When he was a teenager, Andre Iguodala loved the Fab Five so much that he wore the same tattered Jalen Rose Michigan jersey for years. On the court, he mimicked another long and versatile guard, Penny Hardaway. And, like every basketball-dribbling Illinois kid growing up in the 1990s, he practiced his fadeaway like MJ. But Iguodala really wanted to be like Scottie. And the more he watched, the more he realized that Jordan’s teammate Scottie Pippen influenced the game in profound ways, often without scoring.
Pippen had been a 6-foot point guard in high school who slipped under nearly every college’s radar. He grew to a rangy 6-foot-8 at the University of Central Arkansas, maintaining his ballhandling skills and agility as he sprouted. “I’m convinced that Pippen could’ve been world-class in track (400 meters? long jump?) had he directed himself to that,” Jack McCallum wrote in Dream Team, which chronicled the 1992 Olympic basketball super team. Iguodala studied how Pippen defended Indiana’s point guard, Mark Jackson, in the 1998 conference finals. Guarding the shorter Jackson, Pippen almost single-handedly denied ball movement on his side of the court. Jordan and Pippen went on to capture their sixth championship together, defeating the Utah Jazz.
At the same time, Iguodala was a point guard for Springfield’s Lanphier High School. He too was about 6 feet and growing, and was known more for his track-and-field exploits in the high jump than his basketball skills. “He’s always been able to handle the ball,” said Lawrence Thomas, the school’s freshman coach. “He played point guard for me as a freshman even though he was the tallest kid on the team. No way was I going to … just tell him [to go under the basket] because he’s the tallest kid.”
Iguodala played point for another reason: Frank “Cadillac” McBride was at Lanphier. McBride leapfrogged Iguodala and everyone else, starting on the team’s varsity squad from the moment he arrived on campus. “We’ve had a lot of great players, but Rich McBride coming out his eighth-grade year was the best player I’ve ever seen in Springfield, by far,” said Pat McGuire, a Lanphier assistant. “Talentwise, he was ahead of the game. Andre was in his shadow.”
McBride introduced Iguodala to the AAU scene, where his game soon blossomed. “I saw him progress from his freshman year on through, and every year it was a big jump,” said McBride, who went on to play at Illinois. “From junior year to senior year, he probably had the best progression of any player that I’ve ever seen play in my life.”
McBride got all the attention from colleges, but he struggled with the stress of being the featured player.
“Rich McBride, he catches a lot of flak, especially being from Springfield,” Iguodala said. “He was supposed to be the guy to make it, but he had some tough times, some things that burnt him out of the game of basketball. There was a lot of pressure on him at a young age that shouldn’t have been on him. But he was one of the people that helped me get out.”
Pippen’s role changed when Jordan retired to have a dalliance with baseball. Pippen became the star, leading the Bulls in scoring, assists, and blocks and earning the All-Star Game’s MVP in 1994.
“Last year, there was a mega-superstar who did a lot of things,” Pippen told reporters in 1993. “He could do that, and we would allow him to do that. This year, everybody’s blending in. I don’t care if I lead the team in scoring. Why should I care about that? I’ve never led it scoring before, and I didn’t care.
“You can see what a leader I can be. I’m not fantasizing.”
But the transition to life without Jordan proved rocky. The Knicks and Magic bounced the Bulls from the conference semifinals in 1993 and 1994, respectively. The low point arrived in Game 3 of the 1993 conference finals against New York. Phil Jackson designed a last-second shot for Toni Kukoc. A peeved Pippen refused to reenter the game.
“I think he felt a lot of pressure to replace Michael, and obviously nobody could ever do that,” said former Bulls guard Steve Kerr. “But if you remember, he had an MVP-caliber year. He was unbelievable that season, probably his best season ever. In the playoffs, I think in that game, we had a blown a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter. Those are the kinds of games Michael would have single-handedly taken over, and I think Scottie probably felt some pressure to do that.”
Pippen had been the very definition of a team player. He signed a long-term deal for the security it offered, even though it paid him well below his worth for years. But that moment haunts his legacy. “I’ve said many times it’s such a shame, because in many ways it ruined Scottie’s reputation, and people who don’t know him might just think of that play and say, ‘Oh man, that guy’s selfish,'” Kerr said. “But he was one of the most beloved teammates in that locker room, and that spans every Bulls team, from the beginning of his tenure there until the end.”
