SAN FRANCISCO — Revisionist history is a funny thing.
It has been seven years since I was one of the media members who decided that Golden State’s Andre Iguodala was the MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals, with six of my colleagues casting the same vote and the four others deeming Cleveland’s LeBron James worthy of the honor in a six-game series loss. And if there was some magical world in which we could do it all over again, let this much be known: I would do it again.
The final vote was 7-4, with none for Steph Curry even though he averaged 26 points (44.3 percent overall from the field and 38.5 percent on 3-pointers), 6.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds in the series. It speaks volumes that none of us saw Curry as a worthy winner back then.
Yet, as the years have passed without an NBA Finals MVP trophy in Curry’s case, and as the debate about his place in the league’s history books has been re-sparked with this sixth trip to the championship series in the past eight years, it has become quite popular for this decision to be roundly ridiculed by fans and media members. Most agree that Kevin Durant was deserving of those Bill Russell trophies he earned in 2017 and ’18, and so it’s the 2015 decision that so often gets dissected. But from this vantage point, both then and now, Iguodala was the right choice.
We all watched as the Warriors went down 2-1 in that series, with James dominating and Curry struggling at times to break free from the Cavs defense that could routinely trap him with Tristan Thompson because big man Andrew Bogut was in the starting lineup. By any measure, Golden State was in serious trouble until the Iguodala impact came into play.
Then came Game 4, when Nick U’Ren — a special assistant to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr — was hailed as their hero when he suggested that Iguodala take Bogut’s place as a way of turning the tide. And so he did, slowing James’ scoring just enough to let the Warriors back in on one end while hitting big shots and facilitating on the other.
James in his first three games (Cavs up 2-1): 41 points (40.2 percent shooting overall, 35 percent from three), 12 rebounds, 8.3 assists.
James in the last three games (all Warriors wins): 30.7 points (39.3 percent, 27.3 percent), 14.7 rebounds, 9.3 assists.
Iguodala’s last three games: 20.3 points (47.8 percent, 40.9 percent), seven rebounds, four assists; he had 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in the closeout game in Cleveland.
In recent days, while hearing some of the discourse about the choice and admittedly growing a bit irked by it all, I started looking for a way to head down this memory lane. This question emerged: Would Iguodala have voted for himself?
While the 38-year-old has said in the past that he believes Curry deserved an NBA Finals MVP trophy somewhere along the way, I’d never heard him discuss the 2015 decision in any great detail … until Saturday.
I spoke with Iguodala at Warriors practice about this fascinating and divisive topic. This conversation, which came on the eve of the Warriors’ Game 2 against the Celtics at 8 pm (ET) Sunday, has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
I’ve heard you say that Steph should have received an NBA Finals MVP trophy. But as you know, because of the stage here, folks are talking again about how he doesn’t have one. And I’ll be honest, I voted for you because I still believe it was the right move.
Yeah, I think (the discussion) does a disservice to the game. I’ve never said it was the wrong decision. Yeah, I think (Curry) should have won (at some point). But that’s not to say that you guys made the wrong decision.
Tell me your basketball opinion. After three games in 2015, it felt like you guys were in serious trouble. LeBron needed to be slowed down, even if it was just a little bit. You know the story. How do you reflect on it?
I don’t reflect on it. It just bothers me that you’ve got a guy of this caliber (in Curry) and they continue to take shots at him. There’s no reason to take a shot at him. Great athletes, that doesn’t happen as often. People tend to appreciate our great athletes more but now that you’re so close to them, you’re just looking for ways to take shots. Like in football, anyone can win MVP of the Super Bowl. You can be a kick returner. Desmond Howard won it, right? (He did indeed, becoming the first and only kick returner to win the award for the Packers in 1997).
But no one takes anything away from (then-Packers quarterback) Brett Favre (who won one Super Bowl and lost another but was never MVP). I just don’t like the way they try to take shots at (Curry). They don’t understand. It’s hard to go to the NBA Finals six times. It’s not normal, and it’s almost as if there’s so much money in sports that people just say outlandish things for the sake of saying outlandish things just to have a conversation about it. And so for me, it’s not even about protecting him. I still think he deserves one. But I don’t know (which one). Pick one. And if I have to be the one that they take, I’m cool with that. But that’s not saying I don’t deserve it, and that’s not saying I don’t think I deserved it.
Drill down on the series for me and tell me objectively, basketball-wise, do you feel like you were the guy?
As I said, I think it was well deserved. I just made the most of the opportunity. The scheme was set up for me to beat (James). And that doesn’t happen too often in the finals. Normally it’s the guy who’s the favorite, (who has) the odds, those are the guys who always get the NBA Finals MVP. And I think that I just made the most of the opportunity. Knowing the (defensive) attention that Steph has, knowing the attention that Klay (Thompson) has, a guy like Draymond (Green), Shaun Livingston made sure that I was always just ready and available. Those guys just said, ‘Here, this is what the game says so give him the ball right here and just be ready for it.’ So I think more than anything, it’s just being ready for those moments. If you go back and watch, when the game said ‘shoot’ I shot and I made it. And when it said ‘pass,’ I made it. And then I had to go defend the guy. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t shut him down but just tried to make life hard for him so, in turn, he had to react in other ways. He had to think twice about (decisions).
He still got to the bucket, but he’s one of the smartest basketball players of all time. And I think, being on his level in terms of basketball IQ, we were just playing chess. It was like a master chess matchup. I think that’s the defense that you (rewarded) — in terms of who you voted for. I think it was very deserving because people don’t understand the human element, the changes that happened, the sacrifices that were made that year with (him) coming off the bench and being thrown into the starting lineup (in Game 4) and people think you might not be able to react well, and it was nothing. I’d been to the playoffs before, won a gold medal — two actually, with the World Championships (in Turkey in 2010 and the London Olympics in 2012). I played a major role on both of those teams — more than people know. And just because you’re not the main name or the (star) doesn’t mean you don’t have (a significant) impact. You’ve just got to be ready for whatever.
Do you hear the noise when folks say, ‘That (NBA Finals MVP) was a joke. He shouldn’t have got it.’ Does that bother you?
Not at all. But you hear everything. You hear it. But you’ve also got to realize what people are trying to do or what people are looking for. Most people are just looking to be seen or be heard, so when you respond to it, that’s their way of saying ‘I made it.’
(Photo of Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)