Andre Iguodala eats his vegetables… and you should, too

image from fingerfood.typepad.com MIAMI — There is an interesting interview with Andre Iguodala in a recent edition of the magazine, Food Republic, a slick-looking periodical about epicurean pursuits. It seems to be for those types who use the term, “foodie,” without irony and look to Anthony Bourdain as some sort of righteous hipster.

In other words, it’s a magazine not found at the corner newsstand.

Anyway, it’s not often that pro athletes from Philadelphia talk to slick-looking magazines about their personal chefs or healthy eating habits. Even though it’s not uncommon for non-baseball athletes to be progressive in the training room and training table, it’s decidedly a non-Philadelphian thing. Certainly the folks who shell out ridiculous amounts of cash for the tickets aren’t used to turning over the daily menu to the in-home chef.

Still, the interesting part of the interview wasn’t that Iguodala employs a personal chef or knew early on in his NBA career that his diet and performance were linked. That’s just smart and if anything, “smart” is a pretty good adjective to use when describing Iguodala. No, the interesting part was when Iguodala revealed he liked vegetables when he was a kid.

Really… a kid who liked vegetables?

Well, I was weird as a child. I would eat broccoli raw. I would eat cauliflower raw. I also used to love salads. So, yeah, I’ve always liked vegetables.

Maybe that’s not as weird as it sounds. After all, some kids actually like vegetables. In fact, I remember asking for and wanting to eat spinach specifically because of what it did for Popeye. However, I was quite upset to learn that spinach was not sold at the supermarket in cans and I couldn’t squeeze the middle of one, pop the top and have the spinach fly into my mouth as I wreaked havoc in the neighborhood.

Nope, things are never how they look on TV.

Thing is, kids rarely admit to liking vegetables even when they are all grown up. That is, as Iguodala explained, weird.

Then again, it doesn’t take a long time spent around the Philadelphia 76ers do understand that Iguodala is different. Actually, check out the picture on the right… if there was ever a photo that perfectly revealed the man, there it is. He’s serious, put together perfectly with a Burberry tie knotted just so, with the blue blazer revealing the proper amount of cuff from his shirt. No wrinkles, nothing rumpled and the creases exactly where they should be. Serious, professional, to the point.

That’s Iguodala.

And maybe that’s why after an excellent season of gritty, nuanced basketball, folks still haven’t warmed up to the Sixers’ best player. Even though he’s played for seven seasons with the Sixers after being drafted with the ninth-overall pick in 2004, he’s still an enigma—inscrutable even. Though he comes from Springfield, Ill. just like scruffy and popular ex-Phillies outfielder, Jayson Werth, he’s more akin to fellow Illinoisan, Donovan McNabb. At least it seems that way in how he’s perceived.

Case in point came during the postgame press conference at American Airlines Arena on Wednesday night after the Sixers had been eliminated by the Heat. When asked, point blank, if he wanted to return to the Sixers for the 2011-12 season, Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”

In that setting, Iguodala was presented with a yes or no question. He could have said, “Yes, of course I want to play for the Sixers next season. What a silly question.” But that’s the easy answer. For those who watch him on the floor, doing things the easy way isn’t Iguodala’s modus operandi. Things are much more complicated than yes or no, sometimes. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer and though Iguodala is contracted to play for the Sixers for the next three years, crazier things have happened.

Think about it… think the San Antonio Spurs could use a guy like Iguodala on a veteran-laden team? How about a young team like Memphis? Imagine Iguodala and Tony Allen playing defense on the same team. Or maybe Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Iguodala in Oklahoma City? How about Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki or L.A. with Kobe? It’s almost unfair.

That’s the thing, though. There are no easy answers with Iguodala. Even the easy idea that Iguodala is the perfect second or third piece on a contending team the way Scottie Pippen was with Michael Jordan is not as simple as it sounds. Yes, perhaps as a lockdown defender on an established club would be the perfect setting for him, but then again, it sounds like a pretty good place for anyone. Who wouldn’t want to be on a team where the task is to simply perform your best skill and that’s it? Sign me up!

It seems as if Iguodala is the landing point for where reality and perception fight. No nothing fans and media types cite his salary as excessive, yet it barely cracks the top 40 of all NBA players. Quick, name 40 players you’d take ahead of Iguodala…

Give up. You can’t do it.

It seems as if Iguodala’s perceived unpopularity comes from his personality. He’s neither boisterous nor zany. He’s not one to suffer fools as evidenced in the 2006 Dunk Contest where he pulled off the most impressive and nuanced dunk of the show only to lose to Nate Robertson because he’s short and a better story. Rather than grin-and-bear it, Iguodala hasn’t appeared in another competition figuring there are better ways to have one’s time wasted.

