Basketball star Andre Iguodala discussing his new memoir at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)
Basketball star Andre Iguodala discussing his new memoir at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)

Warrior no more: ‘True mensch’ Andre Iguodala discusses new memoir at JCCSF

Golden State Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala, speaking in front of a sold-out crowd at the JCC of San Francisco on Friday, brushed off a question about his post-NBA future and its implication that he’d be retiring anytime soon.

“I’ve still got four or five years left,” he said to applause from the audience.

But what nobody knew at the time was that Igoudala, 35, would be spending his remaining years in the NBA wearing another team’s uniform.

On Sunday, ESPN reported that the Warriors were trading Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal that would bring a promising young point guard, D’Angelo Russell, to Golden State.

Iguodala’s appearance Friday night at the JCC’s Kanbar Hall, then — an intimately staged one-on-one conversation with Oakland-based magazine writer Carvell Wallace to promote his new memoir, “The Sixth Man” — would be his one of his last appearances in front of Bay Area fans as a Warrior.

The crowd was blissfully unaware, including the scores of kids wearing Warriors uniforms and T-shirts, some carrying basketballs, and the adults showing appreciation for the valuable “two-way player” — as competent in defense as in offense — instrumental in bringing an NBA championship back to the Bay Area for the first time since 1975.

Before the talk, JCC staff had set up a “DIY Shabbat” in the atrium with wine in plastic cups, challah and tea lights. Local vendors handed out free samples of beer and wine.

Andre Iguodala backstage at the JCCSF with young fans (left to right) Noah Minor, Micah Minor, Olive Miskie and Elizabeth Barry, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)
Andre Iguodala backstage at the JCCSF with young fans (left to right) Noah Minor, Micah Minor, Olive Miskie and Elizabeth Barry, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)

As the house lights dimmed, the 6-foot-6 Iguodala strode onstage looking youthful in a white Oxford shirt and a backward hat to an ovation from an adoring crowd. Iguodala, a Warrior since 2013 and a familiar face in Silicon Valley as a tech investor, purchased a home in Lafayette in 2017.

His memoir, co-written with Wallace (who wrote an essay about Steph Curry for the New Yorker in 2016), is a disarming and frank account of Iguodala’s journey from a working-class neighborhood in racially segregated Springfield, Illinois, to a blue chip recruit at the University of Arizona, to a first-round NBA draft pick, All-Star selection, three-time champion and NBA Finals MVP.

The book’s title refers to his becoming a reserve player on the talent-heavy Golden State Warriors team. When Coach Steve Kerr told him about the new role five years ago, Igoudala, who had spent many years as a starter, thought it signified the “beginning of the end” of a career that saw him average close to 20 points per game as a go-to scorer in Philadelphia, earning a trip to the 2012 NBA All-Star game.

But coming off the bench, he said, he found ways to make an impact not only by creating offense for himself but by “[finding] where the offense lay.” In other words, by facilitating opportunities for his teammates. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the greatest shooters of all time, Iguodala said magnanimously that “sometimes the perfect play — is to get out of the way.”

“Helping find the rhythm for my team worked” in the form of team success, he writes in the memoir.

As a teenager, Iguodala said he developed the ability to “read people,” a skill that has helped him both on and off the court. He can tell just by looking at Thompson, for example, whether he’s going to have a good shooting night, whether he’s got a certain “bounce” in his step. In the tech world, he told Forbes in May, he invests “in the person with the vision, more so than the company” and has had success investing in companies like Allbirds, Jumia and Zoom.

Now an elder statesman in the league, he said he gets great joy from helping younger players on the cusp of NBA success — the ones “who shouldn’t be here” but who benefit from some mentoring, he said.

Andre Iguodala (left) and co-author Carvell Wallace in the JCCSF green room before discussing their new book in front of an eager crowd, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)
Andre Iguodala (left) and co-author Carvell Wallace in the JCCSF green room before discussing their new book in front of an eager crowd, June 28, 2019 (Photo/JCCSF-Adam Silverman)

It’s Iguodala’s cerebral nature — he said he was made to read the newspaper every day growing up, and competed with his classmates as much in reading as in basketball — that has begun to define him at this stage in his career.

The onstage conversation between Igoudala and Wallace was casual and somewhat meandering, like old friends talking. It ranged in subject matter from the value of competitiveness in basketball and life, to being a parent (he tells his three children that “life is easy if you learn how to work hard”), to race relations and the racism that he’s confronted throughout his life.

On the topic of the Warriors’ disappointing NBA Finals loss in June, Iguodala said he was “at peace” with it and that it capped off a “heavy” season, riddled by injuries. Its conclusion “was a little bit of a relief, with so much that was going on,” he said.

“Everything happens for a reason, everything happens how it’s supposed to. It just wasn’t for us.”

Iguodala may not have as great a chance at a fourth championship as he would with the Warriors next year. But it appears he’s made his mark in the Bay Area, and his departure will be felt.

“If you need any reminder that the NBA is a business, the Warriors trading Andre Iguodala to Memphis” is it, wrote ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne on Twitter after the trade news broke. “There’s deep sadness in Golden State at the prospect of this group w/out him. He’s held in extremely high regard by the staff & players.”

Or as Craig Salgado of the JCC framed it in introductory remarks, he’s “a true mensch.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is a J. staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.