SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chase Center crowd hasn't been presented much that's deserving of a standing ovation this season, but they stretched out their well-rested legs on Monday to welcome former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala back to the Bay. His new team, the Miami Heat, beat the Golden State Warriors, 113-101, but the real excitement took place before the game, when a video tribute showed highlights of Iguodala's three championships in six seasons.
Shortly afterward he was given what amounted to a best-man speech by Klay Thompson, who to Stephen Curry to see who would have to speak about their former teammate, and said that he looks forward to seeing Iguodala's jersey hanging from the Chase Center rafters one day.
"I think with Klay being out there, it kind of was over the top," Iguodala said after the game. "I have a special relationship with the core, the group that was there the whole time -- Draymond [Green], Klay and Steph -- but Klay was more the quiet one, so he didn't speak too much. So hearing from him, it almost got me."
The familial atmosphere was present all night, as Iguodala was welcomed like a brother who had recently taken a better job across the country. But it's Iguodala's new family, the Heat, who will be in the spotlight for the rest of the season. While the cellar-dwelling Warriors hatch their world domination scheme for next season, the Heat are trying to win the title this year. That message was clearly sent when the team pulled off a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler in the offseason, and reiterated when they acquired Iguodala and Jae Crowder before the trade deadline.
Miami has been good all season, but several of their key players -- Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Derrick Jones Jr. -- are 25 or younger and have little or no playoff experience. That might raise some red flags for an organization with immediate title aspirations.
"If you know my boss, the time is always about now," Erik Spoelstra said, referencing Heat president Pat Riley. " ... To be able to bring another champion in here, into the mix, we felt is exactly what our young core needs. Now they can just be themselves, they can learn at a healthy rate, they can see a great example of greatness and winning on and off the court, and it alleviates some of the pressure you might feel if you're a young player going down this competitive stretch of the season."
Butler echoed his coach's sentiment.
"It's great to have another champion, another winner and just great overall human being in our locker room," Butler said. "Just the joy that he brings, more than anything. He's always reminding guys it's OK to have fun. You have to love what you do. Competing is fun. Winning is fun. But more than anything, man, he's always smiling."
Many contending teams have used this strategy over the years, but the Warriors have done it as well as anyone. From Andrew Bogut to Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston to David West, Zaza Pachulia to Iguodala himself, Golden State has spackled its roster holes with high-IQ veterans to surround their core of Curry, Thompson, Green and later Kevin Durant.
The comparisons between the Heat and the Warriors don't stop there. Both are known for that ubiquitous, yet elusive word -- culture -- and they've combined to win five of the last eight NBA championships. Even in the short time he's been with the Heat, Iguodala has noticed the similarities between organizations.
"Winning ways. They are very similar with different approaches," Iguodala said of the commonalities between the Warriors and Heat. "Steve (Kerr) kind of has like a Phil Jackson zen to him, where he's a little bit more relaxed and you hear it in a different way, but you're hearing the same things you hear in the Heat organization."
The Heat hope that at 36, Iguodala can be a major contributor come playoff time, but his impact goes so far beyond what he does on the court. Kerr called him the "smartest player I've ever been around," and that's coming from someone who played with Michael Jordan and was coached by Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. It's another one of Kerr's former teammates, however, that Iguodala referenced when hearing about the praise.
"Coach was really good at giving me compliments, because my game kind of goes unnoticed," Iguodala said after the game. "It's a beautiful thing because he played with some brilliant basketball minds. ... I watched so much film of Scottie [Pippen] and Michael [Jordan] growing up. Recently, I've been watching a lot of basketball with Scottie Pippen, like within the last year, just imagining him in today's game. ... For Steve to say that, knowing that I've watched a lot of Scottie, is something special."
Iguodala's basketball mind is on display every time he plays. In his debut with the Heat, he scored two points in 22 minutes but was a plus-10 in the box score. On Monday against his former Warriors, he scored two points in 16 minutes, and was a plus-25. It's why he's labeled a winning player despite his relatively humble statistics in an era of eye-popping numbers, and it's why the members of the Warriors organization continue to speak so highly of him.
"I was about to diagram a play and then I saw that the tribute was going on, and that is the respect of a champion," Spoelstra said after the game. "That's a legacy that will live on for years after this. In so many ways, he was the heart and soul of those teams. I just loved hearing what Klay had to say about him on behalf of the organization. That is real. That is real. The respect that he has from the entire fan base out here, you just have to really step back and tip your hat to greatness. I'm glad that we're able to have him on our side."