(Editor’s Note: If after you read the below article, you want to know even more about the book, you can pick up your own copy of The Sixth Man, available on Amazon.)
About two weeks ago, my Uncle Barry and I agreed to the terms on a book swap.
‘UB’ — who, FYI, is both the biggest Sixers fan and best storyteller I’ve ever met — would receive my copy of Yaron Weitzman’s Tanking to The Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. The week prior, my Monday column consisted of a lengthy conversation between Yaron and I, which piqued my uncle’s interest in reading the book in full.
In return, I would acquire The Sixth Man, a 2019-published memoir from former Sixer, two-time NBA champion, future Hall-of-Famer Andre Iguodala, with the help of author Carvell Wallace. Barry had really enjoyed the book, and nodded toward Iguodala’s unique viewpoint on not only the early-aughts Sixers teams, but race relations within the NBA.
We spent a brief hour haggling over pick protections, but finally agreed. Within two days, Tanking made its way to PA, as The Sixth Man arrived at my apartment in Queens. After submerging the book in a mixture of Lysol and hydrogen peroxide, I began reading.
Later, I will get into my overall thoughts and feelings on the book, but first let’s tackle some interesting stories and quotes that Iguodala shared about the teammates, coaches and fans he interacted with throughout his eight seasons in Philadelphia.
On Allen Iverson
Iguodala spoke very highly of AI in the book. He specifically noted Iverson’s motor and hunger as the things that truly set him apart from other superstars of the era. He recalled a story when, as a rookie in the league, Iguodala marveled at Rip Hamilton, the Detroit Pistons guard the Sixers were set to face one night. Iverson doled out advice that Iguodala wrote he would repeat to him many times throughout their shared playing time: “He breathes the same air you breathe.”
Iguodala went on to say of Iverson, “When he went out on the court, his whole goal was to show everybody that there’s nobody better, or even close to being better than him. And that was every single night.” He extolled Iverson’s talents other than basketball: “...the thing that probably most people don’t understand about Allen Iverson is that he is wildly intelligent, incredibly quick-witted and multitalented. He was a cartoonist. He could draw you, a portrait of you, just out of memory. And he’d put a big bump on your head or draw you with a fat lip. He was always making everyone laugh. And he could rap. Like, really rap. I know a lot of guys think they can flow, but Allen could really freestyle and pull verses out of thin air. He’d take a rap song and turn it into a country song just off the top of his head, and the whole bus would be singing along...he was never short with a joke, no one could outwit him, and he could throw a football like seventy yards. I’ve seen him do it...he was just gifted in life.”
On Glenn ‘Big Dog’ Robinson
In the book, Iguodala describes being drafted by the 76ers and facing off against Robinson — the incumbent forward on the roster — in practice. He describes Robinson as always being kind to him despite being the hot-shot rookie who could conceivably take his spot. As Iguodala continued to show his mettle in practice, that’s exactly what happened. Then-head coach Jim O’Brien approached the rook and told him that he would be starting for the team.
“The next thing I knew, Glenn just wasn’t on the team anymore...the whole situation grew awkward after that. We were back in Philadelphia practicing at the College of Medicine, where our training facility was. If you could call it that. It was one of the lesser facilities in the league. We’d come into practice, head downstairs to the locker room, and Big Dog would be lifting weights there. But he was not on the team anymore...they just told him to beat it. We saw him around the facility for like a week, and then he was gone.”
On Aaron McKie
“Aaron McKie was one of my favorite teammates ever...on my first day on the team, he invited me to his house and I watched him play poker. It’s a great way to see how someone maneuvers, how someone splits the difference between where he was and where he was going. Aaron was from Philadelphia, and while he stayed connected to his roots, he was also able to keep it professional. That street stuff didn’t really go on in his presence, and he made sure of that.”
Iguodala describes McKie as extremely generous with his guidance. Specifically, McKie counseled the rookie on the mindset needed when guarding the East’s best players at the time: “They’re going to score. There’s a reason they score twenty-five points a game. You’re going to get bad calls on you. You’re a rookie — the refs aren’t going to let you reach in. Your job is to make them work as hard as possible for those twenty-five points. If they score twenty-five but are exhausted at the end of the game, then you’ve done well.”
On Samuel Dalembert
Iguodala writes that he loved playing with the former Sixers center, and always appreciated his ebullient personality.
He also notes that there was much more to Dalembert than met the eye: “...he had one of those minds that was hard to focus. Kind of a genius type. He was Haitian, grew up in Canada, and was fluent in a couple of languages. I always got the sense that he ended up in basketball because of his height. Like if he was six-two he probably would have been a math professor somewhere. That’s not to say he wasn’t good. He had a nice jumper, was a very good shot blocker, and could run like a deer. But he had a host of other interests. Unlike a lot of guys, basketball wasn’t his life.”
