For Andre Iguodala, basketball is a game of teamwork, selflessness, leadership and, oddly, cooking.
That’s because it takes a special person to mix all those winning ingredients together on the floor to spark a championship team.
“Whatever the coach needs me to do; whether I need to handle the ball, set up my teammates to be a playmaker … (or) defensively being the main guy who gets everything started, makes sure everyone is in the right position,” says the 6-foot 6-inch, 215-pound small-forward about his sizable list of responsibilities, adding that he “kind of oversees everything.”
On a team boasting flashy marksmen — namely league MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — Iguodala has emerged as a calming presence on the Warriors’ mission to defend the California team’s first title in 40 years.
It all starts with mental preparation, Iguodala says.
“I use my brain a lot now, I’m getting a little older,” he explains. “So I have to think a lot, I can’t use my body the way I used to, really running around (and) jumping around. (I’m) a little sore, so I have to be a smart player, but it’s helped me grow.”
He’s learned a lot from watching leaders in other sports, particularly one fellow champion approaching the summit of his career.
“I’m a tennis fan, so I like Roger Federer,” he adds. “He’s always two or three steps ahead, so he’s hitting a shot but he’s also thinking about the next two shots. So I try to be in that frame of mind — to always be ahead.
“The same way you train yourself to be physically gifted player — whether you do weights, or running to get in shape or swimming — the mental side is the same way. You’ve got to train yourself to be ready for whatever.”
Iguodala was born to a Nigerian father and African-American mother in Springfield, Illinois, where basketball and church were the two constants in his life.
“I started basketball when I was around four or five years old, pretty much my whole family played — my mom (Linda Shanklin) played, my uncle played and from there pretty much all the kids my age in the family played,” he recalls.
He was also strongly affected by his faith. “Just growing up in the church with my grandmother, and really having people of faith around me, keeping me in check … it helps you appreciate the right things and keeps you away from the wrong things,” he recalls.
Being an Illinois native, Iguodala idolized Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen growing up, but didn’t have the means to attend Bulls games at the time.
“There weren’t too many role models who looked like me growing up, so there were a few that came around every once in a while and I really appreciated those moments,” he says.
“But the guys I looked up to I never really got a chance to see,” he laments. “Michael Jordan — I couldn’t get to the game to see him play, never got a chance to meet him until later in life.
“So when I see kids that are from where I’m from, I know exactly what it was like to be in their shoes. I always want to give back and give them a sense of hope that there’s a chance,” he says.
Indeed, when his hometown was affected by a severe tornado in 2006, the Springfield native established a disaster relief fund.
Iguodala also gives back via his youth foundation, which organizes basketball camps and an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Springfield, while inviting motivational speakers from the basketball world to inspire the youths in his program.
“They don’t have to be basketball players but they can be successful at whatever they put their mind to,” he says.
Iguodala claims he never realized he would make it as an NBA player until he was drafted out of college. But he was good enough as a sophomore at the University of Arizona to garner the attention of league scouts, prompting his then-teammate and now Golden State interim head coach Luke Walton to say he would be one of the best players in the program’s history.
With the new season having just started, Walton is taking the reins from coach Steve Kerr, who is sidelined indefinitely with back surgery. All three played under legendary former Arizona coach Lute Olson — a happy coincidence which Iguodala says allowed him to understand Kerr’s request to come off the bench for the Warriors prior to the start of last season.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” he said of the decision, which reduced his playing time from 32.4 to 26.9 minutes per game last season — though, crucially, in the finals, his effectiveness against James prompted Kerr to move him back into the starting rotation and play him the third-most minutes on the team.
“We had the same coach in college — even though it was about 20 years apart — so I kind of know the way he thinks,” Iguodala says of his relationship with Kerr. “We had a talk about it before and it wasn’t a surprise; I knew how to handle the situation and make the most of it.”
He made so much of it, in fact, that by the end of the season he was hoisting the finals’ MVP trophy after averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and four assists over the six-game series against the Cavs. How did the recognition affect him?
“Not as much as people would think,” he says. “It was pretty cool, but I wasn’t trying to get it. I always knew my status and my role on the team, and that was the perfect setup or situation for me to flourish.
“I think it was just a reward for the sacrifices I made throughout the season and it was a great feeling — but the big trophy (the Larry O’Brien trophy presented to the NBA champions) was what I was most happy about.”
In the first four games of season — all wins for the Warriors — Iguodala has settled back into his substitute’s role as a likely contender for one more award: Sixth Man of the Year.