As yellow confetti poured down from Oracle Arena's rafters, Andre Iguodala leapt onto the scorer's table in front of 20,000 fans and stood with his arms upward, soaking in the electric atmosphere.
"Oh s---, oh s---," he shouted.
It was a moment of exhilaration for the Warriors' unsung hero, who had just dominated on both ends of the floor in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, scoring 20 points in 38 minutes off the bench and helping the Golden State Warriors clinch their second championship in the past three seasons.
It was a celebration of all the hard work and intangibles he brings to the court night after night.
It was also a picture of how Iguodala envisioned his upcoming free agency would go. He was ready for the franchise he'd sacrificed so much for during the past four seasons to shower him with the same kind of love and appreciation he felt he deserved.
But when July 1 arrived, Iguodala was no longer a sure thing to return to Golden State. He was dissatisfied with the Warriors' offer, and other teams were coming on strong. Suddenly, Iguodala was on the verge of leaving the defending champs for a Western Conference rival.
Draymond Green, for one, didn't foresee any problems for Iguodala in free agency. After a home win on March 26 in which Iguodala was instrumental, Green, who sits next to Iguodala in the Warriors' locker room, rose from his seat and just stared in admiration at his teammate.
"What?" Iguodala asked.
"Can I please be your agent?" Green said.
The two broke out in laughter. Iguodala's payday was coming, and the soon-to-be free agent was in full control of the process.
Back in February, Rob Pelinka, who had been Iguodala's agent throughout his 13-year NBA career, left Landmark Sports to become the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. The timing couldn't have been worse for Iguodala, who was months away from a pivotal summer.
Amid overtures from other high-profile agents, Iguodala ultimately decided to remain with Landmark and co-founder Brandon Rosenthal, who had worked closely with Pelinka. But the super sixth man would take this opportunity to seize the lead role in determining his future.
As vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, Iguodala often relays to other players the importance of empowering athletes, maximizing their worth and discovering business interests outside of basketball. So this was an important moment for him. He was going to run the show in free agency and accept responsibility for the end results.
Iguodala set his plan into motion. Adviser Rudy Cline-Thomas was enlisted to develop the overall strategy, including identifying teams with the finances to sign Iguodala if things were to go south with the Warriors, Rosenthal was tasked with communicating with teams, and personal trainer Tyrell Jamerson would gather info on where other free agents wanted to go. Sources said rival team executives received word that if the Warriors left the door open, Iguodala wouldn't hesitate to venture elsewhere. That stance would be tested.
At the onset of free agency, the Warriors' preliminary three-year, $36 million offer, with a partial guarantee in the final year, was viewed by Iguodala and his camp as a disappointing overture, sources said. Rival teams believed he wanted a fully guaranteed, three-year deal closer to $50 million.
From Iguodala's point of view, he had already taken less than market value when he signed a four-year, $48 million deal with the Warriors in 2013. He also accepted a lesser role in 2014 when Steve Kerr became coach and asked the former All-Star to relinquish his starting spot for the sixth-man job. Sacrificing monetarily for the team was no longer an option for Iguodala, who was ready to play hardball if necessary.
League sources insist Iguodala was starting to prepare himself for the possibility of leaving the Bay Area. His realtor was on standby just in case and his camp was now charged with convincing teams he wasn't scouring for leverage, but rather genuinely seeking a new home. Certain teams were intrigued with the possibility of adding not only a top talent, but also nabbing a key cog from the Warriors and weakening a budding dynasty.
Face-to-face meetings were scheduled with the San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Iguodala, however, wanted to give the Warriors one last opportunity to increase their offer, multiple sources said.
Warriors GM Bob Myers knew how badly the Warriors needed Iguodala, but it was owner Joe Lacob who would have the final say. Myers came back with a new proposition on the eve of free agency: three years, $42 million with a partial guarantee on the third year.
Iguodala was still not pleased and had Rosenthal inform the Warriors he was going in a different direction. From there, communication with the Warriors ceased and Iguodala abandoned plans of meeting with them down the road, league sources said.
The 2015 Finals MVP was officially on the market.
July 1, 12:01 a.m. ET: Lakers on the line!
Set up in the presidential suite at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Iguodala kicked off his free-agent meetings with a conference call with the Los Angeles Lakers, multiple sources said. Iguodala took this call alone before his camp was scheduled to arrive.
The Lakers knew the odds of landing Iguodala were long, but they were able to secure his time due to his close relationships with the men on the other end of the line: team president Magic Johnson, Pelinka and coach Luke Walton (a former Warriors assistant and one of Iguodala's best friends dating back to their days as teammates at the University of Arizona).
Los Angeles had significant cap space and a desperate need for veteran leadership to help guide its young core, including Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. The call lasted about 20 minutes, sources said, but the Lakers were optimistic and offered a one-year deal in the $20 million-plus range.
