As the summer passed, everything I witnessed during the 2013 NBA Finals blurred into one colorful, eclectic memory. Tony Parker chewing up 23.999997 seconds of the shot clock before clinching Game 1 with an outrageous leaner. Spurs fans clogging downtown San Antonio after Game 5, relentlessly honking their horns and creating a festive gridlock. LeBron's headband getting symbolically knocked off in the second half of Game 6, right before he summoned his immense powers to save Miami's season. Ray Allen making the single greatest shot I've ever seen in person to steal San Antonio's championship away. Tim Duncan bent over in the last minute of Game 7, his hands pushing against his knees, totally distressed, unable to fathom how he missed a game-saving bunny that he's probably made a million times.
Somewhere in that Finals memory morass sits Tracy McGrady, once considered the de facto equal of Kobe Bryant … only now, he was toiling away as an overqualified benchwarmer for San Antonio. The role was so far beneath him, nobody even knew how to fully process it. This was like Gene Hackman slumming it as an uncredited policeman in Lincoln. Poor McGrady had no impact on the series, but one T-Mac moment stood out for me. About 75 minutes before Game 4 in San Antonio, I was standing on the court waiting for Duncan to warm up — one of my favorite Finals moments, if only because everything that has happened in Duncan's extraordinary career makes sense after you've seen him warm up. It's like what Glenn Frey revealed about the secret of Jackson Browne's brilliance in the Eagles documentary.
Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.
Duncan only takes shots that he plans on using in games. No joking around, no casual conversing, no stopping, no smiling. Just an aging artist honing his craft. It's beautiful to watch. On this night, Duncan hadn't emerged from the locker room yet. So I started watching McGrady — a future Hall of Famer like Duncan, only someone who had never even won a playoff series until he joined San Antonio in April. I was standing there wearing a suit and tie, my face covered in makeup. McGrady was wearing practice clothes, halfheartedly hoisting 3s with a half-smile spread across on his face. I knew he wasn't playing that night unless they were up 20 or down 20. So did he. I knew his career had been over for a while. So did he. Only he kept jacking up those 3s, and he kept kind of smiling, and the moment meant nothing and everything.