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Decoding Andre Iguodala

The most cryptic man in the NBA finally speaks outside of code and gets fined by the league. Did he deserve it?

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Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Clippers
Andre Iguodala during a December 7, 2016 game against the Clippers.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If Andre Iguodala had slurred his speech, perhaps his wallet wouldn’t be lighter $10K for using a racial slur.

No, he did not hurl the N-word towards another person; the context appears to be more of a sarcastic commentary about the mind-numbingly boring patter of athletes postgame and perhaps a slight revolt against the pressure to conform to “dumb jock” stereotypes.

Of course, Iguodala did not use the word “jock.”

But he does have a point about the canned expressions that spill out of the mouths of NBA athletes in interviews. The following phrases, for example, should be retired immediately: “at the end of the day,” “overcome adversity,” “play harder.”

But, on a deeper level, did Iguodala need to go there with the slur and reference to Coach Steve Kerr as “master” — if that is who he was referencing? Of course not.

So, why did he say it?

Reclamation theory

Some are of the belief that reclaiming words once used to disparage a group to which they belong is empowering. People in this camp feel it is okay to refer to themselves and those of the same group by words historically used as slurs, but that others outside of the group do not share that right. Specifically, some black people feel it’s okay to use to the N-word but they certainly would be offended to be called the N-word by someone who isn’t also African American.

This line of reasoning holds some merit, as there are examples of words that have been reclaimed successfully, like “queer” — which refers to a member of the LGBT community. The word “queer” has a “long and winding lingustic-historical journey,” going from meaning “not straight” (as in drunk, illegal, not on the up-and-up, weird or odd) to “not straight AND BAD” (as in homosexual).

Perhaps it is that winding etymology of the word “queer” — “via swaying ropes, royal feuds, LA parties, and famous authors” — that prevented it from picking up the kind of strength of hate speech as other derogatory terms used to refer to homosexuals. Older LGBT people know “queer” only as a derogatory term against gays, but it wasn’t that long ago that the word “queer” just meant “weird” or “odd.”

By contrast, words like “faggot” (to refer to gay men) and “dyke” (to refer to gay women) have not been reclaimed, perhaps because these words have only had negative connotations. The first known use of the F-word was in 1914, and it was used as a slur of contempt against a woman or child. The D-word, with first known usage in the 1930s, has only been used as a derogatory reference to gay women.

Similarly, with a first known usage in the 1500’s, “nigger” has only been a term of contempt for a black person. Given the way history has been shaped by the N-word — up to, and including, present-day America — perhaps it, like “faggot” or “dyke,” should not be reclaimed or appropriated. It is a word that is still very offensive to many African Americans, no matter who is saying it, just like the F-word and D-word are still highly offensive to many gays and lesbians, respectfully.

All of these words should be considered slurs and never used; certainly, the NBA agrees. The NBA is light years ahead of other professional sports leagues in fostering equality and promoting social justice, and this would not be possible if players were not held accountable for their speech and actions. For former player Ryan Hollins, refraining from using the N-word is a basic matter of professionalism.

Thus, Iguodala was slapped with the $10K fine he deserved for violating league conduct rules, just as Rajon Rondo was fined and suspended in 2015 for calling referee Bill Kennedy — widely known throughout the league to be gay — the F-word. After the Rondo incident, Kennedy came out publicly. Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah also have been fined for using gay slurs during games.

Frustrated African-American male theory

In a world where people overestimate the size of black men and perceive them to be more threatening than white men, life can’t be easy for the 6’6” 215-pound baller.

Or, can it?

According to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears, writing for The Undefeated, Iguodala and other African Americans on solid financial footing have nothing to complain about. For Spears, Iguodala’s comments were an affront to anyone who has ever been enslaved or currently is enslaved. Yes, slavery still exists in 2017, with sex trafficking at the top of the list with an estimated 20.9 million victims worldwide.

Spears does have a point: Iguodala and his teammates are not actual slaves and Kerr is not actually a slave master. If Iguodala and teammates miss shots they will not be beaten bloody. At the end of practice or a game, he and the others get to drive away in luxury vehicles and unwind in safe, spacious homes. So, if Iguodala’s comments amounted to an inside joke, as has been reported, it was a poorly executed one that put Kerr in an awkward spot with the media scrum. Kerr is human and not above inquiry, but referring to him as “master” publicly seems a little unfair given his outspokenness against racism and the police killings of African American men.

But Spears is not totally right, either, in stating:

“There is no whipping or other methods of pain. No shackles. No humiliation. No lack of opportunity. No lack of food. No extreme verbal degradation. No extreme working conditions. No rape. No lack of clothing. No fear of survival. After hearing this rant from me several times, he said, ‘My bad,’ and hasn’t described his trek to work that way ever since.”

