Beyond the front gate, which is inscribed with a large PS, is a modern five-bedroom house on a lake. Across the water are the homes of Ken Griffey Jr., Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods. The property's new owner, Tracy McGrady, sprawls in an oversized chair in the basement, manipulating the controls of an NFL video game with his thumbs. "You want to see the house?" he asks.
He first looked at the five-acre Orlando spread in July, nine months after the private jet carrying Payne Stewart and five others crashed on a farm in South Dakota. Payne's widow, Tracey, led McGrady from room to room. The huge walk-in closets were layered with Payne's outfits. "All his hats, all his golf clothes—what do you call those short pants he used to wear?" McGrady says. An artificial turf putting green was in the utility room alongside the water heater; a mirrored exercise salon was in the basement. Behind a large painting at the end of an upstairs hall was a tall safe inscribed FORT KNOX/CUSTOM BUILT FOR PAYNE AND TRACEY STEWART.
"At the closing it was really emotional," says McGrady, who paid $6.6 million for the house and moved in in September. "His wife started tearing up. I think that's why she wanted to sell it, because the memories would have been too hard for her."
The walls have been redecorated with African art, and McGrady says he has big plans for the front garden. Most of all, he must do something about the six glass cabinets built into the walls near the front parlor. "These were full of his trophies," McGrady says. "I don't know too much about golf, but Payne Stewart was one of the names I'd heard. He had a lot of trophies."
The cabinets are bare now. Despite all the sights inside and outside the house—the new paintings and sculptures, the lush Florida gardens, the lake through the living room window like a Thomas McKnight scene—the new proprietor is crouching in front of the empty trophy cases, looking through his own ghostly image in the glass. "I'm about to start on that," he says.
Payne Stewart's old house belongs to a 21-year-old Orlando Magic swingman who has never gone to college, never made an NBA All-Star team, never won a playoff game, never even been in a starting lineup for an entire season. He grew up in a three-bedroom house with his mother and grandmother just 40 minutes southwest of Orlando, in Auburndale, Fla. Only four years ago, as a junior at Auburndale High, he was suspended from the basketball team for mouthing off to a teacher.
"It's blind faith," concedes coach Doc Rivers of the Magic's decision last summer to pay the 6'8", 210-pound McGrady $93 million over seven years. "If he begins to meet his potential in a year or two, we can be a great basketball team. We think he can be a scoring version of Scottie Pippen—and Scottie is a pretty good scorer."
After spending his senior season at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., a prep school with a powerhouse basketball team, McGrady was the ninth pick in the 1997 draft. His first job was mainly to sit on the bench of the Toronto Raptors. "You could see he was so young just by his body language," says guard Dee Brown, who played 2� seasons with McGrady in Toronto and also came to Orlando as a free agent. "Every time he would make a mistake, he would look straight to the bench. I told him, 'Don't do that. It makes it look like you're expecting to come out.' "
McGrady was an 18-year-old millionaire orphan placed in a dysfunctional home. The Raptors had fallen into disarray when executive vice president and part owner Isiah Thomas resigned 10 games into the 1997-98 season after a falling out with his fellow owners. Coach Darrell Walker was handling McGrady in the traditional rookie way, like a raw recruit. "You could tell Tracy was wondering if he should have gone to college first," Brown says.
One person who could relate was Los Angeles Lakers swingman Kobe Bryant. At the time Bryant was 19 and in his second year with the Lakers, but he spoke with the authority of an older brother. "I used to talk to Kobe a lot," McGrady says. "He'd say, 'Don't lose your confidence. When you get a chance to play, show some sign you can do it on this level.' He said my time would come."