Sixers' Iguodala passed up on playing for Team Nigeria

"It was always my dream to play for the USA team," says 76ers star Andre Iguodala, whose father is Nigerian.
"It was always my dream to play for the USA team," says 76ers star Andre Iguodala, whose father is Nigerian. (ALEX BRANDON / AP)
Posted: July 28, 2012

LONDON - Andre Iguodala is competing in his first Olympics here. But he might have been able to play in 2004 and 2008, if he'd wanted to.

Thing is, he wouldn't have been playing with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He would have been playing against them.

Iguodala's father is Nigerian. So he was invited to try out for - and in this case, "try out for" means "make" - the Nigerian Olympic squad. That team, which includes Penn grad Koko Archibong, will compete in these Games with nine American-born players on its roster.

This is the first time Nigeria qualified for the Olympics, but with Iguodala aboard, who knows if the team would have made it sooner?

"They've been trying to get here for a long time now," Iguodala said. "They've gotten here and they want to prove that they belong. They even had training camp in Dallas, in the States. It's interesting. I've gotten calls from them a few times about participating."

In 2004, the first time he was called, Iguodala was preparing for his rookie season with the 76ers. But that wasn't what kept him from saying yes to a unique opportunity.

"It was always my dream to play for the USA team," Iguodala said. "That's where I grew up.

"I never gave it any serious thought. It didn't feel right to me. I've never been there. I've never really had a chance to experience their culture, only from the outside looking in because of my father."

Iguodala said he remembers the 1992 Olympic team - the original Dream Team - better than any of its successors. He was only 8, but he remembered Jordan, Magic, and Barkley more clearly than he remembered, say, the 2004 team that lost to Argentina. That defeat sparked the reorganization of USA Basketball under Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Americans' record is 54-1 in international competition since then. The Americans are prohibitive favorites to win the gold medal.

They are also virtual rock stars, even among the other elite athletes gathered here. Of course, Iguodala is more like the bass player than the lead singer or guitar hero. During Friday's news conference, James and Bryant sat on a stage with dozens of reporters at their feet. Iguodala shared a small riser in the back with Kevin Love.

The day before, Iguodala and his teammates were mobbed during a visit to the Athletes Village.

"It was like being at a mall back at home, but it was all athletes," Iguodala said. "There were a lot of autographs and pictures being taken. It was weird, the crowd that we caused, especially being with LeBron and Kobe. As excited as they all were to see us, we were excited to interact with them."

Iguodala wasn't just being nice. He reeled off a list of athletes he got a chance to meet: Lolo Jones, Sonya Richards-Ross, sprinters Tyson Gay and Jeremy Wariner, and high jumper Brigetta Barret, a fellow product of the University of Arizona.

"I'm a huge sports fan," Iguodala said. "I'm a track and field fan. A lot of the other athletes were surprised that I knew who they were. It will be really exciting to see them perform at the highest level."

Iguodala is coming off a longer playoff run with the Sixers than usual and was nursing an Achilles tendon injury. He said he has felt fine physically despite the quick turnaround.

"It's not too bad," Iguodala said. "I don't have as much of a load on myself with this team as I do with the team back in Philly. I'm a little bit fresher. I come in and play a little bit of defense, make an extra pass, kind of be the glue guy. So it's not as bad."

Eventually, Iguodala will be back in that role with the Sixers. If anything, with the departure of Elton Brand, there will be a larger burden for him to carry. But Iguodala wasn't interested in talking Sixers. Not here.

"That's all a few months away," Iguodala said. "I haven't thought about it too much. I've been focusing on the USA team and the things I need to do to help the team reach the goal of getting the gold medal. I get texts every now and then. I'll give it more thought when it's all said and done and I get back."

One thing that seems certain is that, when Iguodala does get back, he will still be a Sixer. Head coach Doug Collins made that abundantly clear when he met with reporters earlier this month. Collins, himself a member of the 1972 Olympic team, pointed to Iguodala's role on Team USA as proof of his stature among NBA players.

Team Nigeria will have to get along without him.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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