By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Four seconds to play, down by one point, two free throws to win the game. We’ve all been in this position in an empty gym, or in the backyard. Last night, Andre Iguodala was in that situation for real.
When the Sixers ran that inbound play for the final shot, and Iguodala wound up with the ball, I thought to myself, “of course.” You could hear the crowd think the same thing, it’s amazing how clear the sound was. When he got fouled, and had a chance to win the game with two free throws, again I thought, “of course.”
With the game in his hands, Iguodala walked to the line with a chance to quiet the critics, at least for a night. “I want him to do this for him,” I thought. I wanted it for me and for the fans of course, but most of all, I wanted it for Andre Iguodala. I felt nervous for him like he was a family member. I wanted this win. When he missed the first one, again I thought again, “of course.”
When you’re by yourself, imagining the crowd going wild, sometimes you miss that first free throw. But no one’s looking. When no one’s looking, you can make pretend it never happened, step back to the line, and nail them both, and be the hero. No one is the wiser. Last night, when Andre Iguodala missed that first free throw, there was no redo.
This isn’t about why Andre Iguodala is a good player. It’s clear he’s a good player. There’s plenty of rhetoric around him in Philadelphia. Some that he created, some that media has created, and some that fans have created about why he’s wrong for the team. A lot of it actually created by the team who gave him a contract and marketed him as one thing, when he was really something else. Regardless of the talk, Andre Iguodala by all unbiased accounts is a very, very good basketball player.
This is about why I wanted him to make that shot. Why I cheer for him to prove everyone wrong (at least sort of wrong).
Andre Iguodala, and the imperfect players like him, are most times criticized for what they’re not, rather than appreciated for what they are. Andre Iguodala had an amazing fourth quarter last night that was in large part responsible for the Sixers being in that game. All we’ll talk about is that free throw, which is fair, but it’s a shame.
It’s easy to cheer for Michael Jordan, for Kobe Bryant, for the great ones who win the rings all the time. For the perfect players. It’s easy, but it’s not a lot of fun. At least not in the same way it is to root for the guys who don’t always win, the imperfect players. The guys with the flaws who have the climb the mountains slowly, and by foot. I can relate to guys like that. I understand that struggle. It’s more like real life.
Dirk Nowitzki was one of those imperfect guys. Labeled as a choker. A guy that had a chance to finish the job, and wasn’t able to get it done. Until he did. Dirk and his fans who never stopped cheering for him were able to appreciate a championship in a way that the perfect ones cannot.
The story doesn’t always have a happy ending. The imperfect guys don’t always get to the top of the mountain. Being a fan isn’t always easy. But it’s not always about the finish, it’s about the journey. And when you follow the imperfect player on that journey to the top of the mountain, you really appreciate the view.