The Sixth Man: A Memoir

The Sixth Man: A Memoir

Excerpt

The Sixth Man: A Memoir

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Excerpted from THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala, published on June 25, 2019 by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2019 by Andre Iguodala.

The night before the opening tip, I was just thinking about the game plan. I wanted to clear my mind but I couldn’t. I found myself imagining scenario after scenario. It would stay that way throughout the entire series. It was not possible to turn it off between games. I could think of nothing but basketball.

I was getting treatments seem­ingly around the clock. Icing, massages, putting a machine on my legs to stimulate blood growth. You go home at eleven o’clock or midnight after the game, and all you can think about is every play.

You are living at home, but it’s rough on your family, because you are essentially absent. I had to let my wife know that I appreciated how she puts up with me during the finals. Because as much as the regular season involves travel and commitments, the finals take over all as­pects of your life in a much more complete way. There is no you left.

We split the first two games, and both of them went to overtime. We lost the third and found ourselves in a 2-1 hole. After game 3, I ran into a VC, close friend, and company starter I knew named Clarke Miyasaki. I will remember this conversation as long as I live. “Clarke,” I said, “I figured it out. We’re gonna win this thing. Watch.” He thought I was crazy. On paper Cleveland had the advantage. But internally I had seen what was happening on that floor. Steph was picking apart their defensive scheme, and Klay was finding some open shots as a result. Which meant they were going to start doubling someone soon. I could see that I was about to get a lot more offensive opportunities, and I didn’t want to say it too soon, but my body was feeling, somehow, right for the first time all year. My shot was feeling good and easy, and I started to wonder if I was going to be able to have my own flow while I kept the team flow.

Coach had recognized that late in game 4, when he went with a smaller lineup – Draymond at center, Steph and Klay in the backcourt, and me and Harrison Barnes rounding out the front line – which Cleveland had a very hard time defending. We could run pick-and-rolls out of that group, and they had to double Steph, which meant that I could shoot or make a play. Defensively we could switch up whenever we wanted, because their bigs weren’t really an offensive threat.

And it meant that I was going to be guarding LeBron.

Much has been made about that. I read an article where someone suggested that me guarding LeBron was the difference in the series. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that there is no such thing as shutting down LeBron James. He’s going to get his points, and he’s got the ball in his hand so much, and he’s such a smart player that he’s going to make the most out of every chance he gets. But I knew that if I played him just as smartly as he played the game, then we wouldn’t have to send two people, which would stifle their offense.

You have to be smart to defend LeBron James, or at least I had to. You have to understand his game and how he thinks and think along­side him but also ahead of him. I remembered my rookie year back in Philly, when I was given a tape with every guard in the East’s best moves, and how I learned those moves, studied them so I could think alongside them and therefore ahead of them. I had to do that in rapid time with LeBron. The key was to be quick, and I had to be ready to take the first hit. I saw that his first offensive move almost always in­volves some contact with you to get you out of the way. And because he is so strong, it usually works. But I realized that if I could with­stand that hit without moving, then he would have to change his plan in mid- step. Next was to always know where the ball was going to be. So whichever way he went, I just got good at guessing where the ball was going to end up.

I had to anticipate. If I missed, I missed. But if I stayed focused, I could get a strip about six out of ten times. But I was comfortable doing that because I knew that I had Draymond behind me, who was just as good as I was at anticipating LeBron’s moves. Then you had to know which way to send him based on what his rhythm was for that particular game. If you watched him for the first five minutes of a game, you could tell what was working for him that night and what wasn’t. If his jumper was falling, then you knew you had to be right up on him. If he was going to be forcing the issue and driving to the basket, then you wanted to set off him a bit, dare him to shoot. You were trying to get into his mind, make him second-guess himself. In that sense it was like high-speed chess. You were guessing what his move was going to be and you knew he was basing his moves on what he thought you expected.

Once we went small and opened up the game offensively and shut it down defensively, we knew we had them locked. I had gotten my rhythm back at exactly the right time, and with about two minutes left in game 6, the reality started to dawn on me. We weren’t sure, we didn’t want to believe it, but we wanted to believe it. We were up by about 10 points, but still we knew it could slip away. We were terrified that some fluke thing would happen. Then they cut it to 7. Then to 6. We were up by about 7 with a minute to go. That had to be it. We couldn’t lose it now, could we?

