In Andre Iguodala's first seven seasons in the NBA, the Sixers won exactly six playoff games - no more than two wins in any of the four brief postseason appearances - and it was fair to wonder if it would become Iguodala's fate to be remembered as nothing more than the best player on some very disappointing teams here.
Forget leading his teammates to the promised land. Iguodala couldn't even lead them to the second round of the playoffs.
Well, here we are, doubters, and the Sixers are within one win of taking a playoff series for the first time since 2003. In what could be seen as a season of redemption for Iguodala that included an All-Star Game appearance and his selection as a finalist for the U.S. Olympic team, winning a postseason round might represent the biggest slice of that redemption.
Iguodala was on the phone with a friend Sunday night after the Sixers took command of the opening round series against Chicago with an 89-82 win in Game 4, and the friend said, "You don't sound excited."
No kidding. Iguodala has built a monument to not sounding excited, both publicly and privately. In fact, Philadelphia would embrace him more warmly if local sports fans even knew what it sounds like when Iguodala sounds excited.
"I'm not really excited," Iguodala said Monday after the Sixers finished a film session before flying to Chicago. "I try to keep focused. It's not over yet."
That much is true, although the Bulls have been rent by the loss of superstar Derrick Rose and the absence of Joakim Noah. Chicago does not look capable of playing three good quarters, let alone three good games.
For the Sixers, being excited about the possibility of advancing is not the same as taking advancement for granted. Iguodala's teammates are excited, in a good way, and that's fine. They should be. Iguodala, perhaps from experience, doesn't seem to trust that good fortune will continue.
He has played this series despite a sore Achilles tendon that has limited his mobility, and he has taken on the draining role of defending Chicago's Luol Deng, holding him 10 points below his season scoring average. Iguodala's own offense has been spotty, partly as a result of those two factors, and partly because he's a spotty offensive player.
In the four games against Chicago, Iguodala has taken 43 shots from the field and scored a total of 41 points, which isn't very good at all. He has tried 14 three-point shots and made two of those. Some of those misses were forced by a dwindling shot clock, but most were just bad decisions.
Iguoldala's biggest moment in Game 4 came with 26.6 seconds to play and the Sixers holding a four-point lead. Chicago's Omer Asik committed a foul on a drive to the basket and put Iguodala on the line, carrying not just the responsibility of the game, but the reality of his own poor free-throw shooting.
In the fourth quarter of games this season, Iguodala was among the worst free-throw shooters in the league, making just 23 of 51 attempts (45 percent). In the final three minutes of regulation, he was even worse, 6 for 18 (33.3 percent).
Had Iguodala missed those free throws and the Sixers lost the game to Chicago, and the series fell as a result, that might have torn things so badly with the fans and the organization that Iguodala would never have been able to recover. You could take the all-star selection and the Olympic team invitation and ball it up along with seven years of not ever sounding excited and chuck it somewhere else in the wide world of the National Basketball Association. He would have been done for good here.
If any of that weighed on Iguodala as he took the ball at the line, if there was any recognition of this possible turning point - both for good and bad - he didn't show it. (Again, no kidding.) What he did was swish both shots.
"He holds his cards pretty close to his vest," Doug Collins said. "I don't know the percentages during the course of the year, but it hasn't been great. Here you are with a chance to go up 3-to-1 and he's your marquee player and he walks to the line and makes them both. I don't know if Dre would say anything about what it meant to him, but deep down I know how important that was for him."
One more win and perhaps he will feel comfortable with happiness, and can get enthused about a season in which he has reached some goals that previously eluded him, including the one he seems likely to reach soon.
"Personally, it's not that big a year for me. I'm more happy for my teammates than anything," Iguodala said. "Some things that occurred for me personally, I think [I had] done enough to have accomplished before. Just now, I'm getting recognized for it, finally.
"When I go home, I'm really not happy for Andre, but when I get to practice and I see Jody Meeks smiling, Jrue Holiday learning, Evan Turner maturing each and every day, that's what I'm happy to see."
Sigh. He's a tough one to crack, particularly if he thinks he was jobbed out of making the All-Star Game in the past. He's even a tougher one for fans to fully accept, and that hasn't happened, just as they still don't know what Andre Iguodala sounds like when he sounds excited. He'll let us know when he's ready.