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Andre Iguodala on facing LeBron James in Finals: ‘You’re guarding the top talent ever’

The Heat’s veteran forward will be playing in his sixth straight NBA Finals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James plays in his 10th NBA Finals beginning on Wednesday, he’ll face a familiar foe: Three-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala of the Miami Heat.

Iguodala and James went head-to-head in four straight Finals, from 2015 to 2018, when they played for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. So, Iguodala, who was named the Finals MVP over James in 2015, is no stranger to the tall task ahead.

“You just got to have that will, understanding you’re guarding the top talent ever,” Iguodala told The Undefeated. “He’s going to make you pay when you make mistakes. You just try to play mistake-free basketball. Put him in vulnerable situations where you feel like you got the advantage, whether it’s a shot or a pass or where he is defensively.”

Since the 2015 Finals, no defender has guarded James more than Iguodala, who has held James to 44% shooting on 139 field goal attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

LeBron James (left) of the Cleveland Cavaliers defended by Andre Iguodala (right) of the Golden State Warriors in the first half during Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2018, in Cleveland.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

In the 2020 Finals, Iguodala’s Heat will be the underdog against James’ Lakers. But the 36-year-old forward is confident about the Heat’s chances of winning it all.

“We prepare better than anyone I’ve seen in terms of that grit, that grind and embracing,” Iguodala said. “We just have that chip on our shoulder of hearing, ‘You’re not the most talented.’ So, we take that and say, ‘How do we get the most of the guys on our team and make everyone a weapon on both ends of the floor.’ …

“It’s the true essence of maximizing the team that you have. It’s a genius in the organization for strategically taking certain guys in certain situations and bringing them in to make that perfect fit.”

After the Warriors traded Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies last offseason, Iguodala didn’t report to Memphis and was eventually dealt to Miami in a three-team trade on Feb. 6. The trade also sent forwards Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami.

Iguodala averaged a career-low 4.6 points and 2.4 assists off the bench in 21 contests for Miami in the pandemic-shortened season. He said the layoff before being acquired by Miami was mentally and physically tough for him.

“I had some days that were rough mentally,” Iguodala said. “The older you get, the injuries just weigh on you. The older I got, I was like, ‘Here we go again.’ At what point do you stop the pain and stop putting yourself in those situations?

“My mentor Rudy Thomas said something that stuck with me about ‘being blessed.’ More guys are in and out of the league faster than ever. You’re like, ‘He’s a good player,’ and in a couple years, boom, he’s gone. … So, for me to be able to do this for this long and have this type of success with winning, I’m definitely keeping that vibe of appreciation. I’m just understanding this is a true blessing, making the most of it and living in the moment.”

Iguodala made the most of the Heat’s series-clinching Game 6 victory on Sunday, scoring a playoff season-high 15 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field, while nailing all four 3-point attempts. With another trip to the Finals, he becomes one of nine NBA players, including James, who will have played in at least six straight NBA Finals.

“I’m more so happy for the other guys,” Iguodala said. “I was laughing after the game, like, ‘Yo, I’m going to another one.’ It’s hard to really feel like what everyone thinks you should feel being six in a row. I’m more so, ‘OK, cool, we have another one.’ I think I will appreciate it 10 years from now. Now, you’re still in the moment and have work to do.

“But at the same time, I think I’ve grown as a person in terms of what success really is. A championship may not mean the same to me as someone else. But I have an appreciation for it and I know how hard it is. My whole thing is getting success out of the situation or getting the most out of yourself. Winning a championship, that should be our goal.”

At times, Iguodala wasn’t even sure there would be a season. A vice president for the National Basketball Players Association, Iguodala credits association president Chris Paul, the entire board and executive director Michele Roberts for their work in the bubble.

“There were a few things that were happening that were spread out across from March to now where you had no idea what was going on,” Iguodala said. “It’s just a lot of thought that went into it. There was some pressure some days where you wondered, ‘What is tomorrow going to look like?’ If this season ends, I would have been like, ‘Wow, that may have been my last game.’

“I just had no idea. But Michele was the backbone through it all and she gave us the clearest vision. I’m just really grateful for her.”

Iguodala, meanwhile, played an instrumental role in featuring social justice messages on the back of the players’ jerseys during the resumption of the NBA season. Iguodala has been wearing “Group Economics” on his jersey, hopeful that NBA fans will research what it means.

“It’s an awareness thing,” Iguodala said. “We [African Americans] are the largest consumer spenders in the world. We have the largest spending dollar of any group in the world. We spend more money on consumer projects than anybody, but yet we have the least recycled dollar in our communities. …

“You look at other groups that are financially stable and support another. But then you turn around and wonder, ‘Why are there so many African Americans in prison? Why are our schools the least funded? Why do we have the least representatives in terms of government officials? Why are we the least funded with our starter companies? Board representation?’ Our dollar is the strongest. Group Economics is big with all the other issues with all the other dollars in terms of getting money back and spreading it in our communities.”

With 16 NBA seasons under his belt, Iguodala is making the most of the moment. His wife, Christina, and his son, Andre Jr., entered the bubble around the start of the East finals, and he’s enjoying their company as well.

Iguodala says his son is having the time of his young life in the bubble.

“He’s living the fantasy world. He thinks this is the coolest s— ever,” Iguodala said. “I’m like, ‘We’re in the bubble, bro.’ … But he’s like, ‘I get room service three times a day. All I have to do is go to school.’ His school is different now. He can chill, do whatever and go to basketball games. He’s hanging out with Pops. All we do is laugh, and he’s like, ‘This thing is cool.’ ”

Iguodala acknowledged that retirement has crossed his mind. But after enjoying his time with the Heat, he has no plans to walk away from the game yet.

“I don’t know. It might be, but I don’t think so,” Iguodala said. “I like this unit. I don’t think I’d play anywhere where I wouldn’t enjoy it. And I really enjoy this team. These guys really care about each other. It’s become a beautiful thing. I’m like 99% sure.

“It’s more about enjoying everything. I’m just happy to see the fruits of the labor that these guys put in. These guys work hard. People wouldn’t know that unless they’ve been in this organization. … The [Heat] front office did a great job of getting the right personnel, personalities and guys to fit the culture, but also have an appreciation for success of others on the team.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.