Tracy McGrady came all the way to Chicago to seek redemption. The seven-time all star has been in town for several months after having micro-fracture knee surgery earlier in the year. He spends most of his days rehabbing at ATTACK Athletics on the West Side and is convinced all the extra work he's put in this summer will turn him back into the player he once was. The ironic thing is that it took a lot of people to get McGrady to finally give the rehab facility in the Windy City a try.
His former teammate Luther Head tried to get the 30-year-old to give Tim Grover and his staff a chance, but he was unsuccessful, McGrady was too loyal to his trainer of 11 years, Wayne Hall.
"[Tracy] asks me now, [saying], 'You should have put a gun to my head and made me come,'" Head said during a training session last month.
Tim Grover watches Tracy McGrady work on his legs.
It wasn't until McGrady had a conversation with his wife that made him change his mind. Now he's glad that he has.
"If I was from Chicago I would have been in here [from] Day 1, without a doubt, I would have been in here Day 1," he said, acknowledging that Head tried to show him the way a few years ago. "I just refused to come and I'm really kicking myself in the [butt] for not coming. But yeah, I definitely recommend this [process] because it could prolong your career and it could make you a much better player."
McGrady has been working with Grover and physical therapist David Reavy for weeks trying to get himself back into playing shape. Reavy is so convinced of the progress that he suggested recently that the Rockets superstar could be ready to go by October 1 and back in the lineup when the season starts, a recovery plan that would have him healthy weeks in advance of the average patient. Reavy and company have been working on a plan to even McGrady's body out again.
"His whole body was imbalanced from basically his shoulder blades down to his feet," Reavy says. "He was developing a lot of back problems ... He was developing strength in an imbalanced fashion. And what I see in Tracy, in general, he had no core strength, he couldn't hold a plank."
So Reavy and Grover devised a rehab plan that would help bring it all back -- the work is already paying dividends.
"[Tracy] took a hard fall seven years ago in 2002 and he said he was never able to dunk off his left leg [since]. We got him dunking off his left leg four and a half months post micro-fracture, which is basically unheard of," Reavy says. "The results that we get here are basically unprecedented because we take the force off the injured area, we make the body absorb the force equally, so that it can heal properly and faster without the loading that it's constantly getting before.
We took the force off the knee. The knee's not absorbing the force like it was before. Tracy was playing in pain. When I talked to him initially, he said his pain was 8-9 on a scale of 10. An athlete as the ability to block that pain out, but knows he can't push it, so once you take that pain away, they can perform at that level again, because the pain is what really limits them. If you have pain in a certain area you don't know if it's gonna tear. You don't know. Your worst fear as an athlete is to get injured, but if you have that pain, that's gonna limit your body's performance, 'cause you have that in the back of your head, "Oh, I can't cut this way, I can't cut that way, I can only go this way." It limits your dynamics as a player and it's easier to defend you if you're only one dimensional."
If McGrady's recent workouts are any indication, it would be easy to assume that his game will have all of its dimensions back this season.
"I think he's gonna be a player like he used to be in his younger days, because his body is balanced now," Reavy says confidently. "He's using all his muscles properly and everything's absorbing a force and creating a force versus just the knee."
Once he gets over any lingering doubts in his mind, Reavy is convinced that McGrady could return to an All-Star level as soon as this year.
"Tracy's surprised by some of the things he can do, but the fact that he is surprised, means in the back of his mind, there's still something there," Reavy says. "Once I think he gets out there for the first time, I think that confidence level will build even more."
I caught up with McGrady last month during his one of his rehab sessions and we touched on a number of topics, here are some of the other things he had to say:
How is this work different than any of the other places you've been?
Tracy McGrady: I think in the past, I didn't have the type of treatment that I get from Dave. I didn't have the physical therapy part of the treatment. In the past, it was just basically strength and conditioning, lifting weights and stuff on the basketball court. I didn't have this other stuff to come to, making sure after a workout, making sure my muscles are still firing after my workout, after I've done basketball court work. They got a great formula here, I wish I had been a part of this a long time ago. I can't discount what my trainer Wayne Hall did for me the past 11 years, that's who I was training with back in Toronto, back in Houston, back in Orlando.
Why make the switch?
TM: Number one, I had to move here to Chicago, 'cause that where I had surgery. Because I had micro-fracture surgery; this is a surgery that can end your career or you can come back from it, and I wanted to be by the books on my rehab -- that's why I stayed closer to my doctor to make sure he could monitor everything that I'm doing, plus, you got Tim Grover here and he has a great physical therapist and David Reavy. I got the best of both worlds going for me right now. I got the best doctor that I had do my surgery and then I got the best trainer and the best physical therapist.
You could have gone anywhere in the world for rehab. What was the determining factor that brought you here?
TM: Well, I think Tim's track record speaks for itself. It's funny though that you say that. It took me a while to actually train with Tim. I didn't want to do it, my wife, talking to Tim, they had conversations way before I even met Tim or even talked to Tim on the phone, my wife used to try to get me to come here for the longest [time], I was just so loyal to my guy, I didn't want to [leave], but I figured I had to do it this year because I had surgery here and this where I wanted to stay in the offseason to train. I actually started to train with somebody else before I trained with Tim. I was over at John Hall Studios, it's like a private studio and I was working with a guy out of his training facility and I was like, "What the hell?" I finally gave Tim a shot and I'm glad I did it, 'cause I'm far ahead of schedule and I'm feeling pretty damn good.
From the time you first walked in the door here to now, where do you feel like you're at physically?
