Andre Iguodala on the Business of Basketball
After Andre Iguodala entered the N.B.A., fifteen years ago, he quickly became known as an athletic scorer, playing first for the Sixers and then for the Nuggets. He made the All-Star team in 2012, and seemed destined to have a perfectly successful but championship-free career. And then, in 2013, he joined the Golden State Warriors and became part of a core that would include Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and eventually Kevin Durant; the team went on to win three titles in the next six years, break the regular-season win record, and get mentioned as one of the best teams of all time. But, in the process of joining a group of multiple All-Stars, Iguodala changed his role. He agreed to come off the bench, focus more on defense, and become known—as the title of a new book that Iguodala wrote with Carvell Wallace has it—as “The Sixth Man.” After the Finals series against Cleveland in 2015, during which he primarily guarded LeBron James, he won a Finals M.V.P. Award. This past Warriors season ended on a disappointing note, with an injury-ravaged team losing to the Toronto Raptors.
I spoke with Iguodala, by phone, on Friday. Forty-eight hours after our call ended, however, the N.B.A.’s free-agency season began, and Iguodala, who was under contract for one more year, was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Warriors, who also lost Durant, appeared to be in semi-rebuild mode, and Iguodala, at age thirty-five, was not a part of their future. He declined comment when I reached out again on Monday.
Iguodala’s book details the ups and downs of the Warriors dynasty, and the increased media scrutiny that the whole team faced in the midst of their success. He also writes about his coaches—Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr—and his interests outside of basketball, including in the Bay Area’s tech scene. Our interview touched on his upcoming plans, his feelings about Golden State, and players’ increased awareness of the business aspects of the league—and in this business, it seems, anyone can be traded at any time. During the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed how he prepares to guard someone, the uniqueness of Steph Curry, and the clash between religious beliefs and gay acceptance in the N.B.A.
What are the biggest changes in the N.B.A. since you entered the league?
We players hold ourselves at a different level now than we did before. Before, it wasn’t as much about how active we were, whether it be socially or from a business perspective, a mental space, all those things. We would like each generation to be able to learn from the previous. . . . I think we’re all trying to be in a better space. And you see that physically, with the way we’re training, with the technology we’re using on and off the court, whether it be with sleep or with yoga or changing our diets. And then you see that with our business, and the way we’ve disrupted the old model of endorsements, and how we’re taking equity in companies, and how we’re running our businesses and how we’re running our brands, and how we’re taking more ownership of our brands. All those things have really changed throughout the last decade.
Was there some aspect of tutelage or mentorship that you didn’t get that is different now than when you entered the league?
I don’t know if there was anything that was missing, but I think we’re just getting access to more, especially with technology, and everything is in front of you. And teams or organizations are using analytics to decide which players will fit better with a team and what players they can get for cheaper and still be as effective. We were able to do the same thing: take those analytics and see the impact that we have on a game and the impact that we have on businesses. So we’ve just smartened up.
How have conversations among players changed? Are plane rides different?
The plane is a sacred place for players to be able to relax and get away from the noise. You are seeing more conversation on the plane rides. You’re seeing a lot of books on plane rides. You’re seeing guys read newspapers. Klay Thompson’s an endorser of the local newspaper and it’s a thing for him to have the newspaper, in physical form, in his locker every game or in his locker every shootaround. It’s not just on basketball or locker-room chatter.
How much disagreement is there during political conversations?
Well, it’s kind of that fine line between what’s sacred and what you can share. But we’re just having a candid conversation, whereas in the past we weren’t as aware of what’s going on, or we just didn’t care. But we’re seeing the effect it has on our people and the people that we resonate with through the majority of our lives. Our upbringing is definitely—we were right in the middle of that. But we’re having those conversations and we’re talking about ramifications of decisions that are made by others and how that’s going to affect us and affect others. So that’s what I’m most proud of—that we’re having them.
Do you think a lot of N.B.A. players voted for Trump?
That’s tough for me to answer. I don’t know. That’s an interesting question.
Were you surprised he won?