He then tells a very funny story about how Dalembert built him — from scratch — his own personal computer. It was totally usable, until a year later, when it completely crashed. The software Dalembert installed was bootlegged and had expired, rendering it useless.
On Willie Green
Iguodala calls Green — who eventually wound up being an assistant coach for his team in Golden State — “a pro’s pro.”
“He learned the game from Kevin Ollie and I learned a lot of it from him. Willie Green was very clear about the things you need to do to stay in the NBA. At six-three, he was in a tough spot as an undersized shooting guard. To compensate, he played hard every day, every practice, every game. If he had to break your leg to get minutes, he would. But he did it respectfully, as funny as it sounds. He would tell you, ‘I’m going at you today...sorry man, I gotta eat.’ It didn’t matter that he was your teammate, Willie would straight up take your lunch money.”
He commends Green for achieving a decade-long career in the league on the back of his hard work every day.
On Marc Jackson
In one of my favorite passages from the book, Iguodala mentions the former center’s endless pride in Philadelphia being his hometown: “This was a guy out of North Philadelphia, and he’d never let you forget it. He put ‘NP’ on his ankle tape, so he could tape his socks up high and make sure he was always representing where he hailed from.”
Iguodala wrote how, at the time, he had his brother and cousin living with him in Philadelphia during his rookie season. One day, he and his kin got to lollygagging a bit too much and showed up late to practice. Jackson, seeing them approach, immediately accosted his brother and cousin in a profanity-laden speech, about how it was incumbent upon them to make sure Andre was never late. “‘Neither of you got jobs! So if ‘Dre don’t eat, y’all don’t eat. You are his alarm clock. Don’t you ever let him ever be late to practice ever again!’ I was shocked. But the funny thing is, I find myself saying that exact thing to young guys now.”
On Chris Webber
Webber, who took Iguodala’s number 4 when he was acquired midseason, is described as someone clearly trying to hold onto his NBA life. “When he had a good game, he was in a good mood, but after a bad game, he took it hard. Chris was a thinking man and a very emotionally intelligent one, and very conscious of the black experience in America.”
Iguodala writes that he will always cherish the conversations he and Webber had away from the game during their time together, despite Webber’s Sixers career not going well.
“He fundamentally changed the way I thought about my career and my money.”
On Elton Brand
Iguodala describes how Brand was in a tough spot to begin his Sixers career. He was recovering from a severe achilles injury, and found himself at odds with then-head coach Eddie Jordan’s system. Jordan’s Princeton offense required Brand to be more of a modern-day stretch four, which was never his game. Occasionally, Brand would do away with the system, and instead, set up on the block in an effort to get his own offense going. “I can’t say I enjoyed that at first, but I get that he was in a tough position,” Iguodala says.
A year and a half later, though, Iguodala describes Brand as someone who turned into one of his favorite teammates: “We sat down and had dinner. He was very open and forthright about the mistakes he’d made earlier in his career, especially where money was concerned, and he wanted to make sure I did better than he did.”
The two, like he and Webber, bonded over their joint knowledge of black history, and Iguodala says he will always treasure his dinners with Elton.
On Doug Collins
Oh, boy. Iguodala shared many thoughts in the book that won’t come as a surprise to NBA fans who’ve tracked his trajectory. Collins’ history has consisted of entering losing situations, turning them into winning ones, and then grating on the players he coaches so much by year 3 that the partnership reaches a divorce.
Iguodala says that Collins “had a tremendous grasp of the game and really understood all the movements on a deeper level than other coaches I had known. But he had an Achilles heel: he wanted to win at any cost.” The author was careful to acknowledge Collins’ abridged playing career as the driving force behind this mindset. But, reading the book, you got the impression that Collins was an extremely difficult coach to play for and trust. Iguodala recalled how Collins would tell the team about how Michael Jordan had been watching them, telling them to keep it up — a fact that was easily disproved through a former teammate who knew MJ personally.
“But around the second or third year, you begin to pick up on it. You realize that the way he’s driving you isn’t right. It isn’t normal, and teams shift away from him.”
Most damning of all of his stories about Collins was from Iguodala’s final day as a 76er. He was in London for the Olympics, watching the women’s soccer team compete. That day, Iguodala says, he and Collins were texting, and the coach “told me how excited he was for the next year. Those words exactly. He had texted me, ‘You played great this year. I can’t wait until next year!’” A couple hours later, Iguodala was joined by then-teammate Jrue Holiday in the suite. To Iguodala, after a while, he noticed that Jrue seemed distant and bothered. Finally, Holiday fessed up: Collins had confided in Jrue, that day, that the team planned to complete the Andrew Bynum trade that sent Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets.
The next day, the trade became official.
