Tracy McGrady admitted to self-sabotaging his workouts and interviews with the Boston Celtics prior to the 1997 NBA Draft — 26 years later — and for one reason.

At the time, the Celtics held the No. 3 overall selection. Boston had just finished 15-67, good enough for a rock-bottom finish in the Eastern Conference — its second of six consecutive playoff misses. But in a draft class headlined by Hall of Fame talents such as McGrady and Tim Duncan, the C’s had a chance for the pendulum to finally swing their way — and it didn’t.

“I just knew how hard and how tough Rick Pitino was. Rick Pitino had left (Kentucky) and becomes Boston’s coach, and I was like, ‘Ugh, I don’t know if I want to play for Rick Pitino,'” McGrady recalled on The Ringer’s “The Ryen Rusillo Podcast.”

McGrady underwent a series of pre-draft workouts and interviews, however, the now-44-year-old considers his Celtics workout the “hardest” among the rest, crediting that to Pitino and turning McGrady away from Boston.

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“Wouldn’t mind playing for Boston, I just didn’t wanna play for Rick Pitino at that time,” McGrady clarified. “He was just too tough, man. … I wouldn’t say I tanked (the interview). I just didn’t do a great job of being who I was. That’s what I’ll say.”

As the story goes, the Celtics passed on McGrady twice, selecting Chauncey Billups third overall and Ron Mercer at No. 6 — who lasted two seasons in Boston before getting traded. Billups didn’t even last his full rookie season with the Celtics.

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That was just the premonition for a dreadful head-coaching era in Boston. Pitino lead a sinking ship, amassing a 102-146 record with the Celtics before wisely calling it quits in 2001. Yet, that five-year nightmare did more than enough damage aside from swaying McGrady to quickly lose interest in Boston.

Pitino notably traded away a handful of solid players before they were ever given a chance to flourish in a Celtics uniform. That bunch includes Billups, Kenny Anderson and Joe Johnson.

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Alas, the clarity of one of the Celtics’ biggest “what if’s” can only leave Boston fans wondering what the TD Garden rafters might look like had history unfolded differently.

Featured image via Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY Sports Images