Tracy McGrady starring in a Chinese beer commercial in 2012 might seem super random. But in China, it’s just good marketing.
McGrady, who averaged a career low 16.1 minutes off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks this season, may be well past his 13 points in 33 seconds prime from decade-past. But as one part of the Immortal Holy Duo along with Allen Iverson, the two most popular post-Michael Jordan NBAers in China of all-time, he is still largely worshipped in the Middle Kingdom. Whereas AI mesmerized China with his sick handles and short-on-height, big-on-heart game, T-Mac became an icon not just because he was arguably the most talented player in the NBA for a time, but also because of his unrivaled accessibility.
The most famous of Yao Ming’s long line of Houston Rocket teammates, McGrady achieved legendary status among Chinese because he was on television and in print the most. During Yao’s prime with Houston, the Rockets essentially became China’s home team. Beat writers from Titan Sports Weekly, Basketball Pioneers and other major Chinese publications were all sent to the States to follow the team, and almost all of their games were broadcast live on CCTV-5 in the mornings for fans to watch. The reason for all of that was Yao, but because of McGrady’s superb basketball ability and the national exposure it received in China, a lot of Chinese became more infatuated with the moves of the silky smooth 6-7 swingman than of their post-up 7-6 center.
And like Iverson, who’s throngs of obsessed fans was documented on this space last month, McGrady has is own legion of devoted followers. More times than I can count, a black basketball-playing friend of mine has been told that he looks like Maidi — McGrady — by kids as young as seven or eight to women as old as 80. He’s so popular, he was even named some sort of official ambassador to China by the Chinese government before flying over to China for what amounted to be a traveling rock tour that was sold out on every stop. Simply, everybody knows T-Mac in China. Ask someone who their favorite Houston Rocket of all-time is, and chances are you’ll hear Tracy McGrady.
So no, T-Mac selling beer at age 33 is not totally random. But, these dudes stealing his beer? That’s not only random, that’s just messed up. And it’s even more messed up considering T-Mac was nice enough to bring a variety pack, as evidenced by the one clear bottle that one guy holds up as Tracy hangs from the raised rim.
Luckily, McGrady still has the knees to land comfortably from the drop and the mellowness to still offer these tools his brew. “If you’re a brother, than drink with me!” he says at the end. If it was me, I probably just would have called them all sha bi, kicked their ball away and taken my beer away to some people who have some respect. Maybe that’s why I’m not an ambassador to China…
Meanwhile, in related past-their-prime NBA players selling beer in China, Shaquille O’Neal has one for Harbin Beer that’s been playing on CCTV throughout the NBA playoffs. Beijing Cream has a poll asking which one is better — my vote goes to McGrady because I actually think a deaf mute would do way worse than what I felt was relatively passable Mandarin (key word: relative). As for other NBA players, they already have done way worse.