Sometimes Tracy McGrady wonders what it's like to have a real job. He admits he has no idea. Framed by tan curtains, he is lying on a burgundy-and-cream sofa in velour sweats, his neatly shorn head propped at a 45-degree angle on a brown cushion, his torso connected by spindly legs to his distant, stockinged feet. The effect of this scene, the languorous posture of a dauphin in repose, suggests magnificent confidence. "I would like to know how it feels to punch a clock, to balance a check," he says as he watches his own Adidas commercial on television, in which miniature soldiers, tanks and helicopters are overpowered by a dunking TMac. He shakes his head, slowly, gnawing for a moment on the nail of his right index finger. McGrady never had a paper route or bagged a grocery, and now, a centimillionaire at 25, he realizes he may have missed something. "I don't know what life is like, I don't know how regular people live," he says. "I just can never understand it. My first job was the NBA."
And the corollary, he insists, is that none of us can understand what it is like to be him.
Think of all the differences between Houston Rockets shooting guard Tracy McGrady and the rest of us. We have never been on TV; he is on all the time. We started out with a part-time job; he earned $245,000 on his first payday. We know how many bathrooms there are in our house; he does not. "Bathrooms?" he says. "Seven, eight, 10?" McGrady wonders how to bridge the gap between us and him, how to stay connected with the fans who watch games and buy sneakers, providing him with a revenue stream that makes the gulf more likely to widen.
"I'm just one guy," he says. "I can't bring the whole league closer to the fans. But I worry about that. Look, people have no idea what it feels like to be me, to be the guy who is blamed for the problems when the team is losing. I'm the guy making the most money, so I'm the guy everyone blames. What if people came to your job, if your company wasn't doing well, and said, 'You, you are the problem'? You would say, Me? It's a whole company, a whole team."
The tattoo on his right shoulder reads, AND EVERY TONGUE THAT SHALL RISE UP AGAINST THEE IN JUDGEMENT SHALL BE CONDEMNED--ISAIAH 54:17.
He is driving down Route 59 from the Toyota Center to his new house in the suburb of Sugar Land. McGrady is behind the wheel of his BMW 7 series sedan, the V12 purring and the interior smelling like peaches. There has always been a droop to his gaze, a sleepy sag below the eyes that gave him, even as a 18-year-old rookie, an air of weariness. Now, after eight seasons and three teams, he has grown into that heavy-lidded look, his experience having finally caught up with his facial expression.
He's talking on his cellphone, arranging for his fianc�e, ClaRenda Harris, and their one-year-old daughter, Layla, to fly in from North Carolina. The family has yet to spend a night in the 25,000-square-foot mansion he bought from former Houston Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds. He presses OFF, and another call comes in. "It's here? All right! What exit?"
He puts down his phone and says, "This is going to blow your mind." But he's talking to himself.
Five minutes later he emerges from the BMW and stretches in the bright sun. His usually unhurried walk is suddenly brisk. He enters the commuter airport terminal, passes a few surprised businessmen, and there, glistening on the tarmac, is a white Falcon 2000 with T1 MAC painted on the side. This is the first time he has seen his new jet. He stands for a moment on the runway, taking it in, shaking his head. He bounds up the stairs. The interior is champagne and cream; the walnut trim is buffed to an almost metallic sheen. He is greeted by his business manager, Gustavson Bass, who points McGrady to the VIP seat--the first seat on the right side of the cabin--and shows him the armrest controls for the sound system, DVD player and air conditioner.
The 6'8" McGrady sits down, sinking into the soft leather. He smiles and looks out the porthole.