Pippen may have been a better shooter than Iguodala, but Kerr sees similarities between his former teammate and his fellow Arizona alumnus. “Both guys are more natural passers than scorers,” he said. “They are both incredibly versatile defenders. Obviously, the athleticism is off the charts, and just the length. One of the reasons why Andre has become — and Scottie did become — distributors is that they weren’t great shooters. So when you’re not great at something, you figure out what you are really good at and you always work on your weaknesses.”
“Is Scottie considered a superstar?” Iguodala asked. “He played with MJ. Sometimes it’s time and place. You got guys that have superstar capabilities but just aren’t in the right spot.”
“I don’t like comparisons too much, but I really do see myself as a Scottie type, a Penny type,” Iguodala said. “Those are my two favorite players.”
Springfield is Illinois’s capital. Abraham Lincoln once lived there. It was the setting of a race riot in 1908 that led to the creation of the NAACP. But even today it’s a small town sometimes wracked by small-town thinking.
“Everybody’s sharing everybody’s business,” Iguodala said. “People are afraid to step outside. They’re comfortable there. No one wants to experience something new or something different. We’ve had a lot of good athletes come out of there. There are some guys that could’ve made the NBA. One of my favorite players growing up was Jeff Walker. He was an amazing athlete. He was a great player, should’ve made it to the NBA, but he didn’t. That small-town mind-set catches a lot of our athletes. I wanted to go as far away from home as possible for college just so I didn’t get trapped.”
Linda Shanklin encouraged her two sons, Frank and Andre, to one day leave Springfield. Iguodala always knew he wanted out of Illinois, and he had a few options, including the Universities of Arkansas, Arizona, and Maryland. He committed to the Razorbacks but asked to be released when then–head coach Nolan Richardson departed the school amid controversy. So he called Arizona coach Lute Olson.
“When he got his release from Arkansas, he called us and wanted to know if we still had any interest in him,” Olson said. “I said, ‘Yes, we certainly do. But we recruited you once. We’re not going to start recruiting you again. We’re interested in you, but only if you’re going to be coming with us.'”
Iguodala’s friend Hassan Adams, a McDonald’s All-American, headlined Olson’s 2002 recruiting class, making the Wildcats an easy choice. But some analysts viewed Iguodala as little more than a glorified track star. He was the sidekick, they argued, just as he had been alongside McBride. Larry Butler, Iguodala’s AAU coach, had to push assistant coaches to recruit Iguodala. He pleaded to get Iguodala invited to the Jordan Brand Classic All-Star Game. He lobbied recruiting analyst Clark Francis to get Iguodala a higher ranking. Still, he was a second-tier recruit.
When Luke Walton returned for his sophomore year after a season of accolades, his name was on the short list for All-American recognition. Walton hadn’t heard much about the lanky freshman Iguodala. He’s supposed to be good, but he’s still a freshman, Walton thought. “We went against each other so hard [in a scrimmage],” Walton said. “He finished with 30, I finished with 20-something, and I said, ‘This kid is going to be really, really good.'”
Iguodala studied Pippen from afar. Now he emulated Walton up close. Walton had a knack for the game, good genes, and keen intuition, whether it was delivering the ball at exactly the right time or sliding away from his defender to nab a rebound. “It’s natural to want to go out there and score the points,” Walton said. “You normally get more recognition if you go out and score 30 points rather than going out and making your team win, going and scoring maybe 15, 18 points, but having 10 assists and getting everybody involved.
“I could score points, but I had to work a lot harder to do it than Andre did. To see a player of his skill and ability willing to play the unselfish way is definitely rare.”
Iguodala told Olson that he wanted to be like Walton. “Luke Walton was great for me,” Iguodala said. “I had great numbers in high school; I scored a lot of points. But Luke showed me how to play basketball, stress free, like how to pass, how to position yourself, how to sacrifice yourself for a teammate. How can I get him a wide-open shot, sacrifice myself by driving, drawing in two and kicking it to him?”
Iguodala averaged 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman and the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Kansas. “Andre was an excellent [ball] handler,” Olson said. “He got a lot of defensive rebounds for us and as a result we ended up with a lot of offensive opportunities off the fast break because of the player that he was.”
