Andre Iguodala has gone from Finals MVP to Miami mentor
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA writer
Andre Iguodala distinctly remembers when the unglamorous became glamorous for him.
When he looked up, the player had made a back cut to the opposite corner, setting him up for a double screen. Already three or four steps behind, Iguodala made a quick calculation in his head. Instead of heading straight for the mortal wall, he made a mad dash using an unconventional route, catching his man at the exact same time Williams switched onto him to help.
Williams was stunned. After the game, he told Iguodala he'd never seen another player recover so fast and make such an intelligent read.
"I was like, oh wow, the little things that I do, guys will notice it," Iguodala, who now plays for the Miami Heat, told FOX Sports in a wide-ranging interview.
Something clicked for Iguodala that night.
He started devoting himself to the things that don't show up on stat sheets. He became an assassin who unravels teams before they notice the loose threads of their own vulnerability.
Ahead of the NBA All-Star game in which the league's biggest stars are celebrated, Duncan Robinson called Iguodala one of the most underappreciated players by fans.
"I think people that really understand the game — coaches and those types of people — really understand that his contribution is so far beyond just the box score, it's incredible," Robinson told FOX Sports. "It's hard to even describe. The things that he does throughout the game, if you're just watching casually, you'd have no idea. But he totally impacts winning on both sides of the ball and is the kind of guy you want to go to battle with."
Iguodala has never cared about getting credit. His career averages of 11.8 points, five rebounds and 4.3 assists a game greatly belie the impact he has on the court. But with just a quick glance at the bench, he gets all of the validation he needs.
After steals, he looks at his hands and then his teammates. And after incredible recoveries, he shares knowing looks with them about his unusual talent.
And off the court, his impact may be even more powerful.
At age 37, Iguodala has also become a mentor, teaching players how to tap into their hidden potential, too. It's a skill he mastered over his 17-season career with the 76ers (2004-2012), Denver Nuggets (2012-2013) and Golden State Warriors (2013-2019).
As soon as Iguodala was traded to the Heat last February, he made an immediate impression.
The Heat players have a ritual they sometimes do before games in which they go around the locker room and state their intention for that evening. Guys would focus on their shortcomings — until Iguodala arrived.
When Iguodala participated for the first time, his intention surprised everyone. It was joy.
Joy? Not effort, rebounding or making shots? In a locker room with eight players who are 25 or younger, that word seemed blasphemous. Every game felt as though it were life and death. But Iguodala reminded everyone that basketball is just a sport that kids play.
It gave his teammates permission to enjoy the ride, which led to some wildly unexpected success.
The Heat, which had 60-to-1 odds to win a title last season, became the first team to reach the Finals with such longshot odds since the New Jersey Nets in 2002. In an improbable postseason run, they beat the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukuee Bucks and Boston Celtics before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship.
During that time, Iguodala helped his teammates stay sane in the NBA Bubble by encouraging them to seek balance. He'd take them onto the golf course, where they'd spend hours talking about anything but basketball. He made them take mental breaks.
For some, it was a foreign concept.
"I used to be legitimately scared to leave my hotel room because I didn't want it to be misconstrued as me not being focused or me not taking my job and my role seriously," Robinson said. "He really helped me understand that, listen, handle your business on the court, and obviously that comes first, but sometimes the best thing for your basketball game, the best thing for your mental is to get away and just kind of have that balance. He's always been on me about like, 'Dude, leave your room, get some sun, go play golf.'"
Hobbies have always been important to Iguodala.
He's a voracious reader, who's often buried in books during flights. He loves golf. And he's very passionate about tech and investments, something that grew from his time with the Warriors near Silicon Valley.
His teammates find him fascinating and hilarious.
Iguodala joked that someone once described him as a "sweet a--hole," a characterization he doesn't disagree with. And according to Bam Adebayo, Iguodala often sends his teammates into fits of laughter.
"He could be in a role in 'The Office,'" Adebayo told FOX Sports. "That's kind of how his humor is."
Everyone respects him as both a basketball player and a man. And Iguodala tries to build relationships with his teammates off the court, so he can best guide them on it.
He zeroes in on what each player needs and shares his insight.
With Adebayo, Iguodala encourages him not to put so much pressure on himself. It was a mistake Iguodala made early in his career after the 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and he needed to become the team's leading scorer. That self-imposed pressure didn't serve him and he's trying to help Adebayo avoid its pitfalls.
As for Jimmy Butler, he tells him not to worry about whether he's undervalued. He believes there's only one metric that truly matters: If a team needs to win one game, which player would they pick to have in their corner? No one, he says, would leave Butler off that list.
And with Gabe Vincent, Iguodala sees a bit of himself in him. Vincent hustles and does the small things, something that Iguodala is trying to convince him can be the foundation of a successful career.
According to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, when Iguodala talks, the rest of the team listens.
"He has a way of relating to different guys and personalities in different ways," Spoelstra said. "I think it's really unique. I don't even think you can teach what he does."
Iguodala, however, wasn't always such a pillar of confidence.
When he was growing up in Springfield, Illinois, he never thought he was good enough to play in the NBA. He was surprised when the University of Arizona recruited him. And he couldn't believe it when the 76ers chose him ninth overall in the 2004 draft.