On Philadelphia Fans
Chapter 5 of The Sixth Man is entitled ‘The Most Hated Athlete in Town.’ It elaborates on the intimate details of Iguodala’s strained relationship with Sixers fans and the Philadelphia media, at the time. He is careful to state his gratitude for the entire experience in Philadelphia, but it’s clear that much of the relationship became very difficult for Iguodala.
His contract, he acknowledges, certainly played a role in the backlash he received. After his fourth season in the league, the 76ers signed him to a six-year, $80 million pact. The biggest problems begun during the ill-fated season that Eddie Jordan coached the Sixers. Fans may remember, but Jordan was dead-set on running his pet Princeton offense, despite the fact that the Sixers didn’t have the proper players to make it work. Iguodala writes about the patience needed in order to accept the lumps you must take as an organization during the growth phase. “But Philadelphia didn’t have the patience for it. The fans were booing us after like the twentieth game. Three months in, the front office was ready to scrap the whole project. Eddie did the best he could, but, man, I didn’t envy his position.”
Another instance he brought up: “Once, we were cruising along late in a game up by 15 points. Midway through the fourth quarter, the other team made a little run and cut our lead to 9 points. Our fans started booing! We had to call a timeout. There were boos the whole timeout. I had to look at the scoreboard to make sure I was seeing things correctly. We were up by 9 points and about to win at home and our own fans were booing us?!”
The chapter title comes from a dark day during his Sixers tenure when Iguodala saw that ESPN had named him the most hated athlete in Philadelphia. “It was upsetting and surreal.” Iguodala cites his tireless work ethic and desire to get better as reasons the city’s distaste for him felt so insulting. He maligned the comparison to Donovan McNabb at the time, as both athletes were coupled as two talented players who were too “aloof” to connect with a city like Philadelphia.
Iguodala talked about how difficult this time was for him personally, and how, at this point, he basically shut off anything that didn’t have to do with basketball. He would submerge himself in working out, in getting better, in proving wrong the people who were trashing him. He writes about the dichotomy of achieving his dream of becoming a multimillionaire player in the NBA, yet being unhappy at the same time. Multiple times, Iguodala describes this period as a quite “dark” time in his life.
On the media: “As my time in Philly wore on, the media began to bother me more and more. It was hard to know who the real culprit was: the fans or the press. In a sense, to an athlete they become two sides of the same hypercritical coin. Beat writers and talking heads drum up stories, and in Philadelphia, negative stories simply moved more units than positive ones. Fans then parrot these talking points, and pretty soon you find yourself being criticized from all directions. Even for the most stalwart of players this becomes too much. Especially when combined with the tremendous toll your body takes crashing around for eighty-two games per year.”
He grew very mistrustful of the media, and begun providing stock, brief, ineloquent answers in interviews which, of course, increased the divide between Iguodala and the fanbase. He also goes on to fully acknowledge the shadow cast by Allen Iverson that he inherited. Despite their solid relationship, these were two vastly different men, and replacing a basketball deity like AI would be a tall order for anyone.
Some final bullet-point thoughts on the book:
- The two most unsurprising findings from the book were that 1) PCOM was an embarrassing place for a professional basketball team to practice, and 2) Doug Collins was a nightmare to play for. Towards the end, Collins would constantly shirk the blame for the team’s struggles and call out his own players in the press.
- I always loved Willie Green (I do not know why) and was happy to get a window into his personality.
- I want Sammy Dalembert to build me a new laptop.
- Iverson comes across as every bit the legend he came to be.
- Non-Sixers division: Iguodala speaks at great length in the book about the experience of being an African-American athlete. He does so with incredible depth, tact and emotion. He goes into detail about some ugly instances with white referees that reminded him all-too-much of some unseemly police officers he encountered growing up in Springfield, Illinois.
- There are also some excellent details and stories from his days playing with Golden State, and if you read, you’ll find out much more about Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson.
- When it comes to Iguodala’s relationship with the fans in Philadelphia, I end up feeling bad all around. I do think that booing is rather innocuous and the reason that Philadelphia fans do it is because they care so passionately about their teams. But Sixers fans, at that time, were unable to appreciate Iguodala for what he was: an elite defender, good playmaker and ill-equipped leading scorer who was miscast on those teams. He would’ve been a perfect second (or third) scoring option during those years, but his contract dictated that he was the best player, so he got the brunt of fans’ expectations for him to become something he simply wasn’t. I hope that now Sixers fans can appreciate his contributions during those years, even if he wasn’t doffing his cap to the crowd like Iverson or Embiid. He played and worked hard throughout his entire tenure, and he played tons of games and minutes under different coaches who misled him and front-office regimes that were married to mediocrity, (literally) until the day he left. That should count for something.
- The book is extremely illuminating and well-written, and I highly recommend you stave off the quarantine doldrums by reading The Sixth Man.