two of us we ate together and he was teaching me how to use chopsticks and, I don’t know how to use those anymore so, it comes and it goes guys. (laughs)
Boys – What makes a good basketball player?
TM – First you have to respect the game. You have to love the game. You just have to have that passion for the game. You have to work hard. You can’t work hard, think you are good, and stop working hard. You have to constantly just never be satisfied, and believe in yourself that you can be great. So everytime I step on the court, it’s not an arrogant thing, it’s a confident thing. Everytime I step on the court, I feel that I’m the best. I feel that nobody is better than me. Other people might have their opinion, and I’m sure other guys feel the same way I do everytime they step on the court but you just gotta take that with you. If you don’t take that with you, I say to myself, (and I know) Kobe does too, if you don’t think you’re confident enough to play against us we gonna kill you. We gonna take you hard, and once we take you hard, you’re done. Cause your confidence is gonna be shot, and if you don’t have confidence, I don’t care how talented you are, you’re no good.
GHM – You know what, yesterday I was at the presscon and you said you loved baseball more. I, and your fans, really need to know why!
TM – And I will tell you why! I started playing baseball when I was five years old, up until my Junior year in High School. I never missed a year playing baseball. Only reason I started playing basketball, and you’re gonna get a kick out of this, is because everytime we went out to the playground, I had older cousins and all my friends were older than me, and they needed an extra guy to play. I never wanted to play cause I hated the sport, because I was a baseball and football player. I hated basketball, but they needed an extra guy, and I always used to get picked on. They’d smack me on the head and say ‘No you gonna play.’, so I was basically threatened to play basketball (everyone laughs)! It got to the point when I got tired of them picking on me. I continued to play, I picked up the sport, and by this time I was playing all three sports. I was great in all three sports. Got to high school, dominated each sport. I just started watching basketball, and I fell in love with it because I was getting good. We were playing against these older guys, and I was killing them. They hated it too. They’d say ‘How is he so good he don’t even like the sport?’ I was gifted, I was probably like 12-13 years old!
GHM – How tall were you?
TM – I wasn’t even six foot. That’s why I can handle the ball so well cause I didn’t get a growth spurt until my sophomore year in High School. So I used to kill those guys. So I said, maybe this is something that I really need to pick up and I just started taking it seriously, playing in High School..
GHM – So at that point, goodbye baseball?
TM – Goodbye Baseball. And football too, cause they didn’t want me to get hurt. So my Junior year in high school, I was playing baseball, and I can remember one particular game. I was pitching, and I had the Baltimore Orioles and a couple of scouts watching me. The next couple of days, I had a call from my High School baseball Coach and he said if you really take this seriously, you could become a professional baseball player.
GHM – So there was a point when you really had to make a choice.
TM – Yeah there was a point when I could’ve played baseball. So it was either baseball or basketball, and I chose basketball. That’s why I’m still holding on to the dream (of playing baseball).
Boys – Kinda like Michael Jordan huh?!
TM – No, I’ll be better than Mike!
Coach – Would you say that moving out of Toronto in the beginning was a big push in your career?
TM – You know what? I actually loved Toronto, I just felt like I couldn’t make a career there. It was in another country, it didn’t have anything to do with Vince (Carter). He was family, it didn’t have to do with him. I just felt like.. I didn’t want to move my family to Canada. I didn’t want my daughter going to school in Canada. It was a great experience for me, because I didn’t come to a young team. I came to a team where there’s guys like Charles Oakley, Dee Brown, Mugsy Bogues, Kevin Willis.. all these veteran players I played with. I just sat back and I learned from those guys how to handle the NBA life pretty much. And I also sat back and watched Vince do some amazing things. (everyone understands and smiles). That was fun for me, but I had to get out of there.
Coach – Have you really found a home in Houston?
TM – Yeah. I hope to end my career in Houston with Yao, myself, and bring a championship.
Coach – Because we really really loved watching you and Vince together during the Toronto days. As a Coach I really believe in teamwork. What better teamwork than cousins right?
TM – (laughs) Yeah. It was a great two years, but my teammate now Yao Ming, is definitely a one-two knockout punch.
GHM – I saw your video at Hallstrengths.com, where you were working out? You were the voiceover, and you were saying how people were doubting your motivation, specifically your first year Coach. Could you tell us about that?
TM – Ah yeah you saw that? That was cool. Hmm… Yeah he was a.. (takes a few seconds to answer) uhmmm.. he was a nobody. He was a Coachâ€¦ no I’m not even gonna say he was a Coach. I don’t know what he was! He was a friend of Isiah Thomas, he just got lucky and got the job. He didn’t know what he was doing, he didn’t know what he was talking about obviously because of what I’ve accomplished in my career. So yeah he criticized me for being lazy, didn’t work, don’t love the game, and I’ll be out of the league in three years.
GHM – Wow.
TM – Yeah, yeah, and you know, as an 18 year old, I’m like ‘Dang, that kinda hurts!’ But, what I did was use it as motivation, and now, this guy can’t look at me in the face. Today, he can’t look at me face to face because he said those things. And right now he’s like the assistant Coach of the New Orleans Hornets, and everytime I face them (gestures a mean look), you know what time it is, right?
GHM – Would you say that was one your obstacles?
TM – Yes, definitely those was one of my obstacles. I tried to overcome that because back home, when you say something like that, and it gets out on the media, 70-80% of people believe that, cause this is coming from my Coach! I’m 18 years old, and it was hard to really show what I was really about and what type of player I was gonna be. So I look back now and I’m kinda glad that he did say that cause it really motivated me. Cause look at me now.
