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Interview with Tracy “T-Mac” McGrady

September 3rd, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

This week, Hulu is proud to introduce our viewers to 3 Points, a documentary that follows Houston Rockets shooting guard Tracy “T-Mac” McGrady to three refugee camps in Chad, home to many of the roughly 250,000 refugees from the Darfur region. Inspired by the work of fellow Houston player Dikembe Mutombo as well as Chicago Bull Luol Deng (whose family is from Sudan), McGrady realized he didn’t know much about what was happening in that part of the world, but he was interested in finding out how he could help out. In a time when many celebrities have turned their eyes to Africa, McGrady’s on-camera experiences are refreshingly real: He’s not ashamed to admit he doesn’t know the right solution — in fact, at one point, he naively offers to pay to build a swimming pool for the children — but, through the course of the film, he talks to everyone willing to speak to him to better understand the needs of the region’s displaced persons. What he experiences is profoundly moving, and an inspiration to all of us at Hulu. Below, McGrady tells us why he got involved and fills us in on the progress his organization, the Darfur Dream Team, has made since his 2007 visit. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

First, can you tell us what sparked your interest in Africa?
It’s really a couple of things: Being a teammate of Dikembe Mutombo for five years, knowing he comes from Congo, and just having conversations with him over the years. And also knowing that he put $10, $12 million of his own money to build a hospital in his own country. But you know, after games, sitting back there, talking, talking about everything that’s going on over there in Africa like we did so many nights … it really didn’t have that effect on me, to want to go over there and see it for myself. What really did it for me was sitting at home one day. I saw a PSA that [Chicago Bulls forward] Luol Deng did on TV, and I immediately after that ad, I called my assistant to set up the whole trip. I just wanted to know a little more about the conflict and everything that was going on over there.

What made you decide to document your visit on camera?
I just think it was important for me to learn as much as possible, to get as much information as I could to learn about the conflict. For me to admit to my fans that it’s not embarrassing to me to admit that I don’t know something. I just wanted to get all this information and learn as much as possible, and to show my fans that it’s OK to say that you don’t know about something and [you] want to learn more. I want them to also learn what’s going on over there, so I wanted to document this whole trip.

There was a lot of discussion about how you were out of your element when you made this film. After all, you’re an NBA star who lives in a mansion, and you went to these camps where you found yourself sleeping in a tent surrounded by giant bugs. What were some of the things you learned on your trip?
Well, first of all, stepping out of my element, yes, that is definitely what I did. You go from living this great life to flying over there and living in the U.N. compound. At first, I tried to sleep in the room, but I couldn’t get comfortable in there because it was so hot. So then, the first time ever in my life, I slept in a tent. I just thought I could get a nice little breeze throughout the night. [Laughs]

What I wanted was just what they wanted, the three P’s and that’s why the documentary is called “3 Points,” because it’s the three P’s that they wanted. That’s to be protected; they wanted punishment, and they wanted peace. I’ve learned that the kids over there, they want to be educated. My whole idea coming back was to tell their stories and let people know what’s going on over there in Darfur.

What’s stayed with you since you’ve been back?
Everything, everything. Seeing some of the wounds. Seeing the little kids drawing in the art room. Just seeing the little kids walking around — two, three years old, with no supervision. Seeing all the pain on their faces. I mean, it’s just so much that it really, really was a sad situation.

Were you surprised by what you saw, or were you prepared for it?
I think I was pretty much prepared for it. I think it helped talking to Dikembe because he’s from Congo, so I was a little bit prepared. It took a while for it to really hit me. I mean, I was fine up until the last day, when I was just lying on my bed, staring at the wall. I woke up in the middle of the night and that’s when it really hit me. I actually started shedding tears.

Tell us about some of the people you met — did they have any idea who you were?
[Laughs] No, they had no clue who I am. They were excited to see me, because they felt like I was there for a great cause, to bring them help. We had a bunch of people willing to sit down and have a conversation with us, which is great. It was cool, it was cool. I got to meet a lot of people over there. The most important thing is they were willing to sit down and share their stories, and I know how tough that would have been, you know, just bringing back up what they witnessed at a time in their life that was pretty harsh.

Did the experience change you at all? How?
It definitely changed me because I feel like that could have been me in that situation. If that was me in that situation, I’d want people to help me and do everything possible to get out of that situation. But because I’m blessed and I’m fortunate — you know, I’m one of the lucky ones to be able to wake up every morning and do something that I’ve always loved to do — I felt like it was my responsibility to do what I told them I was going to do, and that’s to tell their stories when I got back to the States and educate a lot more people on this situation, and to help educate the children that are over there.

Would you go back? Do you plan to?
I don’t think it’s safe right now to go back. Once we get these schools up and running, hopefully it will be safe to go back. I would love to. I think I have a better understanding of how to handle the situation over there as far as the living conditions.

What is the progress of the schools? Has the conflict held things up?
No, we’re definitely moving forward. That’s something that I promised them I was going to do. No matter what, we’re gonna move forward. We’re building these schools, and I just want to thank the guys that were added on this team, this Dream Team, and that’s Derek Fisher and Baron Davis, for their help in building these schools.

To learn more about McGrady’s efforts, please visit http://www.darfurdreamteam.org/.

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