One day, Adams presented Iguodala with a printout of an online mock draft. An analyst had projected Iguodala as a first-round selection. Iguodala said he hadn’t considered himself an NBA prospect before reading the mock draft. It changed him.
“I wasn’t a college student [anymore],” Iguodala said. “Everything was basketball. It was all about ‘How do I get to a place I hadn’t even dreamed about?’ I didn’t have fun in college because I was so focused on basketball.”
The business aspect of the game had started. “You see some players come in and get caught up with the spotlight, especially when they’re as good as he is at a freshman age,” Walton said. “He was so dedicated to the craft of basketball that he wasn’t going out at night and partying. He was in the gym before practice working on his game.”
Iguodala moved in with two female soccer players, and their crisscrossed schedules worked to perfection. They were hardly home when Iguodala was. He was hardly home when they were. His solitary life paid off.
The following season, Iguodala nearly doubled his averages from his freshman year, bumping them up to 12.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. But the Wildcats, weaker without Walton, lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Iguodala scored 19 points in his final game at Arizona. “He had just a great game,” Olson said. “He did everything he could to carry us to the next level.”
After two years, it was time for Iguodala to level up. He declared for the draft and began interviewing agents. He asked Rob Pelinka, with whom he eventually signed, to meet him at 6 a.m.
“I was thinking, ‘Yeah, right?'” Pelinka wrote in an email. “‘What college kid gets up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning to make a business meeting?’ When Dre showed up to Denny’s the next day at 6 a.m. sharp, I was blown away. I knew this was the exact type of person that I really wanted to be associated with.”
The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Iguodala with the ninth pick of the 2004 draft. “Passing the ball, setting up players, scoring when you have to,” said Tony DiLeo, then Philadelphia’s assistant general manager. “He reminded us of a Scottie Pippen–type player.” Analysts were mixed. Dick Vitale argued that Philadelphia should have selected Oregon’s Luke Jackson. “I’m amazed at Arizona’s Andre Iguodala leaving school early. Oh what a mistake he is making,” Vitale wrote for ESPN.com. Philadelphia hosted Iguodala for a private workout in an attempt to keep him off of other teams’ radars. “For the first time since they had the No. 1 overall pick in 1996 and selected [Allen] Iverson, the Sixers not only caught a break, but they actually took advantage of it,” wrote John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Jim O’Brien, Philadelphia’s coach at the time, hosted Iguodala and Shanklin for dinner shortly after the draft. The coach left impressed. Iguodala showed maturity and adapted well during his first professional training camp. “Glenn Robinson was targeted to [play] small forward for us,” O’Brien said. “During training camp, it was clear that Andre was the better player between the two — being able to defend, especially, and also just [his] athleticism, young legs.”
At the time, Philly belonged to Iverson. The diminutive, spirited point guard single-handedly almost shot the franchise to a championship in 2001. When Iguodala arrived, he again played the sidekick, often finding himself on the receiving end of Iverson’s lobs. It worked: The 76ers qualified for the playoffs in Iguodala’s first season and he was named to the All-Rookie First Team.
But that was the duo’s high point. Philadelphia failed to crack 40 wins in each of the next two seasons. Iverson demanded better pieces around him or a trade. He got the latter. In December 2006, Philadelphia sent Iverson and Ivan McFarlin to Denver for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first-round picks, marking the end of an era.
After Iverson, the franchise entrusted Iguodala with his first starring role. He had deferred to McBride, Adams, and Iverson throughout his formative basketball years. For a decade, he’d learned to thrive as the glue guy, never the guy. “Can he be The Man in Philly?” Iverson asked ESPN The Magazine of Iguodala after being traded. “He doesn’t have a choice.”
Iguodala tried to rise to the challenge. His scoring shot up from 12.3 points per game to 18.2 in 2006-07. Iverson’s shadow would have loomed over any player, but particularly so for someone like Iguodala. It didn’t help that they could have had the same nickname. “I thought he was fantastic here, but just having that name, that’s like somebody with the initials ‘M.J.’ going to Chicago,” said Aaron McKie, a teammate in Philadelphia.
Iguodala averaged at least 17 points per game over the next four seasons. “I’ve seen him play every minute, every game in high school and college,” said McGuire, the Lanphier assistant. “I would have never told you he would have averaged 18, 19 points a game. There’s no way. I would have told you he’d be a 10-, 11-point scorer [who] rebounds and assists, because that’s his game. But I was so impressed that he had to become the man. That’s really not what he is.”
