Whether flipping off a TV camera, instructing restaurant wait staff to allow Steph Curry to eat in peace, managing the relentlessly sky-high expectations of Warriors fans (and owner Joe Lacob), encouraging DeMarcus Cousins to be himself (no, really) or explaining the foolishness in thinking the Warriors are better without Kevin Durant, Iguodala considers it his duty to protect the Warriors' oh-so-special chemistry from any and all forces that threaten it.
Now, near the end of his 15th season, it is the mental energy required to keep those intruders at bay more than his 35-year-old legs that have him contemplating retirement. Now, as Iguodala and the Warriors embark on their fifth consecutive Finals, it is the lack of appreciation for what makes the Warriors truly special—from fans, media, the team owner himself—that has Iguodala weary of being in the spotlight their success has attracted.
"We kind of live in a selfish world," Iguodala says. "We always have lived in that moment where it's all about self-satisfaction, how I feel and what makes me feel good.
"So if what makes me feel good is you winning, I don't care how you feel. You make $20 million a year. You're a Warrior. What does it mean to be an athlete [to those people]? Man up. Go back to the old days, when they were real men and fought through pain and played in Chuck Taylors, breaking ankles and limbs. They had no treatment. There was no weight room. There was no physical therapy. That was the real essence of the sport and that's what you've got to do.
"You go kill yourself, and then they wonder why we lose sense of who we are once we stop playing."
This year had a particularly daunting array of barbarians at the gates—questions about the Warriors' chemistry after a highly public dispute between Draymond Green and Durant that continued into the locker room, the addition of Cousins and his attempt to resurrect his career after a torn Achilles and some hotel-bill antics by Jordan Bell that earned him a one-game suspension.
"It's different every year," Iguodala says. "We put energy into blocking out certain things this year. It wasn't that things that were actually happening within us, but we heard it every single day, so you had to make sure it didn't creep in.
"There have been a lot of things this year. The Draymond-KD thing everybody made a big deal out of, it didn't really bother us. It didn't do anything to us. We had to put a lot of energy into DeMarcus, and not in a bad way. Sometimes you bring in a new guy, and they're reluctant and afraid to mess it up, and then they're not being themselves and limiting themselves from being who they are, and we had to be like, 'No, no, do you. We'll work around you. But in this area, we need you to pull back a little bit and do this.' That was a lot of energy. It was positive energy, but it's still energy spent. It's something different every year. We've just done a good job of weathering the storm."
He hinted that if the Warriors win a third consecutive title, he would play out the remaining year on his three-year, $48 million deal to see if they could make it four in a row. But that would be out of a sense of allegiance to the Warriors' nucleus, which he has been a part of since 2013.
"That's what I don't like most, that everyone is trying to find a way to divide us," he says. He points to the debate over whether the team was better without Durant after the Warriors closed out the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs then swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, all after Durant went down with a strained right calf. Iguodala sees the topic as pointless, considering the Warriors won both with and without him.
"That's what annoys me," Iguodala says. "Why does it have to be, 'You're better this way,' or 'You're worse that way'? That's what myself, Shaun [Livingston] and [Andrew] Bogut are here for; we're able to adjust no matter who is playing. I love seeing KD do what he does. Everybody on our team does. When a guy goes down, you usually see someone step up. When we play other teams and a main guy goes down, what happens? We let our guard down, and some guy who averages eight points a game gets 25. We're like, 'Who is this dude?' His opportunity just presented itself.
"Same with us. When KD isn't out there, we know we have to work harder, so it's a different type of thing. And now we've had success and it's like, 'See what happened when KD's not there?' No! When I came out of that Houston series, with no KD there was more stress on my body and now something flares up. That's because KD wasn't there, but nobody is going to say that. I'm playing 40 minutes a game vs. Houston and then hobbling around on one leg the next series. I missed KD. But we win 4-0, so no one is thinking about that."
The Warriors' success has spoiled both the fanbase collectively and Lacob in particular. It's palpable in everything from the energy in Oracle Arena to the supreme confidence Lacob exudes in interviews.
Since a group led by Lacob bought the team in 2010, they've been to the playoffs seven times and are on the cusp of winning a fourth championship. Having spent his first eight seasons in Philadelphia (during which the 76ers never topped the 43 wins earned in his rookie year) and only getting out of the first round once in five postseason appearances, Iguodala knows firsthand that the Warriors' recent run of success is the exception, not the rule.
"He's part of the perfect storm," Iguodala says of Lacob. "New ownership [comes in with the attitude], 'I want to win.' Tastes success very early, so he's all in. That's the gift because he will go to whatever lengths to keep this thing going. But he hasn't experienced the real NBA yet. I'll leave it at that."
