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Andre Iguodala's Sixers Legacy After Those Free Throws

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Philadelphia has a tendency to scapegoat athletes that don't meet their unreasonable expectations or just rub them the wrong way. Donovan McNabb. Bobby Abreu. Eric Lindros. All historically great Philadelphia athletes of the last 15-20 years that have, for one reason or another, been scorned by the Philadelphia fanbase for not being enough. Andre Iguodala in recent years has found himself atop that list.

Until Thursday May 10th, 2012, when he hit two foul shots to send the Sixers into the second round of the NBA Playoffs over the Chicago Bulls.

Drafted in 2004 to be the wings of Allen Iverson's erstwhile Flight Brothers tandem, Iguodala came in with moderate expectations. 9th overall out of the University of Arizona, picked right behind future phenom Rafael Araujo -- Dre was going to be the next face of the franchise. He started immediately and averaged almost 33 minutes per game his rookie campaign, playing in each of the team's 82 games. In fact, he has never come off the bench in any of his 643 total games as a Sixer.

The fans loved Andre as the third guy to Iverson and Chris Webber. He dunked, he passed, he defended. There wasn't much Dre couldn't do. Except shoot, but we had Allen -- don't nobody else need to shoot the ball when Allen's on the court. Then Iverson got traded and it was the other A.I.'s time.

Only it wasn't.

Scrappy, unathletic, a little fat, and sneaky as hell, Andre Miller surprised opponents and fans alike in turning that dumpy Sixers team into a playoff team, much like the 2012 iteration. Defensive-minded, young(ish) with hustle, the club would go on to make an impressive run into the playoffs only to lose to Detroit in 6 games. Then the team couped Elton Brand away from the Clippers to form a hefty core. And despite the fact that Iguodala was shut down by the suffocating wingspan of Tayshaun Prince, Ed Stefanski saw enough to give him a long-term contract.

And oh what a contract it was. $80 million for 6 years. For an athletic 24-year-old with all the upside in the world, that's not bad. Not bad at all. But the vultures were out for him. "He can't shoot. He can't score. He can't...uh...he really can't shoot!!" And with Elton in the fold for $82 million himself, Andre would have to get REALLY good REALLY fast to justify the money and time the team had invested in him.

Only he didn't.

Well, he sort of didn't. Not to the casual fan at least. He still couldn't shoot. He wasn't "clutch". He thinks he's Kobe. And just look how much money he's paid! Elton went down with his shoulder injury, and it was another disillusioning streak that ended with a 4-2 series loss to Orlando. Then the trade talk began. And it hasn't stopped in four years.

He ceased to be Andre the Player and had become Andre the Contract. It wasn't about what he could do well, it was about what he couldn't. The Sixers asked him to be the go-to guy. That has never been, nor will it ever be, his strength at any level. But that's what the franchise asked him to do, and he did his best. Fadeaway jumpers, off-balance threes, and late game failed isolations became associated with his play as much as transition passing and stifling defense. Only chicks dig points, not defense. And apparently so do fan bases.

So time went on, the Sixers stayed mediocre, and then Eddie Jordan happened and the lottery brought us Evan Turner, Iguodala's eventual replacement. But management couldn't find any takers for Dre's fat (but obnoxiously fair) contract and he remained a Sixer. He skipped out on his end-of-year interview and his future was extremely uncertain.

But he stayed. Disgruntled, yes, but here and playing great basketball. Names like Lamar Odom, Monta Ellis, Chris Kaman, and Hedo Turkoglu were brought up as potential trade partners -- guys that aren't nearly as talented as Andre is at every facet of the game. The commonly held belief of OVERPAID was stapled onto Dre's face and he couldn't shake it.

The unrealistic expectations of Iguodala as a player and as a person wore on people and as the Sixers became less and less relevant, Andre was seen as a bloated parasite of the wasted organization. Whether people wanted Andre gone because they didn't think he was good enough or because they wanted to see the team rebuild and start fresh with Turner, it didn't matter. Nobody wanted Andre to be here. The body language police were on full patrol and, with rumors that Doug Collins had lost control of his team, it seemed like he didn't want to be here either.

Which brings us to Game Six against the Chicago Bulls. Roseless, Joakimless, but seemingly ready to beat an extremely inconsistent Sixers team, Chicago's defense held Iguodala to what really wasn't a very good series. Even with his sore Achilles, he managed to play mostly good defense on Luol Deng (himself smarting with a wrist injury), but his shot selection was all over the place and wasn't making much. The idea that this could be the last time we saw Iguodala as a Sixer was a very real one.

But then this happened. He grabbed a rebound and pushed the ball up the court as only Andre can do, getting fouled not by pulling up for a fadeaway jumper, but by taking the ball directly at the heart of the Bulls defense. With some truly inspirational thoughts in his head, he sunk both of the most important foul shots of his life and the Bulls were defeated. Andre was, for the first time in his career, a playoff winner.

Philadelphia, for the moment, loves him. There's nothing the city loves more than a Big Shot. And for the unfairly unliked guy in Iguodala on a mostly-ignored team in the Sixers, to do it in front of an excited home crowd is the ultimate payoff. His two previous Big Shots were the game winning three over Trevor Ariza to beat the Lakers and the step-back jumper in Hedo's eye to down the Magic in Game One of that series. Both of those shots were on the road.

At no point in his career has Andre been celebrated as much as he is right now. Beating a conference powerhouse at home is huge. Doing it by sinking the enigmatic free throws with the game on the line to prove that he too has ice in his veins is another thing entirely. This was a career-defining moment here.

The Sixers will advance to the next round to face the Boston Celtics. They'll likely lose. But they may not. Andre Iguodala's contract has just one more year on it after this season ends. It's highly probable that this is the offseason that Andre finally gets traded. If it is, he'll be remembered for the contract and the missed jumpers and these foul shots. No conversation about Iguodala's career in Philadelphia will ever be had without mentioning the two foul shots that eliminated Chicago.

And for a criminally underappreciated guy like Iguodala, that'll have to be enough.

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