Iguodala celebrates after his free throws won Game 6 and closed out the Bulls in the first round…
The montane forest in this the season of the lockout dropped fans off peaks fast and slow. Andre Iguodala and the Philadelphia 76’ers season were associated with Everest like highs and near Death Valley like lows. Iguodala has caught much heat in a city starving for its Sixers to become again the NBA mountainous. There was a minor step taken last night giving the Sixers a seminal moment of relevance, and that Andre held every last Philly fan’s breath in his free throw making hands was how it was supposed to be. Each generation of Sixers team has had a star that in some form captivated the entire league and gave the city sports wide credibility. They were the mountains moving giving everything they had to get the next win. Whether or not the Sixers have success in the next round against their historical rival the Boston Celtics depends on how this current version of Philadelphia rock gathers his new found experience points and builds the grains of moment by playoff moment consistency.
On April 7th vs. the Orlando Magic…an 88-82 Philadelphia loss that was also Dwight Howard’s last NBA game this season…Devon Givens and I made our way across the floor from press row…headed to Doug Collins’ post game conference with the media. We greeted the ushers lining the floor while the Sixers Dream Team performed their usual after event routine, posted up inside the press conference area and wait for Collins to appear at the podium. Before entering the room, I ran into Andrew Iguoldala’s brother Frank. We spoke of a few things professional so when Doug opened, Andre was on my mind and became the focus of what I was to ask his coach…who is as emotional as they come and cares of his players like few others.
Iguodala was 2-9 with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 10 assists in 43 minutes. 2 of those 6 came on a late game dunk where the crowd actually booed Andre because he missed 2 critical free throws just minutes earlier that would have put his team in a position to win. Collins is never critical of his players publicly in a way writers will use to their advantage. He offers team reasons why games are lost but on this night, after a game the Sixers needed a win to improve their playoff seeding, Andre’s performance was less than stellar and had to be scrutinized. After Collins finished his initial statement, I asked the following in the most diplomatic way possible:
“How can you put Andre in a better position to be more effective?”
I stood to Collins’ left. He offered a blank but purposeful stare followed by an emotional short giggle before responding:
“Next question.” Collins then laughs and the media followed suit like linemen reacting to a qb cadence. Behind a curtain to his right, opposite of me, stood Andre’s aforementioned brother…listening intently. He had his arms folded with a hand on his face…thumb to cheek…index finger across his mouth with the rest of his fingers cupping his chin. This was all becoming very interesting. Collins continued: “Andre had 10 assists for us tonight”…he said in a defiant voice speaking away from me and to the room as if I was no longer there. “He’s got the ball in his hands a lot.” There was a pause. I couldn’t imagine what Doug was thinking of me at the time and I’m sure it wasn’t anything particularly flattering. He looked down, his face again went blank, and a couple of seconds passed before another media member chimed in.
Collins’ family were just feet away from where I was standing and as Doug finished speaking, he walked over to greet them. We shook hands and I spoke: “Doug the crowd booed him after a dunk. I had to ask that question based on performance because they want to know.” Collins responded with “That was a bad, bad question. Andre does so much for us.” We both smiled and left it at that because his family was near. As the media left in a rush to get player quotes, I thought back to games where Iguodala was more than his usual. Dre didn’t speak that night and I wondered if the enigmatic star would ever have a game the city would absolutely love him for beyond expectation. Expectations we all have of stars but unfortunately not of ourselves. High Expectations…romantic and not…that Philly insatiably seeks of its own. Yes, often the level of performance sought by this city is just not realistic, but in other instances rightfully mimic Chaka Khan’s Move Me No Mountain: “I don’t expect you to be someone else that you’re not. All I expect you to give is all that you’ve got.”
Andre plays hard even when injured (currently dealing with knee and Achilles issues). His versatility sets the table for this young team without having to fill the net. He is on the Olympic roster, so true basketball minds acknowledge his talent. He is unappreciated in Philly and when the crowd doesn’t respond in his favor, I’m sure it affects him just like it would anyone else. This season, he’s admittedly missed many big free throws and the crowd was left disappointed, just when it seemed after his All Star nod they were willing to embrace him with arms of sibling predilection. I honestly thought the city was done with him after the Orlando loss. The crowd was too disapproving. When he’s at the line and Wells Fargo Arena lies silent, pejoratives are shouted that make your face look different. Often, the frequency of these occurrences are multiple. I couldn’t imagine how one feels…how his coach and teammates feel…his family and the strangers loving and supporting him feel in those situations. As a pro, you must move on because these pitfalls are inescapable. He’s dealt with many trade rumors surfacing yearly but he’s still here and once Andre signed that 6 year, 80 million dollar deal on August 17th, 2008, Philadelphia would judge Dre’s performance a lot more closely. Many people think he’s not worth it. Fans want the 30 point games that are also triple doubles of everything Oscar. They want the game winners in LA and Orlando to become a common trademark. They want him to be LeBron and further…Kobe. They want to see him fly like Doc and/or entertain like Barkley so he won’t have to return like Iverson.
After winning the game and sending everyone (including those hypercritical of him before the free throws) in a frenzy not known to this arena since Iverson, he spoke with TNT’s Cheryl Miller about the process: “(Omer) Asik is a bad shooter, I knew I had a chance to get the rebound. Spencer (Hawes) did a great job boxing out. On the free throws, Tony Battie told me to think of something that you love when shooting free throws. I thought of my son and it was easy after that.”
Man! His son? Yes.
Beautiful is a moment simplified that in this case somehow became a Philly encapsulated victory of legend. Andre had a total game. In 43 minutes, he scored 20 points (7-12), dished out 7 assists, had a steal and a block. More importantly, the will not be denied drive leading to his winning free throws was clutch and even the naysayers had to applaud. His points were down this year but every other stat remained consistent and he shot a career high .394 from behind the arc. Yet, those critical of him will remain cynical because the Sixers won this series in the absence of Derrick Rose and later Joakim Noah, both of whom are game changers with sui generis skill sets. Maybe for Iguodala deservedly so, because challenges are ubiquitous on the path of those willing to become champions. His Sixers are a young team still green in this NBA playoff montane forest, but if they defeat their rival led by the spirited Black Pharaoh (KG) the Eastern Conference Final awaits. Consistency is paramount in a season lacking anything consistent.
The Sixers, this year, routinely gave up leads they were probably numb to hearing of by everyone not wearing a Philadelphia uniform, but this was a game that did not get away. Iguodala, again to Miller, speaks of lessons learned: “We have been in that position so many times this season, where we let games go; games we should have pulled out. Those were all learning experiences for this type of moment. I’m just so proud of my teammates.”
Last night was reminiscent of a contest also against the Chicago Bulls that was the last game at the old Spectrum. Post game that 2009 night, Andre offered this when I asked if that was a win he would cherish because of all the nostalgia: “Oh definitely. I got a souvenir I have in my bag that I can take with me. I will frame it and it’s something no one else can say they are a part of as far as being on that court during the last game here.”
Best believe, after the win last night…presented to them by clutch Philadelphia Hearts of Men…everyone in attendance and watching at home will have an Iguodala rock to bag…signifying a legendary memory. A memory moving the city closer to building a now generation of solid Sixers mountain laden foundation.
(Below is a video courtesy of Anthony Gilbert recorded in 2010 where Anthony and I speak to Dre about a moment that last night came to fruition)