Sure, no one wants to hear a rich guy complain about anything at all. But wealth does not erase one’s humanness, or the societal scourges of racism and discrimination. Spears’ comments may apply to Iguodala and most middle-class Americans, but they do not apply to all Americans and certainly not to all African Americans. For many, the opposite of Spears’ statement is daily reality.

Next, there are other meanings to the words Spears uses than their literal definitions. Many, like Iguodala or Spears’ six-figure friend, may not have scars on their backs from whip marks, but it does not mean they do not have or have not suffered pain. They may not have iron shackles around their wrists and ankles, but that does not mean they are free. Spears cannot speak for all six-figure people of color in denying the existence of humiliation, lack of opportunity or verbal degradation in the workplace or community. He cannot overlook those who actually do work in dangerous conditions.

Contrary to whatever bubble Marc Spears lives in, many African American men do live in fear of survival because of police killings of black men, which Iguodala commented on previously. In October 2016, USA Today columnist Sam Amick began an article with the following eye-opening sentence: “The fact that Andre Iguodala is afraid says it all.”

When Iguodala or any player steps off the court, he is just another black man. Members of the beloved Warriors’ fan base and perhaps those who have followed the league for years might recognize him. But non-hoops fans probably would not and, therefore, Iguodala’s fear is well-founded. Just look at Thabo Sefolosha.

In a case of mistaken identity by a white NYPD detective, Sefolosha wound up arrested for obstructing a police investigation. In the scuffle with the plain-clothed detective (who Sefolosha thought was someone attacking him), Sefolosha suffered a broken leg which, obviously, put his basketball career on hold. He was later acquitted by a jury on the obstruction charge and went on to sue the NYPD in civil court.

Iguodala is intelligent and politically engaged; he expressed fear for his safety as a result of black people being killed by police over minor traffic violations. So, perhaps, Iguodala just had a lot on his mind that slipped out in a $10K-worthy outburst. After all, he is a human being rather than a basketball shooting machine. (Alert: Stephen Curry is human, too — GASP!)

Aquarius theory

Andre Iguodala celebrated his 33rd birthday on January 28th, which makes him an Aquarius — one of the quirkiest, most enigmatic signs of the zodiac. Aquarians may come off as aloof initially, but ultimately they are loyal to those who earn their trust and respect. Aquarians can seem mysterious, and Iguodala’s cryptic tweets certainly confirm that.

Andre Iguodala via Twitter.

But, then, there’s this tweet from early December — a confession:

Andre Iguodala via Twitter.

So, if Iguodala confessed three months ago to lying in interviews, does that mean everything before December 6th was a lie and, perhaps, his N-word/master interview revealed his true feelings? Or, was this tweet about lying in interviews really the lie — meaning the aforementioned canned interview patter is the truth? Or, perhaps he means he always lies in interviews, making every statement he has ever uttered untrue?

And, just like that ... down the Aquarius rabbit hole, which looks like a spiral staircase made of glass with neon colors glowing up through the bottom of it.*

Okay, getting back on track ...

Aquarians typically are justice-minded, and will set their personal needs aside for the greater good, as evidenced by Iguodala being willing to come off the bench and a recent locker-room interview in which he spoke about being a player in service of other players.

Aquarians also tend to be forward-thinking trendsetters; just see Iguodala’s tech resume. And they can be outspoken to a fault ... which could explain the N-word/master outburst.

Spurs Coach Greg Popovich is an Aquarius who shares a birthday with Iguodala.

Enough said.


Andre Iguodala is no dummy. He had to have known these words would open a can of worms. After all, he plays in a league headed by a commissioner who has made it his mission to foster equality and inclusion. But, ultimately, for a team looking to win a championship, Iguodala’s comments were an unneeded distraction. As it is, one star is out rehabbing a bum knee, another had an ankle scare early in Thursday’s game against the Magic, and there have been rumblings of discord in the locker room. Thus, if his words were an inside joke with Kerr, they needed be kept away from the glare of the public eye. Slur words, however, just need to be stricken from the language.

Fun facts

Other famous January 28th Aquarians include: Collette (author); Jackson Pollack (painter); J Cole (rapper); Elijah Wood (actor); Sarah McLachlan (singer/songerwriter & activist); Vinod Khosla (tech entrepreneur); Stephen Gostkowski (football player); Mo Rocca (comedian); Jose Marti (journalist); Arthur Rubinstein (pianist); and Linda Sanchez (politician).

Follow Tamryn Spruill, a proud January 28th Aquarian*, on Twitter

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