Andre Iguodala: On Basketball, Analytics and Venture Capital

Andre Iguodala is a professional NBA basketball player currently with the Golden State Warriors and formerly with the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets. Andre is a former NBA All-Star, two-time All-Defensive Team selection, 2012 Olympic Gold medalist, and the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 NBA Finals, where he led the Warriors to their first championship since 1975. 

Off the court, Andre is the Vice President of the Executive Committee for the National Basketball Players Association, a role in which he ensures that all players are informed of all basketball and business affairs within the NBA, represents the players in negotiating the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, and ensures security for both current and former players. Andre is also a prolific investor, having a very diverse portfolio of investments and deep relationships in Silicon Valley with many investors, companies, and venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz. Combining these interests, Andre led the inaugural National Basketball Players Association Technology Summit in 2016, aiming to connect influential technology companies and NBA players. 

The Warriors are also leaders in the NBA at embracing technology, partnering with firms like Second Spectrum to provide thorough statistical analysis about their game performance and Catapult to provide statistical insights about players’ health during both practice and games.

Business Today: Business Today’s main audience is college students, and so, what advice would you give students on reaching success and staying motivated?

Andre Iguodala: I think doing what you love, something that you’re passionate about, is more important than anything. You shouldn’t view work as a job; you should view it as a passion that you want to perfect, and you should have good intentions in doing so. Good intentions are when everything you do is to gain more knowledge, to learn the history of whatever you’re passionate about, to get the best out of yourself, and to make things better for the next generation.

BT: What are your professional goals in basketball and venture capital the next 5 years? 

Iguodala: I want to continue playing at a high level and having an impact on the floor. With social media, everyone does a lot of what we do for attention. For me, though, I know I need to think for myself and my teammates and put them in a position to be successful, and it may not show up on the stat sheet and I may not get credit or attention. That’s really been my goal as I’ve gotten older: to put my team in a position to win and get a crack of winning a championship every single year. With venture capital, I want to continue to learn. I put myself in a position to be around the right people who have good intentions about whatever it is they’re trying to do. You also want to be around people who have great business savvy, know how to build teams, and know how to build communities. I’ve been around some really good people and learned a lot from them, and the goal there is to also take that learning and pass it along to my teammates and other fellow NBA players.

BT: What is your approach to adjusting to different situations and showing leadership and teamwork?

Iguodala: I think that the best approach to being ready for all situations is to put the work in. I try to be prepared right when the game starts to see what my team needs from me in the spur of the moment. But that starts at practice. I shoot thousands of jumpers and I’m always in the weight room, trying to do the right things off the court, and doing all these drills. You may think, “What’s the point?,” when that’s not my main job, but that’s what part of being ready for that moment is. It’s all preparation and going about it the right way.

BT: Basketball has seen an increased use of analytics, like with the Warriors’ partnerships with Second Spectrum and Catapult. How have these developments changed the way that you prep for and play the game? 

Iguodala: More than anything with the analytics, I’ve watched my movement on the court from a health perspective. There are a lot of good things with analytics, and there are a lot of things that might be misinterpreted, but I look at my load, how hard I’m cutting, my acceleration and deceleration, and how much stress is put on my knees, and that in turn dictates my weight training and how hard I go in practice. If I’ve had a tough week, I might just relax in practice and focus on treatment on my body. That’s where the NBA is getting smarter. Rest has been a big topic all over the sports channels, and in actuality, our bodies aren’t made to play and practice hard every single day. Technology is helping us be smarter at preserving our bodies to be at their best when they really need to be.

BT: Given that analytics are so new to the NBA, what have been the responses and challenges in getting players to change their game based on analytics?

Iguodala: It’s drawn some criticism, but I think it’s helped. Only a few teams have had the luxury to really rest, but analytics have changed the game. The three point shot has become a little bit more important in this era. The art of the mid-range has been lost - but that’s just the day and age of the game of basketball. The game may change and the power forward may be more important than outside the three point line in 15 years as opposed to now, so you have to look at time in the way the game has evolved. Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time, and his midrange was the most important part of his game, so analytics are important but you also have to look at the era, the time, the type of players that are coming up, the kind of the way the game is changing, and you never know if it’ll change back.

BT: How have these new perspectives from the influx of analytics changed the team and coaching dynamics?

Iguodala: With the dynamic for the players, it’s almost the same. We understand why practices are a little bit lighter, and we know the guys are getting rest because of the minutes being played.

From a coaching standpoint, it has probably been the biggest change. When I first got in the league, we practiced for a couple hours every day and we got after it, and we were burnt out and tired by the end of the season. Coaches are understanding that rest is a little bit more important, and our practices are very light. We spend a lot of time focusing on our fundamentals and keeping ourselves sharp because sharp is a lot better than tired or rusty.

BT: What have been some other notable insights you’ve gotten from analytics? 

Iguodala: One thing that is forgotten with analytics is that there’s so much of it. When you have too much information, you don’t know what to do with it and you can misread it. We found the right information for us is something as simple as our total passes. We pass the ball a certain amount of times, it correlates to a good amount of assists, and our percentage of winning is off the charts. So we know if we don’t turn the ball over and make good, consistent passes, we’re almost be guaranteed to win.

BT: Moving off the court, you’re very well-known for your investing and venture capital involvement. What have been some of the interesting investments you’ve had recently and what drew you to them?

