Imagine Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson playing for the same team. The two had 18 combined All-Star appearances, six scoring titles, and two brilliant Hall-of-Fame careers. “T-Mac” and “A.I.” were closer to playing with each other than you might think. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a popular ESPN personality, McGrady probably would’ve been traded to the 76ers in 1999.
McGrady and Iverson might’ve been the two best pure scorers of the early 2000s. They accomplished so much in their NBA careers, and it culminated in both players reaching the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only thing missing from both resumes is an NBA title. McGrady and Iverson could have won one together in Philadelphia had it not been for Stephen A. Smith.
How Stephen A. Smith stopped a Tracy McGrady-Sixers trade
In 1999, Allen Iverson led the league in scoring and Tracy McGrady was set to become a free agent. McGrady hadn’t popped as a superstar yet, but he was about to the next season.
76ers GM Billy King had extensive conversations with the Raptors about a McGrady-Larry Hughes trade. Hughes was coming off a promising rookie season, and Toronto saw something in him. The Raptors even agreed to add a first-round pick in the deal.
King said the two teams had a deal in place and were about to move forward, but the next day Stephen A. Smith broke the details of the trade. Smith was covering the Sixers for the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. After the Raptors saw the trade leaked, they immediately backed out of the deal.
Smith recently admitted to his role in the story on Twitter last week. What could’ve been one of the greatest backcourts ever was derailed just like that, all because of First Take’s king debater.
Stephen A. Smith’s story that made the Raptors back out of the deal
There is still an online record of Smith’s 1999 story for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Smith was the only reporter to break the news, but that’s all it took for Toronto to rethink the decision.
“76ers’ coach Larry Brown said he isn’t shopping second-year guard Larry Hughes, but it certainly seems that way,” Smith wrote in 1999. “With Tracy McGrady a free agent this summer, the Toronto Raptors dangled their third-year forward to the Sixers for Hughes a little more than a week ago. The Sixers, surprisingly, made the talks more intriguing by asking for a first-round pick with McGrady. The Raptors are presently contemplating the offer.”
The leak was enough for Toronto to halt the trade because of the backlash.
McGrady and Iverson could’ve been the best backcourt in NBA history
After the trade fell through, McGrady signed with the Orlando Magic, and the next season turned out to be his breakout year. McGrady led the Magic in scoring at 26.8 points per game and finished second on the team in rebounding at 7.5 per game. “T-Mac” was just 21 at the time.
The 2000-01 season was McGrady’s introduction to superstardom. It kickstarted a streak of eight consecutive seasons in which McGrady averaged over 21 points per game. He made the All-Star game in seven straight seasons. In 2002 and 2003 McGrady led the entire NBA in scoring.
Just like McGrady, Iverson exploded onto the NBA scene in the early 2000s. Iverson averaged over 30 points in four different seasons. He led the NBA in scoring four times and led the league in steals thrice. In the 2002-03 season, the two combined to score 59.7 points per game. Imagine if they were putting up those numbers on the same team.
Two years after the trade fell through, the 76ers made the NBA Finals. Iverson averaged 35.6 points per game against the Lakers in that series, but Philadelphia fell in the end, 4-1. McGrady would’ve been the much-needed second option that put them over the top and won the 76ers a title.