On Coach Van Gundy, Jumping to the Pros and his Workout
Coach – How’s Jeff Van Gundy (Coach of the Houston Rockets) as a Coach?
TM – Jeff is real demanding as far as defense, and he’s real precise. When we’re doing defensive drills, if you’re not in a certain spot, we won’t start. We have to start over. Even on offense. It could be not even a yard, like a foot! But he’s also a great motivator. All the guys love him. I love him. All of my Coaches had been first year Coaches. The guy that criticized me, Coach Carter who took over at Toronto, and Doc Rivers from Orlando was a first year Coach. Johnny Davis was a first year Coach. So I really learned a lot from Jeff Van Gundy because he’s taken the New York Knicks to the finals. He’s been there, he’s known as one of the great Coaches in the league so I learned a lot.
Boys – How hard was the jump from High School to the pros. Do you think that if the opportunity presents itself to any high school student would you suggest he jump to the pros, or try college for a while?
TM – You know, I’m a real gifted player. I have a very rare talent. Kobe is a rare talent. LeBron is a rare talent. There’s more guys that try to make the jump, but was unsuccessful. So no, I don’t give them advice to make the jump cause it’s hard. It’s really hard. Physically, mentally, you have to be tough. Cause when you’re considered an NBA prospect out of High School, obviously, you’re the man in your High School team. So you never come out of the game, you’re taking all the shots, you’re probably averaging 30 points at a High School level, and when you get to the NBA, you might not play. And mentally, you’re like ‘Why did you draft me for? You’re not gonna play me!’, so you’re sitting on the bench, losing confidence in yourself cause they feel you don’t have the ability to play yet, and mentally you could lose your confidence.
GHM – You see that in other young players?
TM – Of course. I see that, and that’s why they’re not in the league now. Like I said the guys I just named are very rare talents.
GHM – Let’s talk about Adidas. Why did it take all this time for you to make another shoe?
TM – Why only now? Well everytime I go to Asia, I bring a gift, and it’s always limited. So we want to bring back my TMac Ones, which was six years ago, so we made a limited edition 1,650 pairs and launch it over here, and that’s my gift to Asia.
GHM – You never thought about launching your own brand?
TM – No, whatever I do, the choices I make is gonna be a mutual decision between myself and Adidas to make sure that it’s something we both can gain from.
GHM – How much has Adidas helped you?
TM – Oh gosh. I have a lifetime contract, and the relationship that we’ve had is great. There’s definitely loyalty here, we care for one another we treat one another with respect. I helped them and they helped me. Financially I’m stable, they’ve given me the right kind of deal, so this is a great marraige.
Boys – As a player, what kind of extra work do you do? How many shots do you take?
TM – I really don’t have the exact numbers, but when I’m working out on the gym, I probably spend 1 to 1.5 hours shooting and drilling. I never play pick up ball after the season. I always do individual work outs, just myself and the trainer, working on my crossover, all kinds of moves, working on the post, working on shooting off the dribble. Working on spin moves. On shooting threes. Working on curls, on fades, put myself in a situation where there’s 3 seconds on the clock. I do all that stuff.
GHM – You would recommend not playing pick up ball for other players?
TM – Well, to each his own. Some guys do, but I think in order to improve individual skills, you have to do individual workouts. You’re not gonna improve on just playing pick up ball. How many shots are you gonna get up playing pick up ball? How many moves? I like to do it with my trainer, we have all the time in the world, just me touching, shooting the ball and I can get up as many shots I like. Sometimes I shoot the ball so much to where I get cramps in my fingers and my arms.
GHM – Tracy I’ll ask you a bunch of questions, and answer with the first thought that comes into your head ok? What’s your favorite arena to play in, other than in Houston.
TM – Madison Square Garden, in New York.
GHM – Escalade or Range Rover?
TM – Range Rover.
GHM – Biggest trash talker?
TM – Uhhh, player?
GHM – Yeah. You mean there are non-players who talk trash to you?
TM – Yeah, you got a guy like Spike Lee, he’s on the side. But no I really can’t think of anyone that’s talking smack. I guess Payton’s one of them.
GHM – He looks like he talks a lot.
TM – Yeah.
GHM – Sweetest shooter?
TM – Ray Allen.
GHM – Jay-Z or Snoop?
TM – Jay. All day.
Boys – Is it because of Beyonce?
TM – (Laughs)
GHM – Best Crossover?
TM – Best crossover? AI (Allen Iverson). He doesn’t use it anymore though.
GHM – Yeah why’d you think?
TM – I dunno. But back in his younger days, well he’s still young, you guys saw when he put it on Jordan right? (everyone nods in agreement).
GHM – Speediest player.
TM – AI.
GHM – Hardest to guard?
TM – Kobe.
GHM – Noisiest Arena?
TM – Arco.
GHM – Strongest player?
TM – Ron Artest.
GHM – Friendliest player? The guy that everyone gets along with?
TM – Shaq.
GHM – Most memorable dunk?
TM – Uhhhh….hhhmm… (scratches his chin)
Boys – over Shawn Bradley!
TM – Well there you go. Over Shawn Bradley.
GHM – Best basketball movie. Are you a big movie guy?
TM – Yeah. Glory Road.
GHM – Baseball movie?
TM – uhmmm. Bad News Bears. Hey it’s about baseball.
GHM – If you were a fan, who’d you cheer other than the Rockets?
TM – Oh I’m a big fan of DWade, so Miami.