"We're actually saving money by having this plane," Bass explains. "With the depreciation schedule and being able to lease it out, this will pay for itself."
McGrady isn't listening. He is already out of his seat and down the gangway. At the bottom of the stairs he turns around and takes in the plane once more. Then he is gone.
"I'm the first one," he says, back in the car. "No NBA player ever had his own jet."
Won't this set off a frenzied plane-buying competition among elite players?
"All right," he says with a laugh. "Let them bring it."
That gulf between player and fan has never seemed so unbridgeable.
"Oh, it's a business, it's a business," McGrady says of the NBA. As he's driving, he thinks back on his career, on his rookie season alone in that Toronto apartment during a frigid Canadian winter, barely playing for a Raptors team that won 16 games. A year earlier he had been the star at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., where he would walk by the Lexus dealership in Raleigh and wave to the pretty salesgirl, swearing that he was someday going to own that silver Lexus Landcruiser and maybe even marry that girl. (He bought that car. He is engaged to that girl.) From the security of high school, with games in which he took a seat in the fourth quarter because he had given his team such a huge lead, he went suddenly to riding the pine in Toronto behind Reggie Slater.
And that was when he first heard it: Tracy is lazy, Tracy is unfocused. Initially, coach Butch Carter interpreted his laid-back style as a lack of commitment. But his teammates didn't mistake impassiveness for indifference. "I saw this years ago," says Vince Carter. "We all knew: Look at this guy. He can play." In McGrady's third season he averaged 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, enticing the Orlando Magic into working a sign-and-trade deal and assuming his sevenyear, $93 million contract. Living just 40 minutes from his hometown of Auburndale, the setup was perfect; surely he and Grant Hill would contend for an NBA title. "That was as happy as he ever was, right then," says boyhood friend Obie McDowell. "He was on his way to a happy ending."
Hill's perennially injured left ankle drastically changed the script. Without him McGrady suffered through three straight opening-round playoff exits, but he flourished as a one-man attack. His fadeaway jumper became one of the most effective weapons in the league, earning him scoring titles in 2003 and '04. Those numbers, however, couldn't buoy the team, which started last season 1-19. Now the same laid-back attitude that had put off the coaching staff in Toronto was fueling the perception in Orlando of McGrady as a spoiled superstar. He became the lightning rod for the fans' frustration. "With all the talent, all the notoriety that comes with being the Man, there comes criticism," says Hill. "What great player hasn't been criticized?"
McGrady further alienated fans by sulking, becoming a turnstile on defense and standing by the scorer's table with his arms folded while his teammates huddled during timeouts. "Last year was a difficult season for him personally," says Magic coach Johnny Davis. "He seemed to withdraw. You always like for things to end on a positive note, but it just didn't happen that way here."