The Sixth Man

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

This was an interesting read to understand Andre Iguodala as a person. Unlike a lot of sports memoirs, this does not read as a game by game summary of his career, but rather gives the reader a glimpse of what a star basketball player's real life is. Recognizing Iguodala as a decent player before, this helped me understand that he's a much deeper person than just a ballplayer. Very interesting read!
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A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Andre Iguodala is one of the talented few who have made it to the National Basketball Association. More remarkably, he has multiple defensive awards, an Olympic gold medal and three NBA championships on his résumé. When his Golden State Warriors won in 2015, Iguodala was the Finals MVP coming off the bench.

In the fittingly titled The Sixth Man, Iguodala reveals components of his success. It helps to be talented, hard-working and six-foot-six, but Iguodala wasn't always the tallest kid on the court. Having to change his game to deal with growth spurts of competitors was just one hurdle to becoming elite, a level he maintains even 15 years after being drafted ninth as a 19-year-old in 2004.

Iguodala's memoir is not a recitation of important games through his career, but rather the tale of the people and events that challenged and shaped him along the way. From his strong upbringing in Springfield, Ill., guided by his mother and grandmother, to the teachers, coaches, teammates and systems that honed him, Iguodala imparts insight and wisdom in a conversational yet expert style suffused with confidence and heart.

Iguodala also has had to deal with racism, which he experienced early on, after a seventh-grade teacher assumed he was lost when he showed up to honors class. Iguodala's story is a compelling and important one that provides a glimpse into what people of color face, from little boys to the height of stardom, in a country "designed to wreak absolute havoc on the confidence of black people."

STREET SENSE: Whether or not you're a basketball fan in general or a Warrior fan specifically, Iguodala's story should resonate with anyone interested in sports, competition, community, and how to rise to the top.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  As Americans, we are led to believe that this in and of itself should be the path toward complete satisfaction. If we make enough money, have enough success, then we should be free from all struggles--or more accurately, our struggles are no longer valid. But what most of us find after a while, and much to our surprise, is that even with all the cash and prizes, the question of purpose remains. Pain and suffering still remain. Anger and frustration still remain. It would seem that most people who gain some measure of what we think of as material success have experienced this truth, but the effect is amplified for black people. Because of our shared destiny, it is not possible for one of us to be completely free and happy while our collective people are subject to violence, oppression, and dehumanization. Or rather, the only way for such a thing to be possible is if that person makes a conscious decision to turn their back entirely on their people. And that cannot be me.

COVER NERD SAYS: You know this one had me at black-and-white portrait against a clean background. Great fonts, sneaky-smart use of Warrior jersey colors, and handsome don't hurt this cover's game at all.
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Coming into this book I had quite a measure of respect for Andre Iguodala and was interested to read more about his life and career from his point of view. Unfortunately after reading the book, I wish that I had not. The beginning of the book is quite interesting and talks about his youth and experiences growing up. Unfortunately the rest of the book seems to be his opportunity to air his grievances with every facet of society he thinks has wronged him. First its the college system as they don't pay their players (fair enough but a bit more complex than he makes out). Then its the NBA owners because even though they are paying him millions of dollars, they are still making more (generally how business works) and finally he tees off on the referees who are apparently biased against Golden State because they are the champions and because all the referees are white men. In summary I would recommend that you avoid this one unless you are an absolute die hard Warriors or Andre Iguodala fan.
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As Golden State is on the verge of being eliminated in the NBA Finals, as the “unbeatable” team is on the verge of defeat, as most of America cheers for the underdog even as the underdog is the lone Canadian basketball team, it was nice looking back for a few hours to the time when the Warriors were the Little Team That Could. When nobody believed in them, when the mantra was “you can’t win a championship with a guard-driven team” (which looks silly from our vantage point deep in the Sprawlball era), when a former franchise player and current bench player lit up the world to win Finals MVP despite playing on a team with two of the best shooters of all time. The Warriors were fun. Now I’m happy to cheer for their defeat. Andre Iguodala, that sixth man that won Finals MVP in 2015, throws quite a bit of shade at people like me who have done a 180 on the Warriors, which is understandable for someone who has played on the team the whole time. That is part of what makes Iguodala’s new memoir, The Sixth Man (out June 25th from Penguin Group Dutton), such a satisfying read. For NBA fans, it is a valuable look into the mind of a player, and it helps to see things from that perspective.

Iguodala’s memoir is successful at providing that strong point-of-view for one major reason: he is incredibly honest. He pulls no punches. I mean, technically he does once when he is explaining all the things you can’t say about officials and ends with “So I won’t say it here.” But he talks in such specificity… obviously talking about one specific referee in one specific game who he doesn’t name. But I’m sure with a little bit of research someone could figure out exactly who and what he was talking about. Everywhere else, Iguodala mentions names, which coaches he respected, which coaches he didn’t, why he didn’t respect the coaches he didn’t respect, etc. Not to spoil it, but Mark Jackson is unabashedly approved of, while Doug Collins clearly is not a great guy and George Karl… well… I’ll let Iggy tell it:

Later players began to speak out more honestly about their experiences with George Karl after he published a book with unflattering things to say about many of them, especially after he took a particularly nasty shot at Kenyon Martin for not growing up with a father in his life. It smacked of everything that was wrong with some coaches: narrow-mindedness, smugness, and a feeling of superiority. If you are a white man whose job is to boss black men around, this is not a great look for you. Karl’s legacy was particularly tarnished by what he said in that book, and I do feel that sometimes, in the end, people get what they deserve.