O’Brien, who was replaced by Maurice Cheeks in 2005, watched the transition from afar. “You’re talking about [moving from] one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the game to a guy who just barely averaged double figures in his last year of college,” O’Brien said. “For anybody to have expected him to take over for Allen is just ridiculous.”
It seemed that Iguodala would no longer solely shoulder the responsibility by the summer of 2008. After he re-signed for $80 million over six years, Philadelphia lured Elton Brand in free agency. Brand, a tremendous post presence, had been limited to four games the previous season with the Clippers because of an Achilles rupture. He sustained a shoulder injury in December 2008, just a few months after signing in Philadelphia. He underwent season-ending surgery two months later.
The Iguodala-Brand combination never flourished, but Brand became a reliable sounding board. “When we used to talk, he’d take things so personal because he’s so talented,” Brand said. “A lot of people don’t recognize what he does on the court. He can score 25 most nights, but he plays the right way.
“He loves his friends,” Brand continued. “But if you’re not — we used to call him Malcolm X. He’d just give you his attitude if you were against him. It’s a positive thing — if you’re his friend or you’re on his team, he’ll do anything for you.”
Walton said Iguodala’s quiet nature could irritate some. “I think it can rub people the wrong way if they don’t know him,” he said, “but if you know Andre, you know what a great guy he is.”
It didn’t help that the Sixers struggled with Iguodala as the face of the franchise. Every offseason seemed like time to start over. Philadelphia cycled through coaches: O’Brien, Cheeks, DiLeo, Eddie Jordan, Doug Collins. Fans grew impatient. Their ire was often reserved for the one constant: Iguodala.
They wanted a shooter and a scorer and a winning team, not a player who could do it all. Iguodala consulted with Donovan McNabb, the Eagles’ oft-criticized quarterback. “Philly is not understanding [about anyone who is] 19 years old and coming into this league,” Shanklin said. “Philly is on record booing Santa Claus.” Iguodala was nothing like the charismatic, controversial Iverson. His jumper ran hot-and-cold. He could be aloof in interviews. The fans were unforgiving, acting as though Iguodala himself had traded Iverson. “If we lost, I couldn’t go out the next day,” Iguodala said. “I couldn’t walk outside. I would walk down the street and get ‘Fuck you’ all the time. People are always focused on what you don’t do all the time. ‘Why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?’ Maurice Cheeks was a great coach because he said, ‘You got here because you do what you do. Do what you do well. Don’t let nobody tell you what you can’t do.’
“I had some really good years in Philly, but there [were] always so many changes, and I’ve always had to tailor my game to each situation,” Iguodala said. “It’s taken away from what I bring to the table.”
Collins signed on to coach the Sixers in 2010. It seemed like kismet: He had coached a young Pippen in Chicago. He had also starred as a 76er from 1973 to 1981.
“I talked to him about taking over the job and playing in Philadelphia,” Collins said. “I understand the pressures that go with playing, especially in his situation where he was the highest-paid player. He and Elton Brand had so many responsibilities placed on them. When you make the most money, people just assume you’re going to score the most points and be the guy at the end of the game that is going to make the game-winning shots and all that. There’s a lot of pressure in that situation, but that’s not who he is.”
Things sparked with Collins at first. Iguodala made his first All-Star Team in 2012. That same season he hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds left in a playoff game that vaulted Philadelphia over Chicago and into the second round — the franchise’s first series win since Iverson’s departure. Iguodala expected brighter days for the organization’s immediate future.
The Sixers had other ideas.
Pippen and Jordan had already collected two titles by the time the Dream Team convened in Barcelona during the summer of 1992. The world knew Pippen was good, but maybe not this good. He shined among the elite, leading the team with 5.9 assists a game. Chuck Daly called Pippen the team’s second-best player, a classic “fill-in-the-blanks guy.”
Twenty years later, Iguodala expected to capitalize on his playoff experience when he played in the Summer Olympics in London. Like Pippen, he was a rare and valuable asset in international play. “For us, Andre’s been one of our best players,” Mike Krzyzewski told the Philadelphia Daily News during Team USA practices in August 2010. “He’s doing the things that come naturally to him that are easier for him most of the time.”