Iguodala: That’s a really good question. I’m meeting with Ariana Huffington tomorrow about her new startup, Thrive Global, a wellness life platform. She and I had similar stories to where I was having issues with sleeping for about 10 years until I finally saw a sleep therapist and started doing research. I saw that the more sleep I got, the better performance I had; all my stats were affected. It’s always about burning out and those who get the least amount of sleep are the most productive, and you know, “I’m grinding and I’m up working harder than you because I don’t sleep,” but that’s false. Your life should be surrounded by healthy living, and then other things will come, not the other way around. I started spreading that message and wanted to be a part of it, and that’s what brought Ariana and myself together. I try understanding startup founders and what exactly they’re trying to do, not just on a whim seeing a company starting and wanting to be a part of it, but understanding it and letting the relationship happen organically and then becoming a part of it by investing.

BT: How do you keep the concept of teamwork alive or present in your investment strategies?

Iguodala: The startups that I’ve gotten involved with through Andreessen Horowitz have given me a lot of great feedback as far as the teamwork and the network that Andreessen has. If any issue comes up, they can make a simple call and Andreessen can have the network to get it fixed right away. That has been a key factor: it isn’t just “I invest money into you”, but it’s more like everyone’s working together as a team. I’ve thought many times about what it’s like to be a General Manager, and it is very similar to that.  You need to put the right coach in place, strength trainer, analytics guy…When building a platform, you have to have the right pieces in place, and investors need to make sure the team is the right team for that company.

BT: What was your inspiration in starting the Players Association Technology Summit?

Iguodala: Well, the Silicon Valley is one of the reasons I joined the Warriors - to start making a transition after basketball and putting myself in a position to meet the right people, and it’s been great so far. I’ve branded myself as a guy who wants to have that bridge built before I’m done playing, and I’ve gotten good feedback from other players interested in this space as well, so we brought about 15 guys to see it for themselves. A lot of guys knew what was going on and knew a lot of the companies we were speaking about. They shadowed a VC, went to startups in different phases, and spoke with founders who had different degrees of success. It was just a really good experience; they learned a lot, we got great feedback, and a couple guys are still involved with those companies.

BT: What have been the breakthroughs and challenges in bridging the gap between players and investing?

Iguodala: I think the hardest thing is to get the two sides to understand the parallels. There are many parallels there between business and sports, similar to being a GM. You’re building your team or you’re building your company; you’re putting the right pieces in place. Basketball players are becoming more business-conscious and have a lot more savvy when it comes to business. You see a lot of guys going back to school, and if not, they are taking advantage of programs provided by our union. Our players are getting smarter and are up to date on what’s happening in whatever field they’re interested in. Some of the VCs and tech companies understand that, and that’s what makes the gap become bridged - there’s this understanding of two sides now.

BT: What are your goals with the Summit in the coming years?

Iguodala: We want to continue to expand, and we have more players wanting to get involved. The big thing is to continue the education. Athletes have the eye and ear of the public. The more we are together, the more powerful we can be from a standpoint of influencing people. Tech is a lot about disruption and making the world more efficient, and we are trying to do that every single day. 

BT: How has the relationship between tech companies or venture capital and players evolved since the time you got into the NBA or started investing? 

Iguodala: I think the landscape has changed. You only have a handful of guys who get big corporate deals, but the consumer is becoming smarter as far as branding, who’s organic, and what’s real and what’s not. I think you start with social media; athletes have benefited from social media with branding, being in a place where public can come see a player for who he is and what he’s about. If you look at that, that’s tech; social media has probably played the biggest part with athletes. Both sides have played a big part on the other, like you see Twitter now has a live sports feed on the app, and people are really tuning in.

BT: What have been the biggest advantages and challenges with social media in promoting your values and personal brand?

Iguodala: I think it’s been really good to get your message out there. Sometimes I think in the past, whatever was written was the story of the athlete; he wasn’t necessarily able to get his side out there or show people who he truly was. There’s only a handful of guys who are doing Late Night Shows or who cover magazines. I think fans wanted to see more and more of all athletes - not just the top 5 guys in the NBA, but the top 100 guys. Now they have access to our lives and all those things, but the challenges have been having a balance of the two. 

BT: How do you see this relationship between technology, companies, and also players changing in the future?

Iguodala: I think that remains to be seen. With VR and mixed reality, you have an opportunity for training to be changed. Players will be able to have their trainer halfway across the world but still get through a workout. Kids will be able to workout with an NBA player through technology, see their workouts right there while they’re there on the court. The sky’s the limit for tech, and it’s only going to get better - better and smaller. When the Google glasses came out, they didn’t quite have a hit, but you see the good things in them and integrate that into something else. Athletes are getting bigger, faster, stronger. I remember when I was a kid I saw an All-Star commercial and athletes were jumping up and dunking on 100 foot rims, and it seemed crazy, but with the way technology is going, you laugh and say that’s a possibility.

BT: Beyond players just using technology, where do you see this relationship between tech companies, and VC firms and players evolving in the future?

Iguodala: You’re going to see a lot more. For example, you’re going to be able to subscribe to a VR as if you’ll be courtside watching the game while you’re at home, and people will be able to buy tickets to the VR. There’s good and bad to that because you take the social aspect of being there, but it will get to feel like they’re there and it definitely helps the growth of the game. I think tech wants to grow, sports wants to grow, and it’s almost as if sports entertainment is the last live content that holds its true value. You can’t record that, and in this day and age it holds high value, and the two will continue to use each other to remain strong. ﹥