In 2014, the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr to be their head coach. Although Kerr had previously served as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and enjoyed a 13-year career as an NBA journeyman, he had never been a head coach at any level of basketball.
The Warriors were coming off two consecutive playoff seasons. They got knocked out in the second round in 2012 by the San Antonio Spurs and in the first round in 2013 by the Los Angeles Clippers. As Kerr evaluated the team he came to the conclusion that they could gain a significant advantage if they bolstered their second unit by switching one of their starters to the role of sixth man. His pick for that role was Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala had played in the NBA for 11 years. During that span he started 806 straight games, never coming off the bench. He had made the All-Rookie Team, the All-Star Team, and the All-Defensive Team – and the season before he had signed a four-year contract worth $48 million — a reward for being one of the best players in the league.
Imagine Iguodala’s initial reaction. He had a new coach, who had never coached before, and during the pre-season, the new guy asked him to give up his starter role and come off the bench to lead the second unit. Nobody would have been surprised if Iguodala told the rookie coach where to stick that idea.
Iguodala had two ways that he could react to the suggestion. He could get totally stressed out and view his new role as a demotion that signaled his NBA career was on a downward spiral – or he could accept the role as a new challenge that would help the team to finally be in contention for an NBA championship. It should be noted that Iguodala had never yet made it to the NBA finals.
Iguodala chose to be the consummate professional, to let go of his ego, and to accept his new status as the sixth man. He trusted that a new way, even one that might be perceived as a demotion, could lead to better results. Honestly, most players in his shoes would have probably been attached to their identity as a starter and not able to accept their new role.
Attachment to things that are lost and can’t be changed is a surefire way to be unhappy, have stress, and prohibit your growth. The inability to accept changes in your life can cause high anxiety. Oftentimes it is the reaction to a challenge in life, and not the challenge itself, that causes people to spin out of control and become unhealthy. As an example, a person loses their job and they compound the problem by getting sick with anxiety or making poor choices that prohibit them from getting a new job.
The flipside is acceptance. Acceptance frees us up. It allows us to unburden ourselves from past hurts and disappointments. It creates space for us to receive new opportunities in our life and let go of the ones that weren’t meant to be. Iguodala’s acceptance of a new role with an open mind is a great example of this.
So, how did it turn out? That season the Warriors won their first championship in 40 years and Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP! During the five-year span after accepting Kerr’s decision, Iguodala played a key role on a Warriors team that made the NBA Finals in five straight seasons and won three championships.
Downward spiral indeed.