LeBron came over and started dapping everyone up. Good game, good series, congratulations. But still we needed the clock to wind down, and it just wasn’t winding down fast enough. Meanwhile JR Smith hit a ridiculous three with about thirty-three seconds left to bring the game to back within one possession, and none of us could believe it. It’s the most unnatural state you can think of. Are you about to cele­brate the most important moment in your sports career? Or is it just another day at the office? We really couldn’t tell. We had no idea what to believe. I missed a free throw with about ten seconds left, but it was still a two-possession game. Out of the time-out, JR launched a thirty-footer that missed. Steph grabbed the rebound and there was just this moment where I was looking around for someone else to confirm what I thought was happening. It seemed like we had just won the NBA championship, but it was almost like I couldn’t be sure until I made eye contact with someone else. The clock wound down. Two seconds . . . one second. Steph threw the ball in the air. Confetti came down from the ceiling, and I could not believe anything that was happening. I grabbed the ball and made sure I would never let go of it.

In an instant, the floor was crowded with NBA officials, celebri­ties, players from other teams. It was madness. I just remember Justin Holiday was hugging me. Everything was happening so fast. I was overcome thinking about everything I had gone through to suddenly get to this moment. This one right here. I was just screaming and yelling and hugging anyone I saw. I saw Kiki VanDeWeghe from the league office – guy no one ever likes to see because he’s the one who delivers the fines – and for some reason I was hugging Kiki. I just didn’t care. All my friends were there, and it was a madhouse. Soon my wife brought my son up and I could see in his eyes how incredibly happy he was for us. That was the best part. He was lit up all over.

Meanwhile they were setting up the stage for the presentation of the trophies, and everyone’s family was appearing. Draymond’s mom, Steph’s wife, Klay’s dad. Everyone is hugging and congratulating each other and there’s just this feeling that something really special was happening. I remember taking a moment to look at everything. Confetti in the air, music playing, everyone hugging and crying, sweat not even dried on your uniform. It was hard to believe that only minutes ago we were playing a game and now we were suddenly champions of the world. We were blessed. That’s all I kept thinking about. We were blessed in this moment. Seventy to 80 percent of players never even make it to the NBA Finals. Why us? How us? We hadn’t expected it. It was the most amazing thing. We had just put our heads down and played basketball. And when we looked up again, the air was filled with confetti. Maybe the parade should have been the first sign.

We arrived early at the practice arena, around 8:00 a.m., with our families and friends, kids and childhood homies, and we were still celebrating. I had been in LA on some late-night talk show – I don’t even remember which. It had been a nonstop party. Assembling for the parade, we were still high-fiving and hugging. More speeches were made. Taking pictures with the family and friends of everyone in ownership. Signing hats and water bottles for people you’ve never seen around the facility before. Nike had sent over all the fresh new championship gear that we were excitedly putting on. Food was eaten from a luxurious spread. And then we were to mount our individual buses to go down the streets of Oakland like conquering heroes.

But it took us half an hour just to get to the parade route – thirty minutes of sitting in the sun on the back of a bus on a random side street downtown. By 10:00 a.m. we were already exhausted. And we hadn’t even started. The day wore on. And on and on. The fans gave us energy, and that was the best part. Running side to side, high-fiving kids – there’s no joy like it. It was truly the most beautiful thing. But then once we pulled up to the grandstand, it would be another hour before all the buses arrived. At one point we were just napping. With a million people downtown, waiting for the rally to start, we were just sleeping. The parade was amazing at first and then exhausting.

Maybe it should have been the first sign. Winning the championship was amazing. Being the champion could be debil­itating. Year two with a coach is always a better year than year one. At least if the coach is not terrible, and Steve Kerr is not. He has a brilliant offensive mind and he is really good at teaching the game in all its forms. We had run through the first year, but now the offense would have extra layers. We were comfortable with each other, and people were coming into their primes. The 2015–16 season felt like going 90 miles per hour on cruise control. We’re coming at you, we’re running you over, it’s not going to be hard. We were taking joy in the game, and in the early part of the season the fame had not yet become a problem.

Excerpted from THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala, published on June 25, 2019 by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2019 by Andre Iguodala.

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