Friday, January 31, 2020

10. The Sixth Man: a Memoir by Andre Iguodala with Carvell Wallace

As I write this review, Andre Iguodala is currently officially on the Memphis Grizzlies, sent there in the sign and trade that got D'Angelo Russel to the Warriors in exchange for the always seeking new horizons Kevin Durant.  By mutual agreemement, Iguodala is not playing, which I felt he was justified in doing and I hope softens the "it's a business" blow that shipped him off the Warriors.  He is now seen as a potential contributor to a playoff-bound team, but I wonder if now that the Grizzlies are showing so much young potential that he would not have minded being the old mentor on that team.

At the very least, I do feel I have a much better insight into who he is as a player and a person after reading his book. My parents got it to me as an xmas present. They jumped on the Warriors bandwagon along with the rest of the country (to be fair, they had been paying attention to them before they really got good, probably in some response to my own enthusiasm and loyalty to the team).  I am not sure if Iguodala was their favourite player but they found him the most interesting.  My respect for him was solidified when he received the Finals MVP in 2015.  There were some people who expressed the opinion that it was not deserved.  Anybody who says that does not understand basketball and has probably never actually played.  The Warriors had a better team than the Cavs that year, but they didn't know it and they were not mentally ready for it.  Every time they got shakey and it looked like things were slipping away to LeBron's dominance, Iguodala either pulled them back in with a play or re-anchored their spirits with his consistency and focus.  It was a tremendous demonstration of basketball will and mental toughness.  You could see it happening during the series, the person who was the winner and going to make it happen no matter what. I knew Iguodala had this strength of will when he hit two free throws to tie the regular season game against OKC that season (the game being famous because Steph took the ball out and just hit the most ridiculous three with seconds left on the clock; a shot that woke the league up to how sick he was, but he never would have had the opportunity had not Andre iced those free throws, not his best skill).

My respect for him further grew when I started to read a bit more about his political convictions.  He is not loud about those convictions, but he is clear and firm and uncompromising, speaking openly about race in the NBA and America.  This is rare in pro sports because it takes so much courage and is so risky given the terrible efficacy of the racist system around them to punish any black athlete who doesn't walk the line (see Colin Kaepernick).

I devour these sports books.  First of all, they tend to be written in fairly large type, with wide margins, short chapters and a fairly straight forward style of writing.  The Sixth Man starts with his childhood in the midwest and goes into some details about his basketball path in high school and college. He passes pretty quickly over his years in Philly (though does a good job of characterizing the nastiness of the fans and media there) and then focuses on his time with the Warriors.  He is really clear and direct on the racial structures in his childhood (though he grew up in a good household with a strong mother and grandmother and he stayed on the straight and narrow, he and everybody in his community just knew that cops were dangerous to them because they were black).  He also does an excellent job of breaking down the notion that athletes are spoiled and should be grateful.  He recognizes the privilege but he is also very honest about the physical and psychological costs of dedicating your life and body to a business "owned" by white people who often treat the players as a commodity.  It is very enlightening and I hope some people who have that opinion get a chance to read this.

But for me personally, it was the stuff about specific basketball games and his own evolution in the game that was the most interesting to me.  I watch a lot of basketball, read a lot of sophisticated analysis and still play regularily.  Iguodala is known for his understanding of the dynamics in a game and having him explain the challenges of getting a team to work in a system was fascinating and eye opening.  The best beauty of the game for me (and there are many) is the team interaction, the complex dynamic between the players' roles and the system they are trying to execute in order to beat their opponent.  Iguodala really speaks to that in this book in a way that added to my own thoughts about the game and deepened my understanding of specific games I had watched in the past.

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