Tracy McGrady Takes His Shot—at a Basketball League

Every retired professional athlete faces the same reckoning: Where’s the next rush? Tracy McGrady, the high-flying Hall of Fame basketball legend, is living it.

His Ones Basketball League (OBL), a one-on-one round-robin basketball tournament, is taking place over seven weekends in seven cities. (Next stop this weekend: Chicago Hope Academy Athletic Center). The winner of each regional tournament gets a $10,000 cash prize an invitation to the Finals. There, 21 players (the top three from each region) will vie for a $250,000 grand prize and be crowned “Ruler of the Court.”

T-Mac is funding it himself. He’s doing a ton of press. It’s his baby and he has visions of its future.

He wants OBL to resemble the UFC, a place that breeds talented, breakout personalities. He wants to do a cable show; open academies. It’s an optimism fueled by independence. “I’m betting on myself,” McGrady tells BLACK ENTERPRISE. “This is my dream.”

McGrady, who turns 43 Tuesday, discussed why he believes in one-on-one hoops and why OBL is a team game for him. This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

BLACK ENTERPRISE: How challenging was it to get the league off the ground?

TRACY McGRADY: For many years I invested in other people’s ideas and dreams instead of investing in myself. This is a time that I felt like, why not? I just felt like it was perfect timing to do something like this. It’s well overdue. I don’t know why there isn’t one-on-one basketball. There’s three-on-three (BIG3), right? One-on-one, to me, is the true, pure essence of basketball.

It’s short-from content. The Gen-Zers, they don’t sit and watch two-and-a-half, three hours of NBA games. I have two sons; I can attest to that. They don’t watch NCAA basketball. This is just that quick-form content that I think they will appreciate and love. And I listen to the kids. I got my answer [the league’s opening weekend] when some of those guys didn’t want to leave, they wanted more after it was over.

I can leave town and tell my kids I’m going to an NBA game and they couldn’t care less. They actually asked me if they could come to Atlanta to OBL, which was shocking to me. That gave me all the answers that I needed right .

In your 11th season, when you had microfracture surgery, you said you began to think about life after basketball. How did you start?

When you’re making X amount of dollars from the NBA and you’ve got all these endorsement deals, you really don’t think outside of that. I wasn’t even thinking about life after basketball because I was living in the moment. And when I had the microfracture surgery and I knew I wasn’t going to be the player that everybody cheered for and celebrated, my focus changed, my mindset changed. Sustaining that injury, I saw the end. I knew it was time to start preparing for what life after basketball looked like.

And I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know I was going to go into ESPN and do television for four and a half years. It was like, no way I’m doing TV. And it ended up happening because of the format that The Jump had. I just felt like it was a perfect fit for me to go in there and be a guy on that show with Rachel Nichols, which I loved.

I have a team around me. And we’re always thinking of what’s the next step. I think one of the smartest things I’ve done is hired the right people to steer me in the right direction and keep me and my brand alive and just keep me relevant. I’m so thrilled and just pleased with where I am. Being retired for nine years, I couldn’t be in a better position than where I am now.

What’s been the biggest transition to go from the NBA to an entrepreneur?

I think really just finding your niche. What are you passionate about? What gets you up every morning? What do you want to build? What type of legacy do you want to leave? There’s a lot of things that really come into play. When I thought about creating OBL, I felt like this was the legacy that I wanted to leave. I finally found something that is challenging and gets me up in the morning. It really helps me with my creativity. So how I envision OBL, the challenge of me bringing that vision to reality and putting the right people around me to help bring that vision to life—that’s why I love waking up every day to help see this through and to leave this legacy behind. I have four kids and one of these days I want my kids to be running this business. So that’s my motivation, and I won’t stop until it’s complete.

(Photo provided by OBL)

How much are you investing in this?

Let’s just say I won’t go broke if this fails. It’s millions of dollars to make this first season go, but I don’t feel any pressure if it doesn’t work. You have to take a leap of faith, make sure you do your due diligence and have the right people that can help you build this. I know what I’m good at. I know what I’m not good at. I think I’ve done a great job of going out and hiring the right people to help build this from the ground up and put me in a position to be successful. And I’d be a fool to think that I can do this on my own. I cannot. The people that I hired for those specific positions, they’re amazing—and that’s why I’m in a position that I am in today.

What are you good at and not good at in terms of running OBL?

I’m good at being the face of it, being the voice of it. I think from a fan standpoint and from the players’ standpoint, I think I get that respect and appreciation of what I brought to the game of basketball. And I think people will, in return, give it a shot to see what I’m building.

I think from a business perspective and all the logistics and things that go in on the back end, that’s not my role. I’m not having these talks with these high-end companies and trying to strike a deal with them. That’s not my expertise. I hire people that are really good at closing deals. I can close out games. I’m not a deal closer (Laughs).