Looking into the life of the Sixers' Andre Iguodala

CHRIS YOUNG / The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register Andre Iguodala, now the key player for the 76ers, slams home two points in a tournament win while playing for Lanphier High School in Springfield, Ill.
CHRIS YOUNG / The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register Andre Iguodala, now the key player for the 76ers, slams home two points in a tournament win while playing for Lanphier High School in Springfield, Ill.
Posted: April 12, 2009

If you think about it, Andre Iguodala's life is viewed in flashes.

The blur of him snatching a rebound, blazing up court, dunking. A glimpse of his silhouette - a Louis Vuitton sweater covering his hanger-like shoulders - as he leaves the Wachovia Center and slides into his Range Rover.

In Philadelphia, Iguodala is AI2.

He is the man with the $80 million contract, a string of digits he seems destined to wear like one of his four tattoos: open for judgment.

No matter what Iguodala does, how hard he works, how much he improves his offense, Philadelphia still turns a skeptical eye at the 76er who shares Allen Iverson's initials but very little else.

Iverson scored and delivered his opinions like commandments. Iguodala scores less, does more, and is still discovering how to lead this team.

But before this city, there was a kid, a teenager, a college student. There was a Boys & Girls club. There was the high school high jump. There were tears in a hotel room. There was a 6 a.m. meeting at Denny's, and now there are summer workouts that make others collapse with fatigue - literally.

Here, on the verge of the NBA playoffs, are glimpses of the player the Sixers need to play his best. They are offered like the rest of Iguodala's life: in flashes.

Lawrence Thomas had followed Andre Iguodala since Iguodala was a spry fourth grader playing games at the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield, Ill. Thomas would referee, noticing Iguodala's passion, competitiveness and, more specifically, his ability to do everything with his left hand that he did with his right.

A few years later, as the Lanphier High School freshman boys' basketball coach, Thomas first coached Iguodala.

That freshman season, Iguodala's parents had told Thomas, "Go ahead and challenge him."

So that's what Thomas did.

"He would mutter under his breath to his mother," Thomas recalled. "A lot of time he didn't like me challenging him, but his parents backed me up. There was no out for him to go home and vent to them about anything that happened during the games and practice."

Thomas' son, Lawrence Thomas Jr., now a high school junior, then just a young kid, would stand on the sidelines during practice. If the elder Thomas was really getting on Iguodala, Iguodala would walk over to the sidelines and joke that he would take out his frustrations on the coach's son.

He often did, blocking his shot from everywhere inside half court. A decade later, Iguodala would run the kid - now a big-time college prospect - through one of his workouts.

When Iguodala's freshman team lost the championship game of the city tournament, he was so angry he stomped on a chair.

"He didn't know any other way at the time to vent his frustration for us losing," Thomas said.

"I hate losing to the point where it kind of backfires on me sometimes," Iguodala said.

As a freshman high-jumper on the Lanphier track and field team, Iguodala competed in the sectional meet for a spot at states. His coach, Mike Garcia, had no expectations that Iguodala would qualify. He was, after all, a freshman.

Iguodala expected he would.

But he didn't, barely missing a spot. Garcia walked to his freshman, thrilled at his performance. Iguodala did not share his excitement.

"He was sure he was going to states," Garcia said. "That caught my attention."

Garcia remembered the bus rides during which Iguodala would be sitting on the bus with all the other kids, just talking and laughing all the way to the meet. Or the time he watched out of his office window when Iguodala and another freshman were in a snowball fight with the two senior stars of the track team.

"Andre wouldn't back down," Garcia said.

In the summer of 2000, Garcia drove Iguodala home from a track and field camp at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. After Garcia had dropped off Iguodala, he went back to his house, walked in the door, and said to his wife, "That was a great drive."

"I remember that drive because he was just a kid still, but he could carry on a conversation. I had learned so much about him."

Iguodala, Garcia said, had a vision for himself.

During Iguodala's freshman season at Arizona, he played behind Luke Walton, now with the Los Angeles Lakers. That season's team, ranked No. 1 in the country for most of the season, was not Iguodala's: It was Walton's and guard Jason Gardner's.

Iguodala's position coach was Jim Rosborough.

For his freshmen to fully appreciate the Arizona legacy, Rosborough would not so casually wear a Final Four T-shirt under his golf shirt or carry his coffee in a national championship mug or weigh down one hand with jewelry worthy of a king.

On one such occasion, Rosborough remembers Iguodala offering an "observation," followed by howls of laughter from his teammates.

"It was probably some great witticism that I didn't hear, but the other guys heard," Rosborough said. "He would get on me about that and some other things, and he had this great, low-key, out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth wit. He has a crazy laugh, if you've ever gotten him into that mode where he's laughing."

After his freshman year, Iguodala was surfing the Internet. He found an NBA draft site. His name was listed.

"I was like, 'Huh?' " Iguodala said. "I didn't realize how good I was. I had gotten some playing time my freshman year. But I didn't really know I was good."

That day was the grass roots for a laser-focused sophomore season.

His sophomore season, Iguodala could have roomed with a teammate or another guy friend. He could have spent his free time partying.

"I don't drink," Iguodala said.

So he roomed with two soccer players - from the women's team.

"The best thing about that was the house was always clean, and there was no noise," Iguodala said. "So it wasn't always about basketball."

One of the Arizona assistants, Rodney Tention, remembered that decision.

