In the summer of 2000, after three successful seasons with the Toronto Raptors, free-agent forward Tracy McGrady signed a max-level contract. It was an unfortunate turn of events for the Raptors, but also a reasonable one. While McGrady was considered one of the most talented and most versatile young wings in the NBA at just 21 years old, he was coming off a season in which he'd averaged just 15.4 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting as second option to intergalactic superstar Vince Carter. The Raptors were understandably sad to see McGrady go, but giving him that much money represented a significant gamble, and the Raptors just didn't have room to pay both McGrady and Carter that sort of scratch. So they chose the guy who looked like he'd be one of the league's top players for another decade.
Unfortunately, the guy they let go ended up being that player. Carter, as most fans know, turned out not to be much of a leader and left Toronto under pretty awful circumstances. The Raptors ended up in bad shape and haven't really recovered since. That said, the decision at the time made complete sense, and it's tough to blame McGrady for taking the chance to become a superstar in Orlando.
Still, Toronto fans haven't forgotten that he chose another franchise. Nearly 12 years later, they're still booing him when he comes to town, including during Tuesday night's 100-77 loss to McGrady's Atlanta Hawks. Mike Ganter weighed in on the situation in the Toronto Sun (via TrueHoop):
Toronto sports fans' fascination with booing former players returning in opposing jerseys is well documented. And some of it is well deserved. But there comes a point where the vast majority of the crowd have no idea why they're evening booing a guy.
Coming out of halftime, one of McGrady's contemporaries on press row was giving him the gears about being the old man.
McGrady looked over and smiled before saying, "Man, every time I come back here I feel young again." He then went out and proved it finishing the night with 15 points. McGrady was a young man in a bad situation in his Toronto days. Let it go.
Boos for opposing players are often irrational, but this McGrady situation makes the Toronto fans look a little ridiculous. It's one thing to boo a former player who really did a city wrong, or a sorely missed star. But McGrady's now playing for his fifth team since leaving Toronto, and he's only a role player on a middling playoff team in the East. He didn't leave Toronto under the most ideal circumstances, but he's nowhere close to Carter on the city's hate list. Is it really necessary to stay mad at him so many years later?
Apparently so, because it continues. The question to ask is why. The most likely answer, it seems, is that the Raptors have had such a bad time recovering from the Carter/McGrady era that T-Mac's mere presence in the city still hurts. That was a great time for the franchise, one full of hope, and the way it ended killed all those good feelings. Even if he wasn't the primary reason for the bad feelings, he's still associated with them.
We can only hope that, after McGrady retires, he reaches some sort of understanding with Toronto fans. There's no reason for this bad blood to persist much longer.