No, I wasn’t surprised.
Just from what was going on. It’s interesting. You watch a lot of different shows, from “Billions” to “Veep” to—what’s the show with Shonda Rhimes?
“Scandal.” You watch all these shows and your view is kind of skewed of how things work. Not even skewed—just as not surprised by anything, especially in this day and age and how social media really impacted that whole election. It just seemed like anything could happen.
How is this Warriors team different from other teams you have been on?
Stars were really aligned with how the team was built. We were lucky or blessed or whatever you believe in. I say we were blessed in how the team was formed. Then you have a superstar who’s that rare humble superstar, once in your lifetime—that goes unnoticed, but he sets the culture—Steph Curry. They were aligned with Mark Jackson coming in and being able to give those guys confidence that they could be the best backcourt in N.B.A. history. And, when Mark Jackson said that about them, Steph and Klay Thompson, it was like this kind of culture—there’s something going on. Draymond Green’s the right balance from Steph, who’s quiet and reserved. Draymond kind of bringing a fire and energy into something we don’t have. I’ve just been fortunate enough to get in a good spot in my career where I can contribute in other, smaller ways, but still have an impact. And we get Kevin Durant and all hell breaks loose.
How did all hell break loose?
In terms of the dominance that we’ve had. Everyone is upset at how dominant we’ve been.
Steve Kerr has made comments publicly where he’s referred to Durant as the best player on the team. And what struck me about that, whether you think it’s right or wrong, is the self-confidence he must think that Steph Curry must have to hear that. I was curious if you had the same read on that.
We all understand how the team thing works. It’s very fragile, and if you don’t have strong people in place it doesn’t work. We don’t have as much success as we do. But I think Steve understands his players and he understands that.
Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said earlier this year that he thought there was a lot of player unhappiness in the N.B.A., and that it’s getting worse in some ways. Do you agree with that, and is that something you worry about, too?
There’s a little bit more pressure, and players aren’t able to be themselves. I don’t think they’re able to relax. They aren’t able to take a step away from the game. It’s like you’re always on, especially with our team. You know, you walk outside, you travel, you go outside your hotel, you just walk down the street and get a bite to eat and it’s twenty, thirty fans following you, pictures being taken.
Have you had any bad fan experiences?
Yeah. I’m sure everybody has had an experience with a fan that they weren’t comfortable with or that’s been disrespectful. But you just look at, just being African-American, you’re gonna have those experiences. And that’s another part that, you know, people don’t understand. We are also African-American, the majority of us. And, where we live, we are some of the very few, as well. But we are having conversations about that, too. And that’s another mental part of it that we’re getting through, as well.
How do you think the game has changed from fifteen years ago?
Oh, the game is a little more offensive-oriented, and that’s even from the way it’s officiated. The game is a little bit faster. You see more possessions. Obviously, you’ll even see more three-pointers being shot. And so it’s tough to be a defender right now, but the fans seem to enjoy the speed of the game.
But you have become known for your defense.
Right. I’ve been able to adjust and still I have kept up. And I do a few intangibles that don’t show up in analytics or don’t show up on the stat sheet, but it’s noticed by the teams that want to have a culture of winning.
Do you think that the stuff that you do doesn’t show up even in advanced analytics?
Oh, yes. Most definitely. Just understanding spacing. When you’re out there with a bunch of great players who can score the ball, it’s the art of getting out of the way. A lot of players don’t understand, because they’re so focussed on trying to make themselves seen. I’m in a really good position, because my track record has proven itself.
Are you, as a defender, looking at a lot of stats and numbers of people you are guarding?
You have to have the right balance. Some teams are too heavy into analytics and some teams don’t use it enough. And just the more games I had, the more comfortable I felt. So experience is the key. But you definitely use analytics to help you and get your mind in a place where you feel like you can have a little bit of an advantage at certain times.
How does that work? Like they give you an iPad, or you do research on your own?
Well, you try to keep yourself at least familiar throughout the season. So you’re watching N.B.A. games. We have conversations on who’s playing well in the last week or two weeks or last month. I don’t watch too much TV except basketball on the road.