 

Iguodala is all nuance and professionalism. There are all the things we can see like the fact that heading into this year he had missed just six games in six seasons and played in 252 regular-season games in a row. He’s led the league not only in games by playing in all 82 in five of his seven seasons, but also minutes played and average minutes per game. The dude plays the game and he's rare in that he's a ridiculously talented athlete with instatiable hard-nosed/blue-collar chops, too. He's the best of both worlds and he shows up and goes to work.

He earns his pay.

This year, his offensive stats dipped off only because he ceded some of the load to his teammates. With Elton Brand, Iguodala was the leader of the Sixers, helping Doug Collins further a system that raised the win total 27 games over last year.

The numbers were down, but in the realm of advanced metrics, Iguodala was charting the best Win Shares per 48 minutes, assist percentage, the best defensive rating and best rate of turnovers given in a season for his career at stages of the season. 

Though he is just one of two players in the NBA to average at least 14 points, five rebounds and six assists a game this season (LeBron James is the other), Iguodala’s value is on defense. According to advanced metrics from 82games.com, the Sixers are a much better team because of Iguodala’s defense. When he was in the lineup during the regular season, the Sixers were above average in holding down the oppositions shooting percentages and forcing turnovers. Without him, the Sixers were worse than the league average.

Iguodala has three years left on his contract and has relented on carrying the offense, but ideally it could better serve the team to identify its go-to man down the stretch.

These facts might have been lost in the black and white, but not to those who really pay close attention.

“I think Andre with his defense and his leadership has been terrific,” Collins said. “He’s averaging about 15 [points] a game, but he had two of the best defensive plays that I’ve seen all year long the other night against Dallas. Unfortunately, we did not convert, but Andre is a playmaker for us. He’s a rebounder, he’s a defender and I think he’s been terrific. 

“I never judge a guy like that based on his statistics. I judge him by the value to his team and how well he plays and if he gives you a chance to win. When we were 3-13 it was his voice that did the most. He said, ‘Guys, hang in there. We’re close.’ That voice helped us battle through that and get us through to where we are today.”

Ai_dunk Nevertheless, Iguodala was again inscrutable during the playoffs against the Miami Heat. He struggled during the first two games of the series registering as many points (9) as turnovers. In Game 3 Iguodala had 10 assists and 10 points, but shot just 3 for 10 and played much poorly than the stats suggest.

However, in games 3 and 4, he scored 38 points, including 18 during the second half of the season finale where he nearly stole the game from the Heat. In Game 5 he grabbed 10 rebounds, shot 10 for 14 and helped hold LeBron James to his lowest playoff output.

He is a very good player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Iguodala. “He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, he’s long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.”   

Of course, injuries finally caught up to Iguodala in part because he played for Team USA in last summer’s World Championships. Over the final two months of the season Iguodala played through tendinitis (or chondromalacia) the bared resemblance to the same injury that has sidelined Chase Utley. The difference is Iguodala has been accountable to the fans and teammates by actually facing the media, thus, he doesn’t put unfair pressure on his coaches or teammates to answer questions for him. The injuries were a factor late in the season.

But the injuries will heal. In the meantime we’re still scratching our heads over hard answers to easy questions—a place where Iguodala might be at his most compelling. That’s where he is a bit of a rarity in sports in that he is a truth teller. He’s immune to cliché (well, as much as possible) and actually answers questions. Want an answer? Iguodala has one. And though it could be off the mark like some of his long-range jumpers, he’s always provocative. For instance, take his relationship with rookie Evan Turner where a personality clash may have kept the players at odds during the season. When asked about it, Iguodala presented a thoughtful, honest answer

“Evan and I have had a pretty interesting year together — good and bad,” Iguodala said. “We’ve always tried to lean on each other. Over the past week we really bonded and I was happy to see him be in position to do something good and follow through with it.

“I’ve been saying all year that he’s a confidence guy and when his confidence is high, he plays really well. When his confidence is down, he has a lot of self doubt and he doesn’t believe in himself,” Iguodala explained. “But we all know he can play ball and we’ve had many arguments throughout the year in regard to talents and he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong.

“We had a chance to sit down and we had dinner together and were together for about three hours. We just reflected on the whole year and things that happened and what could have changed and things that made us better people or held us back a little bit. It was a good chat.”

When do athletes ever talk like that? It’s kind of like when asked a simple question about whether he will return to the Sixers next year and instead chooses to discuss the legacy he hopes to build.

“I always think about that, keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever — Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain. The franchise has been here forever. And just for my name to be brought up for the guy with the most steals in team history is something I've always thought about,” Iguodala said. “I want to continue to climb the charts and take the team to the next level.”

No, Iguodala is not like most of the athletes that have come through town. He seems to be a strange mix of Charles Barkley and Scott Rolen mixed together. Could it be that the best description is “evolved” more than weird? Either way, he’s right about one thing …

You should eat your vegetables.