This past Wednesday night, the city of Philadelphia saw thousands of people emerge from the damage and power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy to pile into the Wells Fargo Center for the 76ers’ season opener against the Denver Nuggets. The offseason leading up to the opening tip was filled with excitement and high expectations for the first time in years, but of course the fans had some trickery up their sleeves to make this Halloween more memorable. Fresh off of acquiring both Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson in a four team trade, the fans were more focused on the ghosts of Sixers past. The fans were out to get Andre Iguodala, who was traded to the Nuggets in the same four team trade that brought Bynum and Richardson to Philly.
Iguodala’s return had been a point of discussion for Philadelphia sports media in the week leading up to the opener. Will the Philly fans give Iguodala the ovation that he deserves? Will the Philly fans stoop to their typical irrational level and boo Iguodala? Before the game, an argument could easily be made in either direction. Yes it is Philly, but it is also a player that averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game in eight seasons with the Sixers and that’s not even mentioning being the team’s shutdown defender.
As you could have expected, Iguodala was greeted by a Wells Fargo Center mostly filled with boos. In fact, many of the fans in attendance booed Iguodala every time he touched the ball as well. We aren’t talking about a guy that left the team in free agency for a bloated contract with a division rival (ahem Jayson Werth). We aren’t talking about a guy that gave little effort and was mentally checked out night in and night out. We are talking about a guy that gave the Sixers maximum effort every night and put up solid and respectable (sometimes All Star caliber) numbers while guarding the opposing team’s star player. Did I mention he did that every single night? Oh yes, I did.
So why would a fan base boo a player that provided so much? Andre Iguodala was the 9th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Allen Iverson was the star on the Sixers at the time. Iverson’s body was starting to show signs of breaking down, so Iguodala was then immediately deemed the next star in line (it didn’t help that AI shared the same initials as the most famous AI in the world). Iverson was one of the most prolific scorers of his era, and Igoudala was supposed to take over Iverson’s role. To keep some perspective, Igoudala averaged 12.9 points per game while shooting 45% from the field in his final season at Arizona. Iverson averaged no less than 22 points per game in a single season with Philadelphia. Also, Iverson had led the Sixers to an NBA Finals appearance just three years before drafting Iguodala, so the fan base had some lofty expectations in mind. Iguodala took the team over from Iverson after the 2007 season.
Iguodala, already battling the unrealistic fan expectations, had another battle to face: Billy King and Ed Stefanski. When King traded Iverson, the Sixers were doomed to failure. Without Iverson the team had no true scorer which put the onus on Iguodala to become the team’s go-to scorer. Iguodala has never averaged 20 points per game in a season at any point in his career. The truth is that Iguodala played on some poor basketball teams under both King and Stefanski. He never had a chance. The fans wanted him carry the team on his back to victory every night and it was something that he just couldn’t do. Not helping the situation was the fact that prior to the 2008-2009 season, Stefanski signed Iguodala to a six year $80 million contract extension. The extension furthered the belief that Iguodala was the go-to guy in Philly and they weren’t scared to pay him as such.
Essentially, Iguodala’s tenure in Philadelphia was marred by people believing that he was something that he wasn’t. He wasn’t a go-to scorer, and he wasn’t a guy to consistently knock down the game winning shots. He was an athletic specimen, and he was a tremendous all-around basketball player. Philadelphia sports fans constantly talk about how they are the most educated sports fans in the country. Unfortunately they may be among the most irrational. Any fan that followed the team through the 2000s would be well aware of the transgression of Iguodala’s career. They would know what he was and what he wasn’t. He was certainly not a player to boo. For using such poor judgment, Philadelphia sports fans should just boo themselves. They deserve it.