“There’s a guy going into the Hall of Fame, Scottie Pippen, who did that to the highest level. Andre’s a little bit like him. I think Andre’s unique. He should celebrate his uniqueness.”
Iguodala loved the opportunity, the competition, the bonding. “I never laughed that much in my life,” Iguodala said. “You had different types of comics. Carmelo was hilarious. James Harden and Russell Westbrook had their own language. I don’t know what they talked about … When you see the ego come out of some guys — it can be anything, like the equipment guy comes passing out new socks, and then one guy wanted the same socks that another guy had.”
The players complained about the food in Manchester. One player even brought his own chef, who prepared food only for his client. “A chef that just makes one plate?” Iguodala said. “It was so funny. Every day, they’d be like, ‘Yo, where that one-plate chef at?'”
But reality soon set in. Jrue Holiday, then Philadelphia’s point guard, attended the games to support Lauren Cheney, his fiancée, who played on the U.S. women’s soccer team. Holiday asked Iguodala if he had heard anything about being traded. Iguodala responded no. “He showed me a text: ‘We might trade Dre for Andrew Bynum.” Later that day the 76ers traded Iguodala to Denver as part of the four-team Dwight Howard deal, netting Andrew Bynum.
Iguodala was shocked. “That was really weird,” Iguodala said. “I spoke to Doug damn near every day throughout the Olympics. The day before the trade, he was like, ‘Great job with the game last night.’ I think we beat Nigeria by 80 or something crazy like that. He was like, ‘Can’t wait to take the energy from the Olympics and take it to the season.’ We got to the second round that last season in Philly. We had a good year, good core guys and were looking to move forward.
“I wasn’t upset about the trade, it was the timing,” he continued. “It was like, ‘I’m in the Olympics, I’m playing some meaningful minutes, and you’re trading me in the medal round.'” Krzyzewski asked Iguodala if he could still perform. “The minutes kind of came down,1 which I understood, because in Coach K’s mind, he’s like, ‘His head might not be in the right place right now,’ because he doesn’t know me personally. So that was the only thing that I was upset about. It could’ve waited five days.”
Iguodala played 11 minutes against Argentina in the semifinals. He played just three in the gold-medal game versus Spain.
Collins worked as a commentator during the games for NBC. “I guess the one thing for me is I really didn’t get a chance to talk to him as much, because I had to go up to him right before the game and just shake his hand and thank him for everything he did, not only for me but for the city of Philadelphia for the eight years that he played there,” Collins said. “I think the thing that I was happy about more than anything else is I think Dre’s career ended on an uptick in Philadelphia.”
Iguodala returned to Philadelphia with the Nuggets for opening night of the 2012 season. Denver lost 84-75, and Iguodala posted just 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
“It was another mostly unmemorable performance from a mostly unmemorable player from a mostly unmemorable era of Sixers basketball,” Smallwood wrote in the Daily News after the game.
Bynum never played for Philadelphia because of knee issues. “We swung for the fences,” Collins said. “I give Josh Harris and the ownership a lot of credit. They felt like if you could get a dominant low-post center — at that point in time with Andrew, he’s arguably the best low-post center in the NBA. He was the third option on that Laker team with 18, 11, and a couple blocks. Can you get a guy like that? Obviously you don’t want to give up Andre Iguodala, but not only that, we gave up Nik Vucevic, who just had 30 points and 21 rebounds [in a recent game]. We gave up a young wing player in Moe Harkless, who I think is going to be a terrific player, and we gave up a first-round pick.”
Philadelphia started from scratch this offseason with new general manager Sam Hinkie, new coach Brett Brown, and an overhauled roster. Iguodala is still stung by the experience. “They’re saying the team hasn’t had much success since Iverson’s team went to the Finals,” Iguodala said. “We only missed the playoffs twice. They were talking like we were just this bum squad the whole time I was there.” DiLeo can take the pulse of Philadelphia fans like few others. He was born in the city, played at La Salle University, and served as a coach, assistant general manager, and general manager with the 76ers.
“The fans never embraced Andre,” DiLeo said. “It was funny because he’s an exciting player. He works hard. He’s in great shape. But for some reason the fans never really embraced him. And the fans really embraced Allen Iverson. They loved Allen. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if it was Andre’s personality and how he came off in interviews. He’s the type of player that Philly usually likes because he works hard, he plays hard, he fights. That was a little bit of a mystery to me.”
