Andre Iguodala Got the Last Laugh
It’s been two days since the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA title, and reality has set in. Not that a franchise that won 23 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year won its first championship in 40 years, but that the NBA season is over.
That annual disappointment is typically countered by watching YouTube clips, the draft, and summer league games, but this year, the sorrow of four months without basketball will be balanced by the comfort of knowing Andre Iguodala deservedly won MVP of the Finals. As someone who grew up a Sixers fan, seeing the ex-Sixer flourish (and finally fit in) away from that experiment gone wrong is marvelous.
Eleven years ago, the Sixers were coming off a season where they missed the playoffs for the first time since the late-90s. Injuries limited Allen Iverson to 48 games, and their next leading scorer, Glenn Robinson, played just 42. They were in desperate need of a player who was young, athletic, and versatile — hence why they took University of Arizona swingman Andre Iguodala with the lottery pick that 33-win season earned them in 2004.
That iteration of the Sixers struggled with finding the right compliment to Iverson, and obvious questions about the immediate impact of a 20 year old with 62 games of college basketball experience lingered. Starting every game from the beginning of his rookie season, Iguodala showed a ton of promise, but not star-potential.
Uncertainty surrounding Iguodala focused solely on whether he could lead a team. He became “The Guy” once Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets in December 2006, but never looked 100% comfortable in that role. He made the All-Star team and even won a gold medal in 2012, but that would be his last season in Philly — he was dealt to Denver during that summer. Iguodala had a fair season in a system where he didn’t have to be “The Guy,” but the Nuggets took an unceremonious L in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs. He entered free agency that summer, eventually signing with the Warriors — the team that beat them in the playoffs just months earlier.
In hindsight, the move to the Bay Area was the best thing to happen to Iguodala as a pro. There, he no longer had to concern himself with the expectations of being “The Guy,” the Robin to a Batman, or even Commissioner Gordon—he could slide into a role player function as a veteran. All he had to do for former coach Mark Jackson was defend and run the floor, and it led to him making the All-Defensive First Team in 2014.
Golden State’s first round exit last season (and, more importantly, Jackson’s turbulent relationship with the organization), prompted Jackson’s firing. Steve Kerr replaced him, and the former NBA champion replaced Iguodala with arguably the NBA’s best troll, Draymond Green, in the starting lineup. It was the first time in Iguodala’s career that he didn’t start every — or any — game, and he posted career low numbers. But that reduction in playing time left Iguodala refreshed for the playoffs — when the Warriors needed him the most.
The 2014-15 season was largely a breeze for the Warriors. They were clearly superior to every other team all year, winning 67 games while Stephen Curry compiled a spellbinding highlight reel en route to winning the MVP award. The biggest test they received came during the NBA Finals, when LeBron James transformed into a walking triple-double# and willed a mediocre Cleveland Cavaliers team# to a 2-1 series lead. Once Curry got sick of the media giving Matthew Dellavedova entirely too much credit for “stopping” him, the series shifted in the Warriors’ favor.
But when Klay Thompson did dumb shit like get in early foul trouble knowing the team needed his offense, Iguodala strapped on that utility belt and became a scorer, running the floor like he was 25 again and doing whatever the team needed to win. He was also given the daunting task of guarding James, and although you can’t really say he “stopped” a dude who averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists per game, no one else on the Warriors could’ve done a better job.
Steph Curry had better numbers during the series, but Iguodala was the difference. Without his production, they wouldn’t have turned the corner in the series and buried the Cavs. All talk about him being the worst Finals MVP in years can cease—he earned it. The Finals MVP and the championship ring are atonement for Iguodala: atonement for the beginning of his career, and atonement for his robbery in the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest.#
I’m happy for the Golden State Warriors as a franchise. I’m happy that Curry got the perfect end to a season spent in the zone. I’m happy that Draymond Green backed up all the shit he talks, and very happy with the rise of Warriors reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. But, above all, I’m happy for Andre Iguodala.
He spent the first portion of his career expected to be a player he was never supposed to be. He wasn’t the missing piece to the Warrior’s championship puzzle, but the wily veteran was the X-factor in closing out the series. Now, instead of his career being defined by his failure to be “The Guy,” he will forever be remembered as Andre Iguodala, Finals MVP.
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