The standout memoir from NBA powerhouse Andre Iguodala, the indomitable sixth man of the Golden State Warriors.
Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.
Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too—for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.
The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.
On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.
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About the Author
Carvell Wallace is an author and podcaster based in Oakland, California. He has covered sports, culture, music, race, and the arts for ESPN, MTV, The New Yorker, GQ, and others. He is a regulars columnist on Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.
Read an Excerpt
The Midwest makes a certain kind of person. Even-keeled, simple, and without drama. Where I come from, you get all four seasons with all their fullness and all their difficulty. The winters humble you. There are no mountains or tall buildings to stop the winds, so they just come at you like you don't matter. It's so cold that you can feel it in your bones. You think your skin is going to break, and your body seems like something not too well designed for this intensity. Winters in the Midwest make you feel small, and they help you know your place. You can't compete with the winter and wind out there. You are just a person. Your body is all you have and it's not much.
But the summers kill you another way. The air is blanket-thick and lays on top of you like it wants to suffocate you. Mosquitoes, gnats, and flies dog your every move. Your clothes get soaked with sweat, dry up, and get soaked again six different times a day, and you get used to the feeling of being dried up and salty, and pounding pop and Kool-Aid, sucking on ice cubes or freezy pops. You never feel 100 percent right in the summer, and you never feel 100 percent right in the winter. You never feel right at all. You learn not to expect too much. You just get used to it.
My hometown of Springfield, Illinois, has a population of 115,000, and about 20,000 of those people are black. And from the perspective of my early childhood, the black world was the only world there was. Officially, Springfield is not a segregated town, but officialities don't matter in race. Springfield is segregated. It always has been, and it always will be. That's not accidental. In 1908 Springfield experienced one of the most violent and intense race riots in American history. Two black men were accused of rape and attempted rape of a white woman. The town sheriff transferred the men to a jail in another town to avoid mob justice, but 5,000 white citizens nonetheless decided to attack the black neighborhood as a whole. They killed fifteen black people, lynched two, and burned bodies in public. A baby died of smoke inhalation. An eighty-year-old wealthy black business owner, himself a friend of Abraham Lincoln's, had his throat slit by a white vegetable merchant. By the time it was done, there had been what today would be over $4 million in property damage, including attacks on white businesses that were thought to be too friendly to black customers. Despite taking place in a northern town, the Springfield Race Riot was the primary reason for the founding of the NAACP. The woman who was said to have led the mob, Kate Howard, wrote that after visiting the South, she was inspired by the efficiency of Jim Crow segregation's ability to "teach the Negro where he belonged." She killed herself before she could be brought to trial. The woman who launched the rape accusations, Mabel Hallam, later admitted that she had made up the story to cover for her husband's physical abuse. She was never convicted of a crime.
A town doesn't fix itself after a thing like that, unless the people really work very hard to address it. And Springfield didn't. The Illinois General Assembly didn't even formally acknowledge the event had occurred until 2008. Instead what happened is that over the generations, this trauma just seeped back into the skin and calcified into the town's DNA. Black people stayed on one side, white people stayed on the other. Both remained insular and suspicious of the other. By the time my generation came around, things were just that way, subtly but persistently. It never occurred to any of us that they didn't have to be that way. In Springfield it rarely occurred to most people that things could be any other way.
We had our own world, the black side, and within that world I had my own little community. My mother, my brother, my grandmother, all my cousins, my rec league coaches, and me. That was Andre's world. I remember the summers, waves of heat rising up off of the asphalt, and the fields had grasses as tall as my head.
My grandmother's name is Poletha Webster, and she was the biggest influence on my early life. She was a tough and loving woman, and I can still see her standing in the sun, tending to her vegetable garden, which she did with great care while I ran around the house making games out of everything. She cared for that garden like it was her lifeblood, and from it she could produce the most beautiful vegetables you've ever seen. Perfect tomatoes and Technicolor-ripe squashes that she would use to make pies and casseroles. Sweet peas and strawberries. Her hands were always busy, and those early summer afternoons were quiet and magical for me, a small child, with my grandmother beside me and my hands in the dirt, warmed by the sun.
That peace, however, came at a price. You had better keep your behavior buttoned up and not cross Poletha. She was always loving, she could be sweet when she needed to be, but if you ended up on her bad side, you would regret it.
I remember a day when I learned that lesson the hard way. My grandmother's house functioned as a neighborhood foster home, and she took in kids whose parents couldn't care for them for some reason or another. So along with me, my brother, and my cousins, there were always three or four kids staying with her. I never knew exactly what their stories were-maybe they had parents who were locked up or on drugs. But whatever their stories were before, my grandmother would take them in, receive a small stipend from the county, and make them, for as long as they lasted, part of our family. We ate together and played together all day long.
