news 4 days ago

Heat's Andre Iguodala back where he blossomed, now with message that resonates

Sun Sentinel — By Ira Winderman Sun Sentinel

June 30-- It has come full circle for Andre Iguodala, this trip to Disney World for the resumption of the NBA season.

What's old is new again for the Miami Heat forward.

Iguodala's 2019 book, "The Sixth Man," opens with the words, "It was the summer that changed me."

As in 2001. As in the months before his senior season in high school. As in the AAU games that would stamp him as basketball elite, launching the trail that would lead to three NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors.

"That summer," Iguodala wrote, "that entire universe of possibility was in, of all places, Orlando, Florida. Disney World to be more precise."

A career was about to blossom.

Now the goal is to bloom basketball again, this time in a controlled, quarantine setting, as the NBA prepares to resume play at Disney's Wide World of Sports campus next month amid the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the league since March 11.

During that transcendent previous trip to Disney, at 17, Iguodala, in his book, described himself as "a hayseed, this skinny kid with big ears from Springfield, Illinois."

Now he returns not only as a 36-year-old man, but as a leading man, first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association.

And he returns with an agenda beyond hoped-for playoff success with the Heat.

As part of his journey to this moment, a moment when the league and its players have vowed to make the fight against systemic racism part of the rallying cry amid the sport's relaunch, Iguodala finds himself dealing with an issue never far from this thoughts.

"Race," Iguodala wrote in his book, "was not something that I became aware of in a moment. It was something that built slowly in my understanding of the world. I didn't run around when I was three years old thinking, 'I'm Black!' None of us do. Everything in my world seemed normal ... . But as I grew, that changed, slowly but certainly. The freedom to be unaware of racism simply doesn't last long if you're Black."

Flash forward to these past few weeks and months, to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, to protest and transformation, and Iguodala, back at Disney, of all places, finds himself as educated adult parent, this time in a position of leadership.

It is a role that accompanies the gusto for the game.

With work now to be done on dual fronts.

"We have a great group of players who are well informed, who have been doing their homework on the whole situation, and all the way through the scope of the landscape, the world environment we're in, from the COVID to the social injustice," he said of his role with the players' union.

Older and wiser, he understands the challenges ahead, but now from the perspective of a veteran leader, of how players maintaining their health in the "bubble" type of setting only adds to their ability to maintain their voices.

"The players have done a great job of just voicing themselves and using their platforms to be more well informed," he said. "So this is the continuation through the process of each and every day learn something new, as we try to implement more safety precautions. We understand the risks that are involved, but everyone is making some type of sacrifice."

It is why he will travel with the Heat to Disney on July 8, deal with the inherent health concerns, try to keep the game strong so there will be a platform for the basketball generation that follows, the one, like him, that again will soon enough take to these same Disney courts as teens.

"A lot of people in America don't have jobs right now," he said. "And we know what opportunity we have, to be a beacon of light, not just for that one particular thing, but the social injustice, shed light on that."

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