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Locker Room Talk: Andre Iguodala’s comments were about the control the NBA has over its athletes

Iguodala’s statements should prompt us to think, not simply react with indignation

One of the most unenlightened 30 minutes in sports is the half-hour reporters spend on game day in the postgame locker room.

Occasional gems come out of the interviews, but the postgame scrums primarily are an exercise in predictability, expediency and cliché: How did you win? Why did you lose?

Praise the hero, roast the goat.

That is, unless they cover the Golden State Warriors and their go-to postgames interviewee is Andre Iguodala, the Warriors’ 33-year-old forward.

Iguodala delights in breaking up the routine of the mind-numbing postgame question-and-answer sessions by making a largely white sports media put on its thinking cap and tackle issues and perspectives in a way they normally would not.

“Andre is one of those guys who likes to stir the pot and has a lot of cryptic messaging at times,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters March 11.

After the team’s loss to Minnesota last week, a reporter asked Iguodala if he was aware that Kerr planned to rest four key Warriors players a day later against San Antonio.

“Nope, no clue,” Iguodala replied. “I do what master say.”

Iguodala knew his comments would create a firestorm — and he was right.

Indeed. This was too good to pass up. We in the media are held hostage by an insatiable cycle in which news is often spit out before being properly digested. Everything is in play instantly.

Just to make sure the fire was properly lit, Iguodala used the N-word multiple times after being asked what had led to Golden State’s second consecutive loss. “We gotta score more than the other team,’ he said dryly. Then, tacitly acknowledging the simplicity of his response, Iguodala said “Yep, they want dumb n—as, so I’m going to give y’all a dumb n—a.”

And just like that, Iguodala had the sports media chasing its tail.

Unfortunately — but typically — the controversy was focused on Iguodala’s choice of a word — “master” – instead of his use of the word as an exploration of power and control: Who controls the medium and the message?

Iguodala’s master comments may have been directed at the powers that be in the NBA: the commissioner, Adam Silver, and more specifically the schedule-makers who have high-priced players flying from one coast to the other, from north to south, playing back to back sometimes with only one day’s rest.

But this is the Faustian pact professional athletes make: in exchange for accepting compensation, the players — black, white and indifferent — serve at the pleasure of “a master.”

When an athlete, especially an African-American athlete, complains about this power arrangement, invariably there are attacks and condemnation.

In becoming the first major athlete to fight for free agency, Curt Flood told baseball owners that he was not a piece of meat to be bought, sold and traded at the owner’s whim. Flood was ridiculed by fans and by many players who believed that they should simply be grateful.

The issue is power, not money and in sports the two are often mutually exclusive. Well-compensated athletes are routinely released, traded, and otherwise disposed of when no longer needed.

This is the athlete’s timeless dilemma.

From Flood to Iguodala, whenever an athlete complains about working conditions, treatment by management, or a grueling schedule, reporters and by extension fans invariably point to the money: “How can you complain when you’re being paid so much money?”

The disconnect attracts greater scrutiny when those making the statements are African-American athletes. Especially when the athlete points out the power dynamic that exists between those who play and those who own — owners invariably being white and white men.

“Andre is extremely intelligent,” Kerr said. “He sees a lot of the hypocrisy in the world. He expresses his displeasure in strange ways at times.”

Too often we expect athletes to remain in an intellectual box, especially in interactions between the sports media, which largely is nonblack, and African-American athletes, who too often are seen as inanimate objects that run and jump.

Rather than taking the comments the way Iguodala probably intended — as a pump fake designed to get the defenders off their feet — the media went for the fake and the comments became national news.

“You guys just got Andre’d,” Kerr told reporters. ”You got Andre’d.”

You can argue that Iguodala’s comments were due to fatigue and frustration. As of Sunday, the Warriors had lost five of seven games after being dealt a severe body blow with the loss of Kevin Durant to a knee injury.

Critics will say there is no place for this kind of incendiary talk inside the locker room; this type of talk is best left outside the locker room.

On the contrary, Iguodala may be part of a new burgeoning order.

During the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke popularized the term “New Negro,” referring to a bolder, outspoken and infinitely confident African-American proud and determined, even in the face of white backlash.

For many decades, athletes were reluctant to express opinions and otherwise rock the boat for fear of losing their place, their salary and their way of life. Iguodala is in the vanguard of a new black athlete who is removing those golden shackles.

“Change gonna come,” Iguodala told befuddled reporters last week. “ You know what we used to say. Change gonna come.”

It already has.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.