Iguodala was noncommittal. His night was just getting started. Members of his group were arriving and the Spurs were waiting downstairs in the lobby.
July 1, 12:30 a.m. ET: Getting serious with Spurs
If there was one team capable of luring Iguodala away from his cozy California confines, opposing teams believed it was the Spurs, who could offer Iguodala a first-class organization and the chance to keep competing for championships -- two things that were important to the 33-year-old swingman.
The Spurs sent general manager R.C. Buford, assistant GM Brian Wright and director of pro player personnel Andy Birdsong to meet with Iguodala. (Gregg Popovich was unable to attend, sources said.) There was obvious mutual respect and interest, and Buford was straightforward in his desire to sign the versatile forward, stressing how Iguodala and Kawhi Leonard would create havoc together on defense, multiple sources said.
Iguodala didn't have many questions during the meeting, which lasted an hour. Players around the league are already well-versed in Spurs culture. Iguodala saw it firsthand when the Warriors won Game 4 of the 2017 Western Conference finals at the AT&T Center and Buford camped near the tunnel that led to the Warriors' locker room to congratulate and shake hands with the players and coaching staff. That left a lasting impression on the Warriors' glue guy.
The Spurs offered Iguodala a four-year guaranteed deal, sources said. The drawback was they couldn't offer him the roughly $16 million per year he was looking for. They had only the $8.4 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception available. Still, Iguodala didn't rule them out. The Spurs' mystique was strong.
Also, to compensate for a below-market salary, sources said the Spurs turned his attention to a thriving tech hub in Austin, 80 miles from San Antonio. They even provided him information on how research is being conducted to construct a speed rail that would make it possible to travel to Austin from San Antonio in less than 15 minutes. An individual who was present in the meeting said this appealed to Iguodala, as he still sought to be heavily involved in the tech world if he left Golden State.
But the Kings also knew about Iguodala's outside interests, and they were ready to make a pitch of their own.
July 1, 2 a.m. ET: Kings come strong after Iggy
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has held Iguodala in high regard for quite some time. When he bought the team in 2013, he tried to sign Iguodala as a free agent. The two share similar interests, particularly in the tech world. So it should come as no surprise that Ranadive, who was accompanied by GM Vlade Divac and Scott Perry, the team's former executive vice president and currently the GM of the New York Knicks, was ultra-aggressive in promoting his franchise as the hot, new startup company, multiple sources said. It was a clear, purposeful analogy -- in which he referred to the Warriors as Google -- to tug at Iguodala's admiration for the tech sector.
They gifted Iguodala with a personalized iPad with his name engraved on a Louis Vuitton case. The device's home screen featured him in a Kings uniform along with virtual tours of the plush Golden 1 Center and practice facility (with former Kings guard Doug Christie serving as the digital tour guide). Sources said Ranadive also pointed out that it's only a 20-minute helicopter ride to Sacramento from Iguodala's Bay Area home, which resonated with Iguodala and his camp.
Divac and Perry focused on Iguodala's role on the basketball court, assuring him that he would be allowed to play up to his full capabilities as he did when he was with the Sixers. They believed he had more left in the tank and, at the same time, could teach their young prospects -- rookies De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and sophomore guard Buddy Hield -- what it took to be winners in the NBA.
Finally, they asked how much it would take to bring him to Sacramento. The Kings were equipped with cap space to the tune of approximately $43 million and, within reason, determined to put an immediate end to his free agency by making him the highest offer on the market. If he threw out a number and they matched it, the Kings wanted an agreement on the spot out of fear of it being shopped.
Iguodala was reportedly quiet, but impressed by their aggressive approach. He left the two-plus-hour meeting believing it probably wouldn't get much better than Sacramento's offer to get him the money he was looking for.
Ranadive, meanwhile, was lodging at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel across the street and wasn't checking out until he received word from Iguodala's camp, which needed some rest. It was going on 1:30 a.m. on the West Coast and they would be meeting with the Rockets in the morning.
July 1, 11 a.m. ET: Harden, CP3 crash Rockets party
The Rockets arrived at the hotel an hour early for their noon ET meeting, prompting Rosenthal to call general manager Daryl Morey to make sure there wasn't a miscommunication. There wasn't. They were just ready to go.
When it was time to meet, Morey, who was joined by then-owner Les Alexander, assistant GM Gersson Rosas, coach Mike D'Antoni and chief executive officer Tad Brown, focused on how, with the addition of Iguodala, they could beat the Warriors in a seven-game series. He also detailed how the Rockets are well-positioned for the future and how Iguodala would save money (Texas residents don't pay state income taxes) and the relatively cheap cost of living in Houston. (California has the highest state income tax rate in the nation.)
D'Antoni discussed the NBA's new brand of basketball and his vision to push the pace on offense. He also emphasized improving defensively, highlighting a fearsome foursome of Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Iguodala as a switch-everything recipe to cover the league's most potent offenses.
