Kimmo Timonen played the seven of his 16 seasons in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks this year. Andre Iguodala, an 11-year NBA veteran, spent the first eight seasons of his career in Philadelphia as a first-round draft pick for the 76ers.
On back-to-back nights early this week, I, along with hordes of Philadelphia sports fans, watched as first Timonen raised the Stanley Cup on Monday and then witnessed Iguodala not only win the NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, but also take home Finals MVP. It was quite a shock to the system for a passionate sports city currently mired in a sports slump, but at least it gave us something besides the laughable Phillies to watch.
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It’s always an emotional experience seeing a player you watched up close and personal for years win a title somewhere else, but to witness two different familiar faces win on consecutive nights in foreign places puts those feelings on overdrive.
For Timonen, it’s safe to say virtually every Flyers fan — hell, every hockey fan outside of Tampa — was pulling for him to hoist the greatest trophy in sports. He has been one of the most understated stars in the NHL for more than a decade and half, a true warrior who also happened to be beloved and respected by everyone in the game.
For my money, Kimmo Timonen is the best, most consistent Philadelphia Flyer defenseman of my lifetime — more reliable than Eric Desjardins and much longer-tenured than Chris Pronger. On top of that, he helped lead the Flyers back to prominence following the worst season in franchise history — which culminated with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, a series the Flyers lost to the same Chicago Blackhawks Timonen won with Monday night.
There was nothing flashy about Timomen’s game. He simply was a defensive wizard, a workhorse who played more than 25 minutes a night, regularly against the opposition’s top line. More times than not, often paired with now-Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn — who lost to Timonen in the Final after also being traded from Philadelphia this season — he shut down those opposing top lines. He did it by throwing his body in front of pucks, closing off angles, moving the puck and always making the right play. He also happened to man the point on the power play and pile up points, eight times topping 40 points in a season, twice notching at least 50.
Furthermore, he was a fan favorite for the way in which he always went about his business, doing his job and doing it well, all while remaining humble. He earned the respect of everyone he came in contact with, and that sentiment was proved in a big way when Chicago captain Jonathan Toews handed the Cup to Timomen first … and made him take a lap with the trophy he had been chasing his entire life.
It was an incredible moment, and it was a great way for the veteran, who almost never even had the chance to play this season at all, to go out. Yes, it was strange watching Timonen struggle when he finally hit the ice in Chicago and go out as a healthy scratch to start the Final. But Timonen played in the final three games, all three Chicago wins, and was there to hoist the Cup despite being relegated to few minutes and few chances to make an impact. That was strange, seeing a former workhorse fight to even crack the lineup, but that didn’t make it any less special.
There’s no better way to go out than on top, and no one deserved that honor more than Kimmo Timonen.
Andre Iguodala is a different matter entirely. No matter how many great things Iguodala did in Philadelphia — become a defensive stopper, lead the team in scoring, make an All-Star team — he was always unappreciated due to his miscast role. He was paid as a lead player, cast as a lead player but never really was a guy capable of carrying a team.
Sure, Iguodala had a lot of success with the Sixers, even leading an upset over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in 2012 playoffs after Derrick Rose got injured, and yes, he even managed to nail some game-winners here and there. But he was the face of one of the most frustratingly mediocre stretches in Sixers history, and it didn’t help that he became the subsequent face of the franchise following the trade of Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets.
He may have the same initials as the original A.I., but that’s where the similarities end between Iverson and Iguodala. Where Iverson was an excitable spark plug and a man literally capable of carrying an entire squad of offensively challenged players to the NBA Finals, Iguodala could not dig the Sixers out of the bottom of the playoff picture. Where Iverson kept everyone on their toes on and off the court, Iguodala showed so little emotion it was hard to tell if he even had a pulse. Where Iverson partied and gave the media plenty to talk about, Iguodala remained straight-edge and boring. And where Iverson was the ultimate bad teammate, Iguodala almost seemed to go out of his way to do what was best for the team, even if that meant playing a role he was ill-suited for.
Essentially, despite the fact that Iguodala did everything just as well or better in Philadelphia as he did this season and this postseason for Golden State, he was never universally loved the way Timonen was. Hell, he wasn’t even as beloved as the divisive Iverson.
It’s strange, because Iguodala never really did anything wrong in Philadelphia at all. All he did was go out and play his ass off, do a little bit of everything and become a true talent in the NBA. We watched him grow up, and he became one of the most well-rounded players in the league.
Yet even as Iguodala was harassing LeBron James, hitting threes and making plays each and every night during the Finals, there were some here in the City of Brotherly Love actively rooting against Iggy. To me, that makes absolutely no sense. I mean, sure, it was a little frustrating watching Iguodala make big-time clutch plays on the biggest stage when he often failed in big moments in Philadelphia, but it also made so much more sense. In Philadelphia, he was the main focus for opposing defenses on a mediocre team. In Golden State, he’s not even the third most potent player on the floor at any given moment, leaving him the type of room and shots he could never get in Philadelphia.
Despite his different relationship with the fans, Iguodala was always a class act just like Timonen, always a tremendous team player — evident by his reluctant acceptance of moving to the bench this season for Golden State — and always a true professional.
Still, it was admittedly a bit jarring to see two familiar faces win the title in foreign places on consecutive nights. I’m sure this has happened before, but I certainly can’t remember it. When you think of Iguodala, you think Sixers first, just as when you think of Timonen, most people think Orange and Black (or maybe Nashville’s uglier colors). Yet here they are, champions for the Bay Area and Windy City, respectively, instead.
It’s a strange thing, and ultimately it’s part of what makes sports so damn exciting. Even with the Flyers and Sixers far out of the playoffs this season and the Phillies mired in a pathetic place, we had something and someone to root for on some of sports’ grandest stages.
Of course, I wish I could have witnessed Timonen drink out of Lord Stanley’s Cup in Philadelphia and seen Andre Iguodala hold the Larry O’Brien donning the Sixers’ red, white and blue, but just seeing them reach at the summit at all was a treat in and of itself.
Congrats, Kimmo, on a great career, and congrats to you, Andre, the first NBA Finals MVP to not have started a single game in the regular season. You both earned it, you both deserved it and I couldn’t have been happier watching you become champions, no matter how much I wish it was in my favorite teams’ colors.