Grumpy Old Men

29 12 2009

The NBA season is just two months old and already we’ve been subjected to a pair of grumpy former superstars. Who would’ve thought Shaq, despite playing a career-low 23 minutes per night, wouldn’t be one of them?

Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, a combined 64 years of age with 27 NBA seasons, 6 scoring titles and 0 NBA championships, have gone about their separate battles the same way — by leaving their teams.

Iverson left the Memphis Grizzlies because he was irritated at coming off the pine even though he had played just three games. The fact that he was returning from a hamstring injury that can become lingering for even the Cal Ripkin of players didn’t seem to matter to him. Instead of maturely working out the circumstances with the team, he stormed away. Then he re-signed with his old 76ers, who were desperate for any kind of attention boost.

McGrady left the Houston Rockets because they wouldn’t promise to increase his minutes AFTER he pigeon-holed them by gabbing to the media that he expected more minutes in his comeback from microfracture surgery on his right knee. Mind you, it’s the surgery he underwent last February allegedly behind the team’s back and just before the trade deadline, sapping the Rockets’ ability to move him and the $20 million-plus per year contract that’s almost as bloated as his ego. Media reports say the sides mutually agreed to part ways and that T-Mac even was willing to stay. Yet he still will leave the team, which is an odd move from a guy who just last week described himself as a “hungry” player. Maybe he was insinuating selective hunger.

While I didn’t blame Iverson entirely for attempting to change his future, I can’t stop thinking about what a wimp McGrady is. I’m confident that viewpoint is shared by many other hard-core NBA fans.

Here’s the difference between the two: Iverson is a known “tough” guy who, despite his obvious on-court selfishness, has busted his ass for most of his NBA career. He has a reputation for being a gamer. Iverson sparked the 76ers to a NBA Finals appearance.

Meanwhile, the first time one of McGrady’s eight playoff teams made it past the first round was last year — when he was sitting on the bench with a microfracture’d right knee. McGrady has lazy body language and hasn’t seemed all that willing to gut himself through injuries during his career. He famously boasted in 2003 that the Magic, with a 3-1 lead over the Pistons in the first round, were already looking forward to the next series. The Pistons won the next three games and T-Mac wore egg on his face.

This is what hustle and the appearance — if not the actual act — of hard play can earn an athlete. Iverson is forgiven for his selfish acts out of pity. I want to see AI succeed because I feel like he’s been knocked down so much during his career, which is technically true according to his style of play.

McGrady, on the other hand, can rot. He has all the talent in the world but has never seemed convinced that he should utilize all of it. He holds himself back by not backing up his words.

I once thought he was a weenie because I read in a magazine that he couldn’t even bench the plates (135 pounds) when he entered the NBA as a scrawny 18-year-old. Now, I’ve taken a different perspective. It’s not about what he can or can’t do externally. For T-Mac, his downfall is driven by his apathy.

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