The Amar’e Stoudemire Tragedy
Standing tall and talented, with flashing bulbs and millions of eyes on him, Amar’e Stoudemire told the world of his decision.
With a $100 million smile, gray suit and blue dress shirt, he gleefully told the world that he had decided to try to lead a revival in New York City.
Now, just three short years later, his story has quickly become one of the modern NBA’s tragedies.
It is not tragic because the $45 million that the New York Knicks still owe him over the next two seasons limits the franchise’s maneuvering ability.
It is not tragic because Carmelo Anthony could desperately use a scoring power forward with the weapons that Stoudemire once had.
And it is not tragic because Stoudemire may never be the same.
No, it is tragic because, on a personal level, it is impossible to not