NBA icon Tracy McGrady has always believed that Michael Jordan vetoed a deal that would have sent him to the Chicago Bulls during the 1997 NBA Draft. However, according to team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, that is far from the case.
In his latest appearance on the Knuckleheads Podcast, McGrady once again opened up about the botched deal. Back in 1997 ahead of the draft, the Bulls apparently have a trade worked out with the Boston Celtics that would give them the third and sixth picks in the draft while sending Scottie Pippen to the Beantown team in exchange. Jerry Krause was setting up Chicago for the post-Jordan era, so he was planning to draft McGrady and Ron Mercer.
According to McGrady, though, Jordan threated to retire if they pushed through trading Scottie Pippen.
“Draft night I almost got traded for Scottie. The night before the (1997) draft, Jerry Krause called my agent, got me up—12 o’clock at night—had me go to a secret location to take a physical,” McGrady narrated, per NBC Sports.
“It was about to go down, but MJ made the call and was like, ‘Yo, if y’all do that, I’m retiring.’ So, he (Jordan) stopped that real quick.”
However, Jerry Reinsdorf has a slightly different version of the story. While he did confirm there is a lot of truth in what Tracy McGrady said, he made one mistake: it was not Michael Jordan who vetoed the trade. It was him.
Reinsdorf admitted that Krause said he couldn’t guarantee a sixth championship if they trade Pippen for picks that would have landed them McGrady and Mercer. And after putting a lot of consideration about the deal, the Bulls owner shot the deal down.
“I thought long and hard about it, but my decision came down to this: ‘What would our fans want us to do?’ And I concluded that our fans would want us to win a sixth championship, even if it meant we weren’t going to be that good afterwards. And that’s why I vetoed the trade. I never heard from Michael Jordan about it. If Krause heard anything from Michael Jordan, he would’ve had to have told me about it,” Reinsdorf added in his recent appearance on NBC Sports Chicago Bulls Pregame Live.
The Bulls chairman furthered that he contacted Jordan after the podcast to ask if he really had a say in killing the McGrady deal, to which the now-Charlotte Hornets boss said “BS.” Reinsdorf also noted that he’s not even sure if Jordan was aware of the trade, but he confirmed that His Airness has never communicated or threatened to retire.
So does that mean Tracy McGrady is lying? For those not in the know, T-Mac has been telling the story since 2016 and has stood by his version of what went down. In his interview on The Jump at the time, he shared how Jordan “axed” the trade.
According to Reinsdorf, while there is some mistake in the story, he doesn’t think McGrady is one to lie about it. With that said, someone probably told him it was Jordan who killed the trade despite the fact that he has no involvement or whatsoever in the front office dealing.
“I don’t doubt that somebody told Tracy that Michael Jordan had something to do with killing the trade with Boston,” Reinsdorf added. “I’m sure Tracy wouldn’t deliberately lie. But the fact of the matter is: It never occurred. It never happened.”
It is definitely interesting to think what would have happened had they pushed through the deal. As everyone knows, the Bulls won the 1998 NBA Finals with Jordan and Pippen leading the way. It was the dynasty’s sixth championship and last one before they broke up the band.
As for McGrady, he ended up with the Toronto Raptors in the draft. He stayed with the team for three seasons before transforming into one of the league’s best scorers with the Orlando Magic. During the 2002-03 season, he averaged a career-high 32.1 points on 45.7 percent shooting from the field.
While it would have been difficult for the Bulls to win the 1998 NBA Championship had they traded for McGrady, it is true they could have one of the best scorers in NBA history and a potential Jordan successor in T-Mac. Chicago has not won a championship since then, so it is worth thinking about if things would have been different had they prepared for the future.
Of course that is all in the past now and fans can do nothing but look back at it. But one could say it is one of the biggest “What ifs” in NBA history.