Iguodala was impressed and soaked it all in, sources said, but what really grabbed his attention was what happened next. Morey's phone began to ring and, surprisingly, he answered. It was James Harden, who was unaware the meeting was happening at that time and called about an unrelated matter.
Harden apologized to Morey for interrupting.
"That's OK," Morey said. "I'll always answer for you."
Harden then asked Morey to hand Iguodala the phone. The Beard didn't attempt a recruiting pitch, but expressed his regret for intervening and wished him good luck with the process before hanging up.
The two sides carried on with the meeting until newly acquired Rockets point guard Chris Paul stormed into the suite and took over the presentation, multiple sources said. Iguodala, Rosenthal and Cline-Thomas were stunned.
Paul, who had been a Rocket for just four days, raved about the closeness of the team and the transparency within the organization for about 20 minutes. He revealed that the franchise's openness was something he has never experienced in the NBA. Iguodala was captivated.
The Rockets didn't have cap space, so all that was available was their midlevel exception. They offered him a four-year deal worth $32 million. But Morey, a mastermind at maneuvering through the cap, began jotting down -- right there on the conference table -- lucrative sign-and-trade scenarios like a mad scientist, sources said. It was understood that this would be the lone route at persuading Iguodala to join the team.
The meeting lasted almost two hours and was termed as "the best recruiting presentation of all time," according to a source within Iguodala's camp.
The Rockets left without a commitment, but there was strong sentiment that he was Houston-bound.
July 1, 7 p.m. ET: Welcome back, Warriors
When Bob Myers and Steve Kerr entered Iguodala's presidential suite, the conference table in the room was overflowing with Houston Rockets-themed items -- virtual reality 3D glasses, an iPad, promotional magazines and presentation packets -- left over from the free-agent meeting that morning. Kerr, in true whimsical fashion, put on the glasses.
The Warriors were granted a last-minute assembly out of respect. Iguodala had reopened the lines of communication with the Warriors and told Myers that if he still wanted to talk to "get down here."
The Warriors had been in the dark for a day and a half and contacted representatives of free-agent small forwards Rudy Gay and Gerald Henderson as a contingency plan. But Myers immediately hopped on a plane from the Bay Area and Kerr was already in Los Angeles, having recently visited with free agent Nick Young. They didn't know it, but Iguodala's objective in sitting down with them was to personally say goodbye, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
Iguodala and Myers are close. Their conversations center around family, business and world matters. Kerr is one of the few coaches who gets Iguodala and all of his quirks. It wasn't going to be easy for Iguodala to deliver the news during this sit-down.
Myers and Kerr came prepared to offer him a fully guaranteed three-year deal worth $45 million and reiterated that their latest offer still wasn't indicative of what they believed to be his true worth. Their hands were just tied.
There was little hope for a resolution at this point. Iguodala wasn't budging from his request to make at least $16 million per year. If the Warriors didn't improve their offer, he was signing with the Rockets, sources said.
After an hour, both sides departed and a breakup appeared likely. Iguodala's camp proceeded to discuss their options. The Warriors' top reserve was inching closer to becoming a top reserve for the Rockets. But before Rosenthal was to call Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Antonio and Golden State to notify them of his client's decision, sources said Iguodala elected to make his final, most defining move yet: calling Golden State one more time.
On his way back to the airport, Myers received a call from Rosenthal, who wanted to see if there was a way to bridge that gap, but reaffirmed that Iguodala's asking price was concrete. Myers said he would contact Lacob, but couldn't make any promises.
Twenty minutes later, Myers called back.
"I got it," he said.
On July 27, Iguodala took center stage in front of a large crowd once more. The Warriors star and Cline-Thomas were keynote speakers at The Morgan Stanley NextGen Software Summit in Deer Valley, Utah. More than 100 Silicon Valley CEOs were in attendance as the duo responded to questions about their recent contract negotiations.
"When players understand they can gather their own information, and the importance of empathy in negotiations, we'll be doing our own deals," Iguodala said during the session.
Iguodala never wanted to leave Golden State. His heart and greatest career achievements -- on and off the hardwood -- are tied to the Bay Area. It's where his family is rooted and where he and his teammates have a chance to be mentioned among the ranks of the Lakers and Celtics as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Still, Iguodala's intention was always to take care of business first and foremost. And he did just that.
Aided by Rosenthal and Cline-Thomas, Iguodala never wavered from what he felt was appropriate compensation. The Warriors knew he had other offers and sensed he could very well bolt. And in the end, Myers, the two-time NBA Executive of the Year, got ownership to meet Iguodala's demands with a fully guaranteed three-year, $48 million contract, keeping the Warriors' championship core together.
"I've said it before," Kerr told ESPN, "Andre should become an agent when he retires. He was prepared."