And “Veep” and “Scandal.”
Right. Well, I don’t watch those showsIn terms of basketball, yeah, you’re always watching, you’re seeing what’s going on NBATV and you, like I said, the NBA talk is 24/7 now. So I pretty much have a good idea of what’s going on. So, for me, I just study so much now when I can. It doesn’t take me as long to pick up on guys’ tendencies. And, once you go into a series against them, you get your edits and you get an iPad with clips of every player, the team’s plays, the tendencies, what they like to do. We do discuss them and then you walk through them on the court and you’ve got to go out there and execute.
If you were on a different team and had to guard the Warriors, who would you guard?
Oh, that’s a good question. I’d probably have to see the rest of them. And in our system you end up guarding everybody. We had a series with Houston last year and they took us to seven games. They did a pretty good job of getting us out of our rhythm. But this team is like a well-oiled machine.
Was that the closest you felt like a team got to stopping you once you had Durant?
I felt like they did a really good job. They did the best of everybody.
You mentioned Mark Jackson earlier, who was fired as the Warriors coach, and you made some comments last week where you said, “We’re afraid to really say our beliefs now.” And what you were referring to was Jackson’s religious beliefs and the fact that there were gay people who worked at the Warriors. What did you mean by that, and did you feel that Jackson was mistreated?
We get a lot of questions about something someone else did, or something someone else said, and we speak on it, and it’s difficult, because sometimes it is made into your point, and that’s not my point. The question was, first, did he force us to go to church? And I’m, like, no, we were never forced to go to church. And then the other question was did he have an issue with gay people? From what I saw, he reads the Bible and he has his beliefs on things. We should all accept each other, but we should also respect views of others from a spiritual standpoint. But there should be no hate involved. I think you have to add that. We should all respect each other’s views, but if you’re the Ku Klux Klan, obviously I don’t respect your views.
Do you respect religious views, if they’re not accepting of gay people?
That’s the thing it says in the Bible: You shouldn’t judge anyone, and you shouldn’t judge anyone. And I’ve also gone to great lengths to respect, and work with, people that have sexual beliefs outside of mine. Not really beliefs; it’s just what I choose.
But I don’t agree with that statement. We should accept everybody.
And just in terms of, Jackson’s relationship to the N.B.A.: the word that you said was accurate was “blackballed”. Do you feel that he was mistreated by the N.B.A. community for his beliefs?
I think we have to figure out what our term for “blackball” is. He hasn’t been able to get an interview for a job. And, if you’ve seen any track record of any coaches who’s had success the way he had success when he was here, and what he’s done with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and myself, if there was any other coach, they would have been hired right away, you know, just look at his track record and what he’s been able to do.
Just to be clear, he’s one of the two lead analysts on the ABC broadcast that does the N.B.A. finals. So he’s definitely part of the N.B.A. community in some way.
That’s an interesting way to put it. The analyst that works for ESPN: Is he a part of the N.B.A. community? It is, but to a certain extent it isn’t. He’s obviously showed his passion and let it be known that he would like to coach. And he hasn’t been given that access.
Are you proud that your team started the tradition of not visiting the White House, at least while the current occupant is in there?
I was thinking about that earlier. That’s a dangerous word in my opinion, that word “pride.”. But we had Dr. Yusef , from the “exonerated five,” at our tech summit yesterday. And, when you talk about disruption in tech, that’s disruption in humanity, in terms of what that group was able to overcome and they’re all still here standing.
This is the so-called Central Park Five?
Yes. And you had someone who’s serving as the President of this country, who got out a full-page ad saying, “Hang these guys and strip them naked and whip them in the streets.” And there’s no evidence that these guys were guilty.
Andre, thank you. I’m a Rockets fan, and hoped to use this interview to cause internal dissension, but I think I failed.
My career is over, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Oh, come on. Don’t say that.
It seems like that’s what they want.
Anybody who doesn’t like the Warriors. I am joking with you. I’m sticking around.