But DiLeo has a theory. “Andre never had a Michael Jordan to play with him,” DiLeo said. “Scottie did.”
Iguodala and Denver were a different story. Head coach George Karl appreciated his skills. While his scoring average dipped to 13 points per game to better showcase young scorers like Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, Iguodala’s unselfishness shined. The Nuggets finished 57-25 before facing an upstart Golden State Warriors in the first round last season.
Denver, hobbled by injuries and facing a lights-out Warriors team, lost in six games. Iguodala loved his time playing for Karl. He said he deeply respects general manager Masai Ujiri. Neither returned this season. Even after he accepted Toronto’s top executive job, Ujiri suggested Iguodala stick around in Denver. He fit there, Ujiri told him.
But Iguodala couldn’t shake the series against Golden State. The Warriors were good. They could be better. He’d played against them for years and their crowds remained loyal through horrible ownership and an ever-combustible roster. He’d guarded Klay Thompson through much of the playoff series just as the young sharpshooter blossomed on a national stage. Iguodala knew why. “I can look at a player and I can see where his confidence is coming from,” Iguodala said. “Especially watching Klay play a lot last year, he would shoot some of the wildest shots I’ve ever seen. It became like second nature to him since he was making them. And as a student of the game, I was like, ‘Yo, that’s coach. That’s all coach.’ People don’t see that. They’re like, ‘This guy’s a great shooter.’ Yeah, he is a great shooter, one of the best I’ve ever seen. But I’ve seen some pretty talented shooters who haven’t had the chance to show how good they are because they’re so restrained, so put in a box.”
As he watched the Warriors, the Warriors watched him.
“You could almost [see] from afar and say, ‘Oh no, Iguodala is on [Stephen] Curry,’ or, ‘Oh no, Iguodala is on Klay,'” said Bob Myers, Golden State’s general manager. “And if there was five Iguodalas out there, we’d have a problem. So his defensive ability to change the game was something that really stood out.”
Myers estimated that the Warriors had less than a 5 percent chance of landing Iguodala in the offseason. Dallas and Sacramento also wanted him. Dwight Howard’s protracted signing in Houston also tied up the decision-making of several franchises. The Warriors pursued Howard, too. “Dwight was messing everybody up,” Iguodala said. “Dwight’s my man, but he was kind of stalling everybody.” Eventually, Golden State sent four draft picks and Brandon Rush to Utah to sweeten the salary dumping of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. Iguodala signed for four years and $48 million in Golden State when he could have tacked on another year and an additional $12 million in Denver.
“He needed to bear with us,” Myers said. “We needed to move a lot of money, we needed to negotiate a deal that worked for us and worked for him. I absolutely thought, numerous times, that it was not going to happen. I mean many, many times.”
Coach Mark Jackson described his sales pitch as one of the easiest he’d ever made. “And I think it was probably the easiest one we’ll ever have to make,” Jackson said.
Golden State’s roster was already deep. Now it’s deeper. Andrew Bogut is healthy, freshly re-signed, and manning the middle. The pressure to nudge the team to the next level again falls on Iguodala. “There’s a lot of pressure on our team,” said Joe Lacob, the team’s majority owner. “All day long, all I’ve heard now is that the expectations are suddenly very high for us. There’s pressure on Mark, pressure on the players, pressure on me and the owners. But why else are we here? I’d rather have those expectations and that pressure than be playing for lottery pinballs … The fact that Andre is coming here, yeah, maybe there’s pressure on him, but we’ll see how he reacts. I don’t know him personally that well to know how he’ll react. I suspect he’s going to react very well; he’s been around long enough.”
The Bay Area also appealed to Iguodala. He’s keenly aware that NBA careers are finite. He’s thinking about what’s next. He’s an avid reader, recently devouring Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. There aren’t many players in the league who would consider interning at Merrill Lynch, but that’s what Iguodala did during the lockout. He’s eager to establish real relationships in Silicon Valley. Lacob, a partner at a venture capital investment firm, has made good on his pledge to introduce Iguodala to the area’s movers and shakers.
Iguodala says he gets his desire for security and business sense from his mother, who taught him the value of a dollar early in life.