Warriors fans, meanwhile, have apparently forgotten what the real NBA is like.
"We make the Finals four years ago," Iguodala recalls, "and it was, 'Man, I just love y'all so much for what you've done and how y'all play. Win or lose, love y'all.' Now? Guy pulls up next to me and says, 'Hey, I need another one! I need y'all to get another one!' My bad. Three ain't enough. I'll get you another one.
"Playing for the Warriors is just like playing for Team USA. When you play in the Olympics, you don't even enjoy it. There's the anxiety of 'We have to win. We can't lose, or we can't go back home.' We talk about it on the Olympic team: 'We can't go back home without the gold medal, fellas. Got to lock in. Let's lock in.' Then once you win, it's like, 'Yeah, we got it, we can go back home. Yay, we won, but we were supposed to.'"
For all that troubles Iguodala, he takes both pride and solace in being part of a team culture that is extremely rare in the NBA or anywhere else.
"We have a group of well-balanced athletes, guys that don't need basketball to feel they have purpose in life," Iguodala says. "We've got guys who come from money; they realize the good and bad of having it. And we've got veterans—Bogut, myself, Shaun—where we've seen the good and bad of the NBA. We've been able to navigate our way through it, not just from a physical side because we've had injuries, but the mental side, too, because we've been able to pull ourselves away from the game and have a bigger vision of our lives.
"I think that's what makes us special. I think that's what makes Shaun and myself special. We don't care if we're noticed or not. I hear the seventh or eighth man on a team making comments like, 'This ain't going to happen because I need to do this' or 'This is supposed to be for me.' I'm like, 'Man, what?' But that's everywhere. I always say we have a special group because we've seen a lot, so we're able to nip it in the bud before it can rear its head. We realize we might get a free agent or we might get a guy on this team who is not used to a winning culture and he might have a few habits and we nip it quick, like, 'Naw, that's not how we do it here.' So now we've set the culture where guys come in knowing, 'All right, that's the Warriors, let me check my ego at the door.' Once they're invited into this thing that we have, they're like, 'Man, this is special. You're all good people, no one really cares who gets what.'
"But I see it on every other team. I can see it on the court—he don't like him, he's mad at him, he feels like he ain't getting what he's supposed to get or he's doing all the dirty work and no one's talking about him and you can see it in him. Like, 'I'm setting all these screens, I'm doing all the dirty work and I'm going to get the short end of the stick.' Very few superstars embrace that, acknowledge what other guys are doing. Ours do."
Iguodala finds more peace in practice than in the games, even when tasked to work on the weakest part of his game.
"There's this one drill I do that I hate," he says. "It's like, 'Yo, this is the worst.' It's the half-moon drill. You just shoot, shoot, shoot all day. It's the hardest drill for me to do, but I know in order for me to be where I'm at, I need to do that, and now I'm to the point where I like it. You learn to love something you hate because you know the benefits of it. It's part of the process. It's become, like, breathing to me.
"I like basketball, so when I'm working out it's cool. There's no NBA, no cameras, there's nobody trying to exploit every fucking possible thing in that moment. I can just throw on a blank outfit and just be in my mode. So that part all contributes to the bigger game, so I'm fine within that space. The preparation I haven't lost love for. The preparation I actually like. But the lights come on and…" He shakes his head.
The ever-present cameras annoy him, so seeing one in the tunnel no doubt irked him, especially as he came off the court hobbled following the Warriors' Game 3 win over the Trail Blazers. He flipped off the camera then but says he doesn't remember now: "That was me? I don't remember that. I blacked out. I was concussed at the moment."
Attention isn't what Iguodala seeks at this stage of his career. Even with the opportunity to promote his soon-to-be-released memoir, Sixth Man, he'd rather talk about the value of another book he is reading, Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters by Anthony Tjan.
"Historically, capitalist America says you have to be cutthroat to make capital gains," he says. "In order to eat, you have to kill. In order to make money, someone has to lose money. Even on the court, there's the mamba mentality. This book is saying: Yes, you have to be laser-focused and work really hard to accomplish a goal. But you can have a goodness within yourself and your approach. It's about empathy, passion, love, respect. There are nine values that you can have that are all good that will actually improve the work environment and make you have even more success. That's just a human being thing. I think sports and business take you further away from the human being aspect of life.
"That's what I feel more than anything. Man, I'm not a human being anymore. That's where my struggle is."
Boiled down, that may be the essence of Iguodala's message: He's not a human doing; he's a human being. And as fun and glorious as winning multiple championships might seem, it ain't easy. No one should act like it is.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher.
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