But Iguodala had a lot of great veterans early in his career that helped him see his potential.
Iverson, in particular, held up a mirror that he desperately needed at the time.
"He kind of made me feel like I belonged," Iguodala said. "He was always telling me, 'Don't be so in awe of the guys you grew up watching. You're just as good as these guys and you're on that level.' From a confidence standpoint, it shot through the roof, just knowing one of the greatest players ever to play felt that way about me."
Iguodala went on to become an elite wing defender, passer and attacker off the dribble. He was an All-Star in 2012, an Olympic gold medalist in 2012, a Finals MVP in 2015 and a three-time NBA champion with the Warriors in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Now, it's his turn to help others.
For Iguodala, that responsibility extends far beyond his teammates.
Iguodala is the vice president of the National Basketball Players' Association and has helped negotiate everything from guys' salaries to the length of their shorts over his eight years with the union.
But that role never became more important than last August, during the first round of the playoffs in the NBA Bubble, when players were debating whether to shut down the season following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Iguodala and NBPA president Chris Paul called a players-only meeting. They had over 200 players sit in a socially distanced circle in chairs, and they stood in its center with microphones.
During that meeting, there was a contingent of established players who wanted to leave Walt Disney World.
But it was Iguodala who championed the interests of the role players who were too afraid to speak up. He pointed out that while some of the league's stars could handle the significant financial losses that would come from walking away, it would be devastating for others who were counting on those paychecks.
His words helped get everyone on the same page.
It saved the season.
"For him to first of all stick up to people in that moment who have a lot of star power and clout, whatever you want to call it, to kind of stick up for the league first and foremost, the best interests of the league, but also maybe the less known, less renowned guys in that room, myself being one of those guys, really meant a lot," Robinson said.
Iguodala identifies with both the stars and the fringe players on rosters. It's something he learned his rookie season from 76ers guard Aaron McKie, who told him that brotherly bonds will be what truly helps him during his career and beyond it.
Even after he leaves teams, he maintains close friendships
Before a recent game against the Warriors, coach Steve Kerr called Iguodala one of his favorite players, adding that they still golf together and will always keep in touch no matter where life takes them.
Meanwhile, Stephen Curry and Iguodala exchanged some playful banter through the media. Curry joked that he hopes Iguodala doesn't remember all of the team's plays. And Iguodala pleaded for Curry to go easy on him, adding that his body is too old and brittle to react to Currys multiple hesitation moves.
Iguodala loved playing for the Warriors. It's where he learned to play with joy. There was a certain light-heartedness among that team and Kerr, who also played for the University of Arizona, spoke the same basketball language as him.
He often refers to his time with the Warriors to teach his current teammates lessons.
"A lot of people want to hear about the Golden State years," Iguodala said. "[They think] we just came to work everyday smiling and tossing the ball around and shooting some baskets and holding hands and it's all merry, but just letting them know that there's a lot of work that went into it, a lot of bumps and bruises along the way that I just embraced and got through. And once I had the opportunity to be in an environment that I thought I could thrive in, going through what I've been through, good and bad, it was just perfect timing and a perfect match."
One of those bumps came at the top of the 2014-2015 season when Kerr asked Iguodala to come off the bench for the first time in his career. That threw off his rhythm and messed with his confidence a bit. He had to tweak his game to be a facilitator and an attacker while also playing within the team's unique offensive flow.
But instead of being resentful, Iguodala devoted himself to figuring out how to make it work.
And during the Finals that season, Iguodala played some of the best basketball of his career. After coming off the bench in the first three games against Cleveland, he was moved into the starting lineup to give the team a change in tempo. Over that six-game stretch, he held LeBron James to just 38.1% shooting and a -15.5 net rating when he was on the floor, compared to James' 44% shooting and +18.8 rating when Iguodala was on the bench.
"And then he gets Finals MVP, so, poetic justice I think at the end of the season," Kerr told reporters before a Warriors-Heat game last month. "Perfect way to cap it off. That's why Andre will always be one of my favorites, just his selflessness and willingness to do whatever it takes to win the game."
Kerr has called Iguodala the "unsung hero" of the Warriors.
And Robinson believes in his short time with the Heat, Iguodala has played a similar role.
When asked if the Heat would've made the NBA Finals last season without Iguodala, Robinson didn't hesitate.
"No chance," he said.
As Iguodala nears 40, he knows his playing days are numbered. He said he's figured out exactly how much longer he's going to play. But when prodded to share that information, he played coy, joking that it could be another day or another decade.
This much is for sure — even with 16 NBA seasons behind him, Iguodala has a bright future ahead of him.
Kerr has long said he could be a coach. Adebayo, however, sees him becoming a CEO of a major company. Iguodala said he has lots of things in the works, but his highest priority after retirement will be spending time with his wife and three children.
For the time being, he's focused on trying to lead the Heat to their first title since 2013.
The Heat know they're lucky to have him. He's an elite player who is incredibly humble, a star who doesn't want or need the limelight, an established veteran who truly cares.
"He's in one of those classes where not everybody gets to be," Adebayo said.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA reporter for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.