“These young men did not hit the lottery,” Shanklin said. “They got a job. It needs to be respected and treated that way.”
“I knew to save,” Iguodala said. “You’re always scared. I always felt like I don’t want to be a dumb, broke black man. I don’t want to be that. And when people see us, that’s what people see.”
Iguodala sat in a Warriors sweatshirt and sweatpants in the lobby of the St. Regis in downtown San Francisco. As he sat there, in plain sight for more than an hour, only two people approached him.
The legendary Jerry West, now a Warriors executive, was the first. A team function at another hotel had just concluded and West and Iguodala happened to run into one another.
“I’ll tell you this, he’s better than I thought he was,” West said of Iguodala. He then told Iguodala, “You would have loved playing with me. And I would have loved playing with you.”
Compliments like that from the Logo don’t come often. “Don’t let it go to your head,” he said before departing.
Iguodala is an Olympian and an All-Star with a mega contract. But he still carries the burden of the underappreciated. He reaches his full potential when he’s doing the little things — always needed, but seldom noticed. It was Pippen’s blessing and his curse. McCallum nicknamed Pippen “The Shadow Man” in his book.
“Even the positive things Pippen did were the little things, the shadow things that only experienced eyes could discern … Since 1987, when he came to Chicago, Pippen has had very little reality outside what can be framed by the all-consuming force that is Jordan,” McCallum wrote. “Over the years, I must’ve had three hundred conversations with coaches, GMs and other players about Scottie Pippen and I honestly wonder if any of them ever proceeded without a mention of Jordan.”
Would Iguodala trade his own path for Pippen’s? Iguodala’s career will continue to be undervalued if it ends without a championship ring. But the sweet shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can change that.
“If [the doubters] really saw the game, really knew the game and how much I affected it … ” Iguodala trailed off. “It will never be known. It’s hard to see until I’m right there in front of you.”
It all sounds a bit mystical. But the advanced statistics clarify Iguodala’s defensive worth. Last season, he yielded just 66 points over 105 isolation possessions2 during the regular season. The mark put him in the NBA’s 90th percentile and qualified him as one of its best man defenders, according to Synergy Sports Technology. More than one in five possessions that Iguodala defended in isolation resulted in a turnover, the highest mark among players who defended 100-plus isolation possessions.
Examining isolation possessions is the best way to measure how a player guards his offensive counterpart because it implies that the defender is set and in a good defensive position.
“I can be Tony Allen, but at the same time I can be Scottie Pippen on the offensive end,” he said. “I could get 14 assists one night, or 25 points. I always talked about the hockey assist in Philly. The pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score is sometimes more important. I know if I hit Steph, Klay’s man’s going to have to rotate off the down pick because the big is on me. So there’s 4-on-3 on the other side. I know if I swing it to Steph, somebody’s going to have to cover him, and Klay’s going to be wide open. Before the play is even set up, I know to go this way, so the defense has to shift a certain way. Swing, swing, you get a score every time. I learned this from Andre Miller.”
He’s flashed those skills in his first few games with amazing pass after amazing pass. “I’m watching, laughing,” said Tyrell Jamerson, a trainer who has worked with Iguodala since his days at Arizona. “He’s a legitimate point guard. You know how most people say, ‘Aw yeah, he can run the 1,’ but he really can’t? He can legitimately do it.” Iguodala can still score, too, as evidenced by his recent buzzer-beater over Oklahoma City.
“You still got to play within the game, but having so many coaches throughout my career, it’s like you got to prove your worth, prove your value, prove you can play every new situation you get into because, especially with me, they always want to put me in a box: ‘Just drive and dunk it.’ ‘Just play defense, get steals.’ ‘I don’t want you shooting the ball,'” Iguodala said. “One year, I was told, ‘Stay away from 3s. Limit your 3s, limit your 3s.’ I shot 40 percent from 3 that year, because I was just like, I got to prove myself each and every time.”
At the hotel, a second person approached Iguodala as he sat quietly. It was an excited fan. “Welcome to the Bay,” he said. “We need you.”
Iguodala thanked him. The fan went on his way. “I still think that my game isn’t respected,” Iguodala said later. “So when they say I need you — and I’m not being arrogant — I think y’all need me more than you think you do. And I’ll show you. I just can’t wait to show it, even if they won’t be able to see it.'”