Thank you, Amar’e.
A Tale of Two Stories: A Euphoric Arrival and an Unfortunate Decline.
It was the inevitable. Donnie Walsh was clearing up cap space for the better part of two years to make some kind of room for a potential signing of LeBron James. Or Dwayne Wade. Or Chris Bosh. Or Joe Johnson.
We know what happened next.
LeBron joined Wade and Bosh in Miami, Atlanta broke the bank for Iso-Joe, and James Dolan was left in isolation, clutching to a checkbook filled with blank checks.
We didn’t get The Man™, however, we got Our Man. Now, you might ask why I might feel so attached to Amar’e. Part of my bias has to do with when I met Mr. Stoudemire, but largely I was enthralled that a star — no matter how much lesser than LeBron — was excited to be here, in New York.
Sure, players signed with the Knicks before. Plenty of times, as a matter of fact, and many of those times were bloated contracts to former stars well-past their primes. This….was different. Just a little.
Amar’e had just come off a very successful season in Phoenix, leading the Suns, along with Steve Nash, to the Western Conference Finals to play against a very formidable Los Angeles Lakers team. The Lakers wound up winning the series and the title. Amar’e and Nash were left without a title once again. Now, though Amar’e wanted to win at the highest level, he craved more than just winning; it was about developing his own identity, too. Amar’e wanted to lead a team the way he watched Steve Nash lead the Suns all those years, of course not as a point guard, but as a voice, both on and off the court. He felt Phoenix was not the place for him to grow into this leader, and yes, much of his decision was about a fully guaranteed, $100 million deal, but a part in this decision-making process was about a larger role as a leader.
So, he went to the east.
Amar’e and then-coach Mike D’Antoni were able to reconcile their differences, and suddenly, New York had a fresh face to slap on New York’s most underachieving franchise.
And I LOVED it.
I’ve always been a very grounded Knicks fan. I pride myself on that. But this time I couldn’t help myself. I bought the t-shirts. I bought the jerseys. It was glorious. What helped this infatuation was that I won a contest on Stoudemire’s website, a trivia contest asking for the first ten correct responses to the question of “Who was the 1999 New York Knicks first round draft choice?” It was Frédéric Weis, of course. About twelve hours later, I received an email from Amar’e stating I had won two tickets to the Knicks open practice at Madison Square Garden and also a ‘Meet and Greet’ with the players. Amar’e signed all of my gear, and yelled at Eddy Curry for signing on Amare’s coveted #1, forcing STAT to sign the side of my jersey.
What I remember the most was how happy he was to see the fans, especially the kids. He didn’t rush any child and was more than happy to answer any and all questions. Most of the other players couldn’t be bothered for conversation. Amar’e had ‘it.’
Once the season began, Amar’e came out guns-a-blazing. The highlight being his 9 straight games of 30 or more points, but he kept the Knicks in playoff contention the whole first half of the season. He displayed a full arsenal, including some great defending at the center position, which I remember by a countless amount of chase-down blocks (FOH John Wall). He became the first Knickerbocker since Patrick Ewing (’97) to start in the All-Star game. His totals for the season were 25.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, a pair of blocks and 2.6 assists. Monster numbers.
Then, James Dolan traded for Carmelo Anthony. And just as quickly as he arrived, the ride felt as though it was over, far too soon.
Carmelo and Amar’e couldn’t coexist. Sure, we thought that was just a gelling issue at first, but then the Knicks added Tyson Chandler, further mucking-up the paint for our once-prized interior scorer. Suddenly, there was no room for Amar’e to operate.
Now, let’s not forget that in all of this, Amar’e was mired with injuries. The back injury versus the Celtics that first season. His knee the following year. The infamous fire extinguisher incident during the Miami Heat series. It seemed never-ending.
Amar’e kept up a great poker face in all of this drama. He showed a willingness to come off the bench at first, and then for good. He was a great teammate, at least what we could see and hear. He tried his best to never let it show, but it broke through the cracks. His latter years in New York were mostly deflating to watch. He was constantly blocked, was woefully inefficient and a mess defensively. One could argue he was always a mess defensively, but he became flat-out LOST much more often.
And then it was over. Amar’e was released, free to sign with the Dallas Mavericks in February of 2015. After the Mavericks didn’t re-sign him, Amar’e went to South Beach to sign with the Heat. He was decent this past year, but nothing more than a eighth or ninth man off the bench. Realizing this, he called it quits on Tuesday.
At 33, Amar’e Stoudemire has retired from the NBA. It seems young, but it’s an old 33 years of age. Countless knee injuries, including the two monstrosities that made him so fragile in his latter years, derailed him. Perhaps an all-time great career was slashed of fulfilling its potential, and Stoudemire will have to settle for merely a great career.
(Whether STAT makes it into the Hall of Fame will certainly be up for debate in the coming years, but I can’t help but think he’s done enough to get in, considering the basketball Hall of Fame’s standards.)
In the end, he never provided us with the outcome that he, or we truly wanted, but he did accomplish more minimal goals to a long-suffering franchise. He provided electricity upon arrival, and breathed some air back into a deflated Madison Square Garden. His arrival did, for all intents and purposes, bring Carmelo Anthony to New York, because it’s doubtful Carmelo ever would have forced a trade to the Knicks without another star being here. Because of this, we saw the playoffs again. There wasn’t much success, outside of 2012–13, but we were in, something the Knicks haven’t been able to capture since then.
Amar’e was a Knick through-and-through, sparking our hopes and imaginations endlessly when he arrived, though never quite fulfilling them. I can’t complain, however, because nobody else wanted to come to us. Nobody wanted us, except Amar’e, and he tried to help as much as his body would let him.
So, thank you Amar’e, for putting us back on the map, even if it was short-lived. You tried to help us when nobody else wanted to, and I’ll always be grateful for that, at least. It wasn’t pretty for all, hell, even most of it, but I know I’m not alone when saying Amar’e won me over when he first stepped foot in New York.
Good luck, STAT, in everything you do going forward. You’ll always have a home in New York.
— Kyle Maggio, senior writer