Brutal. That is Iguodala in this book. It might not come across to everyone the right way (from the current Goodreads rating I’m guessing it definitely does not), but he makes great points that are backed up by his experiences as a player. Iguodala writes about racial issues growing up in Springfield, Illinois. He writes about how that translates to the NBA. He was even going to be an Arkansas Razorback before Nolan Richardson’s dramatic press conference in 2002, and then (understandably) Iggy didn’t want to be a part of that program anymore. (I say that as a now-graduate of the University of Arkansas that loved the program through that.)

Iguodala is most clear on the dehumanization that occurs both in college and in the pros. From coaches, from fans, from the league office. You’re pushed to take your body to its limit, to be loyal to a team that has no loyalty to you. You’re discarded whenever you’re no longer seen as valuable, traded at a moment’s notice, finding out from a teammate who heard something. The most poignant of all is the passage when he describes Kevin Durant’s first game in Oklahoma City after leaving them for the Warriors. He writes:

It felt like a movie, some type of scripted thing where we were the villains. When we walked on the court to a cascade of boos, it was more like a wrestling match than a basketball game. Everything about it felt fake — like all of us, the fans, the other team were just playing our parts.

But there were a lot of real emotions, and security posted everywhere, which gave the whole thing an ominous undertone. In a pregame presser, I happened to point out that basketball was something I wanted to enjoy doing, and situations like this made it hard. It’s a fine line. I recognize that that people emotionally invest in us because of what we do, and I’d had a conversation with a media member off the record before he pointed out that the rabid, sometimes illogical nature of the fan base was what made our sport great. I could understand that. But on the other hand, here was Kevin Durant, a professional who had decided to go work for another company in his chosen field because he liked the opportunity better, and that meant we needed extra security when we came to town?

Iguodala has a great point here. We forget, as sports fans, that these are people’s lives and it isn’t just about our entertainment. That is the dehumanization he is trying to convey, and he does so exceptionally throughout his memoir.

All these criticisms, though, come from a great place, and you can tell it by the people Iguodala praises and the actions for which he praises them. On former Warriors coach Mark Jackson, he says:

There was a psychological benefit to a coach who you as an adult professional and who prioritized helping you along with your career above all else. It was respect. Respect as a human, respect as an adult, respect as a professional. Mark Jackson had that and it made you not only play better but feel better.

He really isn’t asking for much here. A common humanity, respect, and focus on the human being. We just lose sight of that in the realm of sports, where winning becomes ultimate. Iguodala’s memoir probably won’t be the best organized memoir you ever read, you may not agree with a lot of things he says. Your reaction may be, “Why all these complaints? He makes millions of dollars a year.” And Iguodala confronts this retort by saying, if I may paraphrase, “How much money is worth losing your humanity?” He doesn’t say it’s not worth it. He loves the game and loves his job. But just because someone makes a lot of money doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to call out injustices. The player point-of-view makes his memoir unique, and his willingness to call out people and actions makes it engaging and memorable. The Sixth Man releases everywhere June 25th.

I received this book as an eARC courtesy of Penguin Group Dutton and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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Basketball is unique in one way in that a player can become even more famous when he is no longer in the starting line up and instead will come off the bench to contribute in a valuable manner to his or her team. One player who has done that is Andre Iguodala. While he was a very good player as a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, he became even more noticed as the sixth man for the team that has won three of the last four NBA championships, the Golden State Warriors.  He tells the story of his life, his career and his take on some of today’s issues in the game in this excellent memoir with Carvelle Wallace. 

While the writing may not be as crisp as some other memoirs, what I found refreshing about this book is the Iguodala was very candid about every topic he addressed. Whether it was whether college athletes should be paid, the point in his career when he truly realized that professional sports are a business and not just a game, how the public believes athletes should communicate in the media or racial issues, Iguodala lets the reader know up front that this is his viewpoint and how he sees the particular issue. 

The latter two topics come up in the incident in which I believed that this book went from good to excellent and that was when he used a phrase that sounded like one used from the days of slavery when he answered a question on the relationship between a head coach and the players. He didn’t back off of his comment, he didn’t take swipes at those who criticized his remarks (and there were plenty) and his explanation of it was consistent with his stance on his viewpoints earlier expressed on racial matters and the ways in which professional athletes are expected to conduct themselves. 

None of them are really shocking or reveal new material, but are excellent to read for the sheer rawness of exposing his feelings. When he praised Curt Flood, who challenged baseball’s reserve clause in 1970, it showed that he has studied the history of these subject extensively and his comment that every professional athlete should thank Flood for them being able to enjoy the freedoms and riches they have today was profound. 

Of course, he talks about basketball in the book a lot as well as these other issues. On this topic, he is quite fluid as well. This part of the book does follow the tried and true formula of chronicling the highlights of each level of basketball played. His reflections on his time at the University of Arizona and what coach Lute Olson did for and to him were very interesting to read as it can be the case for many college basketball players, but was something I had never read before. 

Iguodala’s time in Philadelphia was marked with many ups and downs, both on the court, where the 76ers enjoyed some moderate success and off the court with his relationship with the fans and press an ongoing drama. After a brief time in Denver, he signed with the Warriors as a free agent and his accounting of his time with Golden State is one in which he really learns what it is like to share the spotlight with superstar players.  He explains how these players like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant not only are excellent players but how they each contribute to the success of the team on the court and in the public eye. 

Any fan of the current NBA game, especially Warriors fans, will want to read this book about the team’s vital sixth man and how he sees the world of professional basketball. It is a book that once a reader starts, it will be very hard to put down. 

I wish to thank Blue Rider Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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