The Golden State Warriors are facing a momentous year. Not only are they chasing a historic fourth title in five years but they’re also seeking to keep the team together in a critical summer where several key players are free agents.
One man who’s seen it all is Andre Iguodala, the Warriors’ veteran leader and newly elected First Vice President of the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA). Iguodala’s been a free agent twice, first joining the Warriors and helping to catapult them to their first title, and then staying with the team in the summer of 2017, helping them elevate the franchise to the status of an undisputed dynasty in the modern game.
Forbes Sports Money blog recently caught up with Iguodala to talk about his new role with the NBPA and his off-court business ventures. Iguodala also shared his perspective as a 15-year veteran and NBPA leader on how the process of free agency has evolved over the years, and why he’s looking so good as the Warriors aim for the three-peat.
Iguodala: Well, it’s been an interesting dynamic in how that’s evolved over the years. The narrative changes over the course of time. There was a time when players didn’t understand how much money was being made. They didn’t understand BRI (Basketball-Related Income) until I think the first player – it was a bench player – signed a yearly million-dollar contract. That’s when some of the players’ eyes started to open up a little bit more. You had longer contracts in the ’90s or late ’80s. Can you imagine signing a 25-year contract for $25m and then after a few years you realize that with inflation and the growth in BRI the contract would be outdated after two or three years?
Then the NBA was worried about contracts being too long because there’s a risk in that with injury or players not living up to the performance of the contract. So they always tried to shorten the contracts. It’s interesting now with the shortening of the contracts, you know four-year deals, five-year deals, you start seeing guys do three-year deals, start seeing guys do one-year deals.
It’s putting more of the power back with the players. I think the players just continue to smarten up, understanding that there’s a small window of opportunity to maximize your career. Your location can affect that depending upon your goals, depending upon your value, depending upon what you’re trying to get out of your game.
You still want to keep competitive balance though. We got to continue to keep that in mind. It’s interesting to see how we’re going to go forward with different rules, with the new CBA, that allow players to feel like they have the freedom to play where they want to play. In the regular market place, you can choose wherever you want to work freely without any scrutiny. At the same time you want to take care of the game, you want to have competitive balance across all the teams in the league.
Does the growth in fan interest in free agency in the age of social media make it more difficult as a player? Or do you just have to block that out?
Iguodala: You want to know what your customers are thinking. That’s just business 101 right? In the age of data, you can access all your fans, you can access your customers, you can see what they’re thinking. The NBA is very tech-savvy. I think it was ranked the most innovative tech company in all of sports.
The NBA does a good job of having that continuous news cycle where the fans are engaged with the sport. There’s never too much fan engagement, there’s never too much content, or media surrounding the players. They use free agency as a marketing tool as well to keep everyone engaged on a yearly basis. But like I said there’s a fine line between trying to keep competitive balance versus fans losing interest if they don’t feel like their team has a chance to win.
You’ve been a free agent twice, first joining the Warriors, then re-signing there. Has the whole experience changed much even during that time?
Iguodala: They were different in terms of strategy. The first [time] it was a team who was excited to acquire me, feeling like I was the missing piece to put us in the position to be somewhat where we are right now. I think we kind of beat expectations in the first few years, and now we’re just maintaining and keeping all the pieces in place. It was a lot of excitement.
The second time around it was more a chess game. When a player has success and where they want to stay, the team may have a little bit of leverage. There’s a little bit more of that chess game going back and forth. It was a learning experience as well. But you had two parties that had the same goals in mind and wanted to get it done. That’s not the case for everybody, so just being fortunate to be in a situation like that.
On the court, you’re having a really good year. Was there anything you did over the summer? Or is it the goal of hitting that threepeat?
Iguodala: The motivation is always the same. You want to be in tip-top shape, you want to be healthy. You want to play at your full potential. On this team, it’s a little different. Your full potential is different with this team having so much talent. I’m having really good nights and it may not show up on the stat sheet. It’s been like that for a couple of years here. I’ve just embraced that. I haven’t let that affect my mood or how I go about the next game. I know that I affect the game in different ways that may not be seen, or be celebrated or respected as much.
But definitely last summer I got healthy. I think that’s the key. Fans don’t see the ins and outs of injuries. You’re putting so many minutes on your body. This is my 15th year, injuries start to linger once you get older. I’m a load guy, very athletic, I jump around. I’ve been running around for a long time and there’s high stress on your body when you’re moving so much, playing so many minutes and practicing so much. Last summer I was able to get some treatment earlier to let myself recover, take some time off and recover really well.