One afternoon when I was about eight years old, I was outside shooting basketballs in the rickety old hoop she had next to her house. All of us were outside, with some of the kids playing in the field next to us and others running around in the garden. But a lot of times I preferred to be alone. Just me and a basketball and the hoop. My grandmother had been tending to chores all morning-cleaning, hanging up laundry outside-stopping occasionally to yell at one of us to quit acting up or stop menacing the other kids with a stick, but mostly leaving us to our own devices. I guess one of the foster kids had peed in the bed the night before, so she had pulled one of her old mattresses out to let it air-dry. She placed it down next to the house and went on about her business.
Obviously, a mattress outside is just too interesting for most kids to completely ignore, so one by one they started drifting over to it and jumping on it. Next they were doing flips and Superman dives, and pretty soon they were making a game of it, seeing who could push who off the mattress. They were yelling at me, "Come on, Andre! Come play with us!" It did look like fun, and as one of the youngest, I always felt cool whenever I was included in what everyone else was doing. But then I thought about it. She hadn't said so specifically, but I had a pretty strong feeling that my grandmother would not be pleased if she saw what was going down. As tempting as it was, I made a decision to stick to my basketball.
But when you're a kid, things like this are hard to resist. Everybody looked like they were having so much fun bouncing around and giggling that, after a while, curiosity got the better of me. Slowly but surely, I drifted over there to start jumping on the mattress too. It seemed like I had been over there for less than, I swear to God, three whole seconds before my grandmother appeared from nowhere, like a damn ghost. She was right up on me. All the kids had scattered and I was left. Caught red-handed. I tried to explain, the way kids do, that it wasn't my fault-I was just shooting hoops and minding my own business. They were the ones who started it! But she wasn't buying it. She just looked at me and said, "You were shooting that ball in that hoop, over there? But when I found you, you were over here, where there ain't no hoop?" I didn't have an answer. Every cousin, kid, friend, whoever who was out there that afternoon, caught a whooping from my grandmother, including me. That was one of my first life lessons and maybe the most important one: if I just keep my head down and focus on basketball, I'm generally better off.
Poletha Webster came from Arkansas. First, she moved to Kansas City with my mother's father. He was a man I met only once. I was so young at the time that I don't even remember saying anything to him, just seeing this tall, dark-skinned man and being told that he was my mother's father. I believe Poletha lived in Kansas City for a good while. In fact, my great aunt Jean lived in Kansas City, Missouri, until she passed away in 2017. When my mother was in high school, they moved to Springfield. Poletha had divorced her first husband, my mother's father, and moved to Springfield, with my mother in tow, to be with her second husband. I never met him either. By the time I was born, Poletha was on her own. I think she preferred it that way.
I was at Evergreen Terrace for only a short part of my childhood. Soon she moved to a two-story house on Carpenter Street in a working-class section of Springfield. That house became the center of my childhood. My mother, brother, and I lived in the attic from the time I was in early elementary school until my mother got married when I was in middle school.
My childhood was solid, safe, and fun, and in some ways even beautiful. I was a mama's boy. I never wanted to be away from her. That was my first true identity. Everybody used to tease me about it, but if my mom was gone for one night, I couldn't last. I would be in a puddle of tears the entire time.
The closest person in age to me was my brother, Frank. He's just eighteen months older. You would think two boys growing up together that closely would be best friends, but that's not exactly how it was. Frank and I were always so fundamentally different that we formed separate lives starting from a very early age. To be entirely honest, it's only recently that we started to really like each other.
We had such a big and involved extended family that Frank and I didn't need to be that close. It was kind of like in the movie Soul Food, and Grandma was the center of it all. My one aunt was always over at the house, and she had three kids. My other aunt was always over as well, and she had two kids, plus various foster kids and neighborhood kids would be drifting in and out. So when you added it all up, that was like ten or eleven kids running around the house at all times. And my cousins were not like regular cousins: they were more like brothers and sisters. It seemed like I spent every day with them. I had two cousins I especially rocked with because we were even closer in age than my brother and I were.
Frank also had a difficult personality. He was much more defiant, much more troubled than I was. Everything I learned about keeping my head down and flying under the radar was completely absent for him in his early years. He was ready to challenge anyone and anything at any time. He didn't like to lose, and he didn't like to follow rules. And nothing seemed to bother him. Punishments, whoopings-he just didn't care. He would always say, "So what? It just hurts for a little and then it's done." He was always directed to do whatever he wanted, however he wanted, whenever he wanted. He was a kid driven entirely by his own will. Sometimes I admired that. Sometimes it was a pain in the ass.