TM: I feel that I am not that far away from being back on the basketball court. Coming in here, I was so far, so far behind. I shut it down way back in February, but I was never even healthy even after my arthroscopic surgery, back of  in May. I played through this season hurt, injured. When I got here with these guys, [shoot] I think after the first week when I was working with [Dave] I was feeling good, I was like, "Damn," 'cause he was getting other muscles to fire on my body that hadn't fired in a long time, so that's when I started to gain confidence in these guys and it just took off from there.
You've heard all the doubters saying that they don't know if you can make it back to being the player you used to be. Is the pain you're enduring during rehab all the motivation you need and do you feel confident that all the work you've put in here can get you back to the same level you were at?
TM: I'm not necessarily worried about the doubters saying anything. If they feel like I can't back to the player I once was I don't care about that. That's not gonna motivate me. What motivates me is I'm not finished. I got some unfinished business left on the court. I'm not happy the way last season went, so that's motivation in itself. I know what I'm gonna do and what I'm gonna get back to, so I know where I'm gonna be. Once I leave this place and I'm healthy, I'm gonna be ready because I'm not satisfied the way last season went.
Do you think with the type of treatment you're getting now, you're going to have to come back to the facility later, or once you finish rehab this summer you'll be good to go for the duration?
TM: That's a great question. That's a question for my guy right here, [points to Reavy] because I don't know, I don't know how this treatment works. I don't know ... when I leave from here would I be good?
"Pretty much, yes," Reavy responds. "The example that I'll give is Dwyane Wade. Obviously, if you're playing 82 games, and you're playing first quarter to fourth quarter and overtimes as well, any time you're gonna overuse your body and have some [soreness], but the bottom line is through the exercises that I'm gonna give him and make sure that he keeps doing them before he plays, that will help activate muscles and ensure confidence in him as well. He'll feel a difference after he does those exercises, [to] make sure everything is moving, firing properly.
"Your body adapts to the situation it's in, so if you're sitting for a long period of time, you're gonna wake up stiff. You've gotta make sure that tightness leaves so you activate the muscles that have turned off because of the tightness."
How much different is the stuff you're doing here, compared to the stuff you've done your whole career with your old trainer?
TM: It's a lot different because the stuff I'm doing here I never did before. Ever. This is the first time I did it. Everybody have their own ways of training, and like I said, my [old trainer] had his little [regiment] and [shoot], it made me a seven time All-Star. So, I can't discredit what he did, but this is all different and this what's gonna work for me now. That worked for me for 11 years, this is now. I'm a lot older and my body is taking a different turn and this is what it is now, so they each have different ways of training and doing physical therapy, [and] they all work, but this is totally different and this seems to be working a lot better.
Do you ever look down at something like that and go, "Huh?" How are all these weird looking objects helping you out? [Note: At this moment, McGrady is being prodded by a corkscrew looking device]
TM: When you have surgery, you got all that scar tissue in your knee, that tool right there is breaking that [stuff] up in there. When I first saw him do this [stuff] I was like "What the [heck] are you doing?" I didn't even know what it was for, this little tool, doing this little leg movement right here. I'm like "What are you doing?" It's actually helping, 'cause before, I had so much scar tissue in there that now my knee, after doing this for so long, is a lot looser now.
What does the Rockets organization say to you, if anything, about training here compared to anywhere else?
TM: Nothing. I think they trust me. I've been doing this for a long time. It's not like I'm some rookie or some first-year guy. I've been doing this for, this will be 13th year, and every year pretty much, I came into camp in the best shape out of all my [teammates] so they trust that I'm doing the right thing and I made the right decision.
Do you feel like the treatment here is adding more years onto the back end of your career as we speak?
TM: Yeah. I definitely feel that. Even now, I feel my body waking up in the morning, just feels a lot better. I used to be sluggish waking up in the morning, like, "Damn, I gotta go work out today?" I actually feel good waking up every morning so this is not a ... there's not been a morning since I've been here, waking up and feeling sluggish. My body feels a lot younger.
I know you've got to rehab, but is there ever a point where you're like, "Damn I've got to wake up again," or is it just part of the process to come back?
TM: It's just part of the process, but I look forward to getting better. That's what it's really all about. I look forward to getting better. I'm foaming at the mouth to back back onto the basketball court. I'm ready to compete. I miss that, man. I miss the whole competitiveness about it. In the past, I was dealing with this knee issue. It was just so frustrating it kind of took the fun out of waking up and looking forward to playing a basketball game, 'cause I knew I couldn't be at my best. Now, I feel that I'm getting back to being my best. I'm looking forward to competing every night.
During your time in the league have you been part of a place that had more competitive runs during the summer?
TM: No. I never play in the summer. I never play basketball in the summer. So this is the first time I've seen guys ... being in a place consistently, where they run every day. I always do individual workouts, I never played.
Is there something to be said for that? Can it work both ways? Or once you get to a different stage in your career, do you have to continue to play every day?
TM: Well, let's see, for seven out of my what, 12 years I made the All-Star team just working out individually (laughs) so [shoot] I think it worked for me. I think everybody approaches it differently. I just felt like improving my individual skills is better than just being out there going up and down playing basketball. I know I could do that. Some guys just do it to get in shape, I do other things to get in shape.
Is there any part of this entire process that's surprised you?
TM: Yeah, yeah. [David's] physical therapy, just everything that he does. All his exercises, [stuff] he makes me do that activate different muscles and instantaneously I can see a difference. I can notice that some [stuff] is working and that's crazy. You go through the years and you try all these different types of strategies from other [physical therapists] and [most stuff] just don't work. Maybe temporarily ... but I've been here six months and my [program] has been consistent. I feel good and I haven't backtracked.
So you can already tell you're coming back?
TM: Already tell.
Nick Friedell covers the Chicago Bulls for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com. To e-mail him your comments, questions and feedback click here.