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Tracy McGrady: The Power of One

T-Mac is using Ones Basketball League to put on the next generation. Ahead of the league’s debut, McGrady shared his vision with Boardroom.

The Hall of Fame career of Tracy McGrady is filled with highlights and accolades that are still discussed and reflected upon today. 

Those accomplishments may have never materialized if strings had never been pulled for McGrady to attend the Adidas ABCD in the summer of 1996. Wearing jersey No. 175, because he was the last player invited, the kid from Central Florida entered as an unknown and left as the top prospect. He was drafted with the ninth overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA Draft. The rest was history. 

Now, McGrady wants to provide others with the opportunity to make a name for themselves and get their stories told through the Ones Basketball League. The idea for the league started from the constant barbershop arguments McGrady has heard all too often since he retired of who would win in a one-on-one between him or any current NBA superstar. That idea blossomed into the February launch of a startup league that McGrady sees becoming a global property. 

The first year of regional OBA competition will take place in seven cities across the United States, starting on the weekend of April 30 in Houston. The regionals will conclude in June, and the Finals will take place in Las Vegas in July. The inaugural events this year will feature only men, but women will be welcomed as equal participants in 2023.

McGrady talked with Boardroom about the Ones Basketball League and why he feels it will resonate very well with the younger generation.

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CHRISTOPHER CASON: What sparked the idea behind the Ones Basketball Association?

TRACY MCGRADY: Many months ago, I was having conversations with my two sons, and with being around AAU Basketball, I often get asked about who would win between me and Kobe, me and KD, and it circulates on social media platforms as well. Everyone is talking about who would win between the guys who are considered one-on-one players. My sons don’t watch NBA games or college basketball, but they will watch YouTube highlights of these guys playing on the blacktop. It goes from five-on-five to four-on-four, and two guys get into it and then it turns into one-on-one basketball. My sons love that. They love the jawing between the two guys and how everybody is out of the way of these two guys who are going at it and trying to rip each other’s heads off to see who is the baddest. 

One-on-one gets a bad name. I think people identify it as streetball, and I think it’s so much more. That’s why I’m creating this and trying to rebrand it. One-on-one improves your skillset and your mental toughness. When you look at the landscape of basketball — whether professional or college level — everyone doesn’t get the opportunity to play in the NBA or professional basketball. This is for guys that deserve that second or third chance because something came up in their journey and they had to deviate or didn’t get the opportunity to pursue that dream to play professional basketball. I’m providing that for those guys because in the circumstances I came up under, when I was a kid, that could have been me if no one had given me the opportunity to attend the Adidas camp. I’m doing this for those guys, and I want to find out who the baddest one-on-one dude on the planet is. 

We talk a lot about who is the greatest NBA player of all time is — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. In the truest essence of basketball, it’s me versus you. We don’t know that they’re the greatest. If you line LeBron James up with everyone in the NBA, you think he’ll come out on top as the best one-on-one player? I don’t think so. I think there are guys that are better one-on-one than LeBron James. There are some guys out there that I know can still play at a high level, that love the game, that are highly skilled, and I’m looking for those guys. When you look at the UFC platform, OBA is really the UFC of basketball. We didn’t know who those guys were before they got on the UFC platform, right? So, we’re going to discover some of this great talent that is untapped and make these guys some stars.

CC: As you mentioned, the younger generation is watching highlights now instead of full games. How well do you see this resonating with that crowd?

TM: The younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to sit down and watch a full NBA or college game. These guys will tap into BallisLife, the short-form content, and that’s what they want. That’s what Ones Basketball Association is and that’s what we’ll provide for them. I think with who we’re partnering with — SLAM Magazine, Playmaker – we’ll have a digital and social presence. For long-form content and for it to live on, we’re talking to Showtime, so we have some major players that are involved. This is what I think the kids will identify with and gravitate towards. They don’t care if a guy scores 40 points anymore. It can be a guy that scores 5, but he made someone fall with a crossover. That’s what they go crazy over. 

CC: You mentioned this being a platform to help give guys another opportunity. How important is that aspect for you?

TM: My entire life is based on all of the opportunities I was given. Under certain circumstances of my upbringing, if I was to hang with the wrong crowd or didn’t have that structure within my household, there’s no Tracy McGrady. I know a lot of these guys that are out here, there’s something that deviated them from that journey. But now they’re on the right course, they still can play at a high level, and they still love the game of basketball. I want to give those guys an opportunity to make a name for themselves and to fulfill their dreams. That’s what Ones Basketball Association is all about: giving guys a second opportunity and a bigger platform for them to shine. If you look at the underground basketball landscape, with one-on-one leagues, they’re out there and all over the place but they just don’t have a big enough platform. What I’m going to do is give them that platform for guys to come up out of their organizations and make a name for that organization. That’s why this is so important to me. 

CC: With the inagural season tipping off at the end of the month, can you break down the format?

TM: We have seven regions that we’re going to. From each region, we’re taking the top three guys. The No. 1 guy out of that region will win $10,000. Once we complete the seven regions, we’re then going to have the ultimate championship in Las Vegas. It’s just knockout from there to find out who is the ruler of the court. That winner will get $250,000. We would then go back into the data because there are 32 participants in each region and identify the top 50 guys and from that point, once a month, we’ll pick back up in September and do like a UFC-style fight night. We’ll have our top rankings, 1-50. We’ll have something like No. 1 against the No. 5. That would be the main card, and we’ll have undercards under there. We’ll do that once a month, and that will be our format for the season.

CC: How will you keep matches entertaining, say if a big draws a guard and he just wants to post up the entire game?

TM: That’s what I’m not doing! No, sir! I want this to be leveled out. I don’t want no gimmicks. If there’s a 6’4’’ guy, I don’t want him going up against a seven-footer. Me and my team are vetting the talent out and making sure we don’t have those lopsided matchups. 

CC: Are you at all surprised how quickly things have gone from initial concept to beginning the launching of the inaugural season?

TM: To be honest with you, I’m not surprised because this is an entire business we’re putting together. The one-on-one basketball is just the start of it. The different arms that we got attached to this is bananas. I’m just eager to have this get kicked off. The way we’re structuring it, it’s really going to resonate with people when we’re talking about identifying the 21 participants out of the seven regions. 

CC: When you see these one-on-one conversations that happen on social media that involve your name, does the recency bias towards stars of this era get you upset a little?

TM: Nah, I don’t get pissed because when a lot of these guys are interviewed, my name comes up. When you look at KD when he was on “Million Dollaz Worth of Game” with Gillie and Wallo, they asked him about his all-time favorites. My name was in that conversation. My name is thrown around a lot by the guys that idolized me and competed against me. I got the ultimate compliment from one of the greatest ever in Kobe. My name circulates with the greatest that played this game, so that doesn’t bother me at all. 

CC: When did you begin seriously thinking about life after basketball?

TM: That started long before I even retired. I think it was my 11th year when I had microfracture surgery. I played four more years after that. When I knew that my career was almost over because of that surgery, I started planning then, and that was to just stay active and have a business mind. I didn’t really know what I was going to tap into, but I knew it was going to be something that revolved around the game and here we are today. 

CC: What are you hoping the Ones Basketball Association becomes in the five years?

I got one word for you: Global! 

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