Frank was the kind of guy who saw things his way and that's the way it was. He had a hard time seeing things from another person's perspective. For one thing, he used to cheat. At everything. Blatantly. It didn't matter what the game was, he would just boldly cheat and then deny it. I remember playing one-on-one basketball with him at the playground when we were kids. Every time I had the ball, he'd hack me up, slap my arm, damn near tackle me. He called it "playing physical," but really it was unadulterated fouling. And when I tried to call him out, he would flat-out deny it. "What, man? I barely touched you." This drove me crazy. I knew he fouled me. He knew he fouled me. But he would make me doubt myself. I had to play extremely physically just to get a shot off. At times what we did probably looked from the outside closer to football than basketball. The other thing he did consistently was change the score in the middle of a game. Every time I took the lead or tied it up, here goes Frank: "Nah, bruh. I'm still ahead. It's eight to seven right now."
There wasn't really anything I could do about it. Sometimes I felt like throwing the ball as hard as I could, storming off the court, and punching a hole in a wall. But I knew he'd just call me a baby for that. So it made me want to beat him as badly as I could. The angrier I got, the more focused I became. What started out as a game between two brothers would suddenly feel to me like a life-or-death struggle for my whole existence. I tried to pride myself on being calm and even-keeled when I was growing up. I wasn't trying to be one of those out-of-control types. I saw what out-of-control anger did to people and I wanted no part of it. But playing basketball with Frank made me angry in a way that nothing else did. I knew I had to keep it in check because he was my big brother. So I swallowed it and learned how to use it to play. It was like a performance-enhancing drug. One hit of it and suddenly I could run faster, jump higher, and get to the hoop quicker. I just wanted to prove to him that there was nothing he could do to stop me. Over time I would come to regard the entire world like that. But I learned it first from my brother.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Early Lessons 9
Chapter 2 Confidence 33
Chapter 3 When the Sun Is Too Hot 63
Chapter 4 Welcome to the NBA 91
Chapter 5 The Most Hated Athlete in Town 121
Chapter 6 Elevation 141
Chapter 7 Find the Flow 157
Chapter 8 The Seventy-Fourth Win 195
Chapter 9 Riding Home 221
About the Authors 247
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyed this down to earth book. I'm sad that you're no longer with the Warriors but I'm confident that you will always land on your feet. Much love and respect for the work you do on and off the court!
The book was a good read from start to finish. Andre didn't shy away from giving his real feelings about the NBA, both good and bad, despite the fact that he's still in the league. His honesty helped make the book compelling throughout. It'll teach you a lot about the perspective of a pro athlete.
Basketball is unique in one way in that a player can become even more famous when he is no longer in the starting line up and instead will come off the bench to contribute in a valuable manner to his or her team. One player who has done that is Andre Iguodala. While he was a very good player as a starter for the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, he became even more noticed as the sixth man for the team that has won three of the last four NBA championships, the Golden State Warriors. He tells the story of his life, his career and his take on some of today’s issues in the game in this excellent memoir with Carvelle Wallace. While the writing may not be as crisp as some other memoirs, what I found refreshing about this book is the Iguodala was very candid about every topic he addressed. Whether it was whether college athletes should be paid, the point in his career when he truly realized that professional sports are a business and not just a game, how the public believes athletes should communicate in the media or racial issues, Iguodala lets the reader know up front that this is his viewpoint and how he sees the particular issue. The latter two topics come up in the incident in which I believed that this book went from good to excellent and that was when he used a phrase that sounded like one used from the days of slavery when he answered a question on the relationship between a head coach and the players. He didn’t back off of his comment, he didn’t take swipes at those who criticized his remarks (and there were plenty) and his explanation of it was consistent with his stance on his viewpoints earlier expressed on racial matters and the ways in which professional athletes are expected to conduct themselves. None of them are really shocking or reveal new material, but are excellent to read for the sheer rawness of exposing his feelings. When he praised Curt Flood, who challenged baseball’s reserve clause in 1970, it showed that he has studied the history of these subject extensively and his comment that every professional athlete should thank Flood for them being able to enjoy the freedoms and riches they have today was profound. Of course, he talks about basketball in the book a lot as well as these other issues. On this topic, he is quite fluid as well. This part of the book does follow the tried and true formula of chronicling the highlights of each level of basketball played. His reflections on his time at the University of Arizona and what coach Lute Olson did for and to him were very interesting to read as it can be the case for many college basketball players, but was something I had never read before. Iguodala’s time in Philadelphia was marked with many ups and downs, both on the court, where the 76ers enjoyed some moderate success and off the court with his relationship with the fans and press an ongoing drama. After a brief time in Denver, he signed with the Warriors as a free agent and his accounting of his time with Golden State is one in which he really learns what it is like to share the spotlight with superstar players. He explains how these players like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant not only are excellent players but how they each contribute to the success of the team on the court and in the public eye. Any fan of the current NBA game, especially Warriors fans, will want to read this book about the team’s vital sixth man and how he sees the world of professional basketball.