"He wasn't, I'm not going to say, a loner," Tention said. "He would do everything, hang out with the guys, but there was always . . . "

"I think within his sophomore year here, he was about as serious as any guy we ever had here about doing the things he needed to do about becoming a pro," Rosborough said. "There was something in Sports Illustrated that he didn't have a fun time here, and I don't think that's true. In his sophomore year, I think he would agree, some of the fun of being a college student was taken out of the mix because he was so concerned with getting himself ready to turn pro."

Iguodala said he wasn't convinced he was ready until after the season.

"I thought if I had a good year [I could turn pro], but I still didn't know I was good enough," Iguodala said. "I knew that I wanted to try to make that jump after the basketball season was over."

In the Nov. 29, 2004, New York Times, the morning after Arizona's 78-77 loss to the University of Florida, this was written: "Christian Drejer sparked the Gators' comeback with one of his four steals when he tipped the ball away from Arizona's Andre Iguodala . . . "

It was the second game of Iguodala's sophomore season but the first to be nationally televised. He was 2 for 13 from the floor with six points, 10 rebounds, eight assists.

That season, Iguodala's road roommate was former team manager Jack Murphy, then video coordinator and now a scout for the Denver Nuggets. When Murph - as they call him - returned to the hotel room, he found Iguodala on the phone with his older brother, Frank. Tears were in Iguodala's eyes.

"I wanted to win really badly, and I wanted to play perfectly," Iguodala said. "I was putting too much pressure on myself."

"He felt his entire season was ruined in that moment," Murphy said. "He put so much pressure on himself to lead the team that season. After that, I knew he truly, truly cared about the team and about winning."

It's an Arizona tradition that road roommates exchange gifts at the end-of-season banquet. They're usually gag gifts, such as shaving cream if a guy needs to shave more.

But Murphy gave Iguodala a copy of Ralph Ellison's 1953 National Book Award-winning novel, Invisible Man.

Murphy said he did it as a symbolic gesture because he believed in many ways that Iguodala was the invisible man.

"I still don't think people in Tucson know what he is about," Murphy said.

Did Iguodala read the book?

"Actually, I don't know," Murphy said. "Ask him, will you? He better have."

Iguodala read it twice.

Murphy is an Eagles fan.

Every year, Iguodala calls and asks, "When are you coming to an Eagles game?"

"The guy doesn't even need to talk to me anymore," Murphy said. "But I tell you what, I can't remember a time I called and he didn't answer his phone."

Rob Pelinka was already Kobe Bryant's agent. In 2004, he wanted to be Iguodala's agent, too. That spring, Iguodala was 20 years old, a few months removed from his sophomore season at Arizona, a few months away from being the Sixers' lottery pick at the 2004 NBA draft.

Iguodala granted Pelinka's request: Denny's Restaurant, Springfield, Ill., 6 a.m. Not even high-powered meetings with big-time agents would interrupt his workout schedule.

To a soundtrack of sizzling bacon and frying eggs, Pelinka and Iguodala sketched out a career plan still being realized.

The first tangible thing Pelinka gave Iguodala was Oscar Robertson's autobiography, The Big O.

"I felt at some point in Dre's career he could be one of the few players in the NBA that could come close to averaging a triple-double," Pelinka said.

On his way to New York for the 2004 draft, Iguodala stopped in Philadelphia and worked out for the Sixers.

"It was a closed workout; nobody knew," said Sixers coach Tony DiLeo, who was then in management. "We tried to move up to get him at five," DiLeo said. "I forget what we were offering. We wanted to move up because we'd never thought he would be at nine."

Last summer, Thomas - Iguodala's old freshman coach - received a call from his former star player.

As he often does in the summer, Iguodala was working out with the younger Thomas.

"LT can shoot with me," Iguodala said. "He could do that all day. . . . But when I put him through a drill where he had to do defensive slides with bands, he just dropped out.

"That," Iguodala said, "was funny."

"I get this call from Andre saying LT was so tired from the drills he was just lying on the ground," Thomas said. "Everything Andre does, my son does."

Well, almost everything.

When Iguodala was a senior at Lanphier, he was named the State Journal-Register's scholar-athlete of the week. On the accompanying questionnaire, next to the question, "In 10 Years I See Myself . . ." Iguodala wrote, "Coaching basketball at the high school level."

"I remember when I filled out that questionnaire," Iguodala said. "I wanted to put down that I would play in the NBA, but then you always get everyone telling you, 'That's unrealistic,' so I put that instead."

Maybe right now, with the Sixers hovering around .500, a lower-tiered playoff team, scrawling "Future NBA Champion" by Iguodala's name might seem a little unrealistic, too.

There are the boisterous radio programs, eager to say he isn't good enough, isn't what this franchise needs. There are the fans, the ones who wish the original AI would return to Philly. There are the ones who think Iguodala will never be the player they want or need. And there are others who love him for his above-the-rim play, for his all-around impact.

"Sometimes they expect me to do what he did," Iguodala said. "But scoring 30 isn't my game. . . . Being an overall team guy, maximizing everybody on my team, that's my game.

"This city wants to get deep with the person. They want to know everything about the player. I'm trying to embrace the city as well as them embracing me. It's a passionate town, and they only get to see a certain part of you."

Philadelphia sees Iguodala. But maybe only in flashes.


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan

at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.

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