I came across the above video late last night while digging through my youtube favorites. This beautiful compilation is the first in a series of three entitled ‘The Special Two’ documenting Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady’s respective careers before and shortly after their ‘triumphant’ union with the Houston Rockets.
Juxtaposed with the reality of our times, the entire presentation, complete with elegant soundtrack, suffices to evoke emotion from even the most jaded amongst us, scarred from a recent past of false promises and unfulfilled potential.
To feel our pain requires revisiting the excitement of 2004; diving back to those hot summer days when each morsel of news more greatly aroused an already insatiable appetite for the unthinkable. These were the days when for Yao there was hope; a belief that his problems were rooted only in a backcourt unwilling or unable to share. He would mature with age and follow along that projected path to greatness which had been laid before him even prior to his reception.
Could it really be that this gargantuan superhuman was mere weeks, mere days or even moments from joining forces with the league’s most enticing prodigy? McGrady combined the athletic dynamism that epitomized the pride of his generation with the refined grace so precious few could possess. When Pat Riley anticipated a day when 6’9 specimens ruled in quintet, it was Tracy McGrady of whom he had probably dreamt as paragon of his vision.
McGrady, 25. Yao, 24. A decade of dominance ahead. Did we dare to imagine the possibilities? Here was the league’s scoring champ, equally gifted in the duty of distributing, personally hand-picking his career companion. Here was the league’s most immovable force, selfless to a fault, finally joined by a benevolent ally. What could possibly stand in the face of their shared destiny? They had youth, unrivaled talent, and a strong sense of camaraderie which made their bond appear unbreakable.
They dazzled us for that lone second half of 2004-2005. The team exploded after Jeff Van Gundy overhauled the offense, using Yao as the end-result of each play rather than its initial facilitator. McGrady was handed the proverbial keys, afforded a lenient leash through which he delivered, capturing center stage in his brilliant exhibition against Dallas. We were teased by glimpses of future dominance in the form of a devastating pick-and-roll unleashed in Game 5, something mysteriously never seen again. Alas, the Rockets were defeated but what really stood in their way? With merely a band of aging journeymen, they had appeared immortal for extended stretches, armed with what had (contrary to conventional wisdom) become a fluid offense and a stingy, suffocating defensive approach. The heavy lifting had been done. The foundation was set. A few choice free agents and the crown would be theirs, rightfully back in its place with its sisters earned through the sweat poured on the floors of The Summit so many years before.
The cruel irony lies in the obvious; those damning truths which we so readily expelled from our minds in heedless bliss. Yao was a giant and thus vulnerable to afflictions of the foot. McGrady was a freak; a walking stick with an odd curvature in his back which had already begun taking its toll.
No more of this tale need be mentioned as their story is well known. While they still remain Houston Rockets, the remembrance of ‘The Special Two’ will be cause for mourn in perpetuum. Such a cruel twist of fate cannot so easily be forgotten.