The two will remain forever linked in many ways. They had unmatched scoring prowess. They made the successful leap from high school to the NBA. They were considered some of the top players of their generations.
Yet, as Tracy McGrady recently announced his retirement, he can’t help but wonder how his career might have turned out had he literally worn Kobe Bryant’s shoes.
See, McGrady provided enough of a dazzling array of scoring moves to collect two NBA scoring titles (2003,2004) and seven All-Star appearances. Bryant has done so too, scoring a career-high 81 points in a game and climbing to fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But McGrady ends his 16-year NBA career with zero league championships, while Bryant has five rings (and perhaps more before he hangs it up).
What would have happened had McGrady played with a more successful franchise with the Lakers and paired with a dominant center in the form of Shaquille O’Neal?
“We would have had a great run,” McGrady told FOX Sports Radio’s Jay Mohr Sports on Wednesday. “I don’t know how many but, I know it would have never ended like it did with he and Kobe. I have a great relationship with Shaq. We would have never clashed heads like that. Two Alpha dogs going at there will always be (something going on).”
Bryant and O’Neal won three NBA championships together. But the Lakers eventually traded O’Neal in 2004 after the team fell in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons and gave signals to Bryant that they considered him more part of their future. O’Neal loathed when Bryant’s high-volume shooting came at the expense of receiving the ball inside. Bryant expressed annoyance when O’Neal routinely arrived to training camp out of shape. Both had a dominant on-court mindset, but off the court O’Neal remained more playful while Bryant stayed more serious. Of course, there were personal issues, too.
Would McGrady have avoided such issues? Perhaps. Still, Bryant managed to overcome injuries much better than McGrady did. Even with their contentious relationship, Bryant and O’Neal still managed to co-exist enough to dominate for most of the time they played together.
Still, upon reflecting on his career and fielding a fair share of Kobe-related questions, McGrady still can’t help but wonder what if.
“Numbers don’t lie. I was in the conversation of being one of the best in the league,” McGrady said. “Whether I was better than Kobe, or he was better than me … I was in the conversation and it didn’t matter at the time. I was playing at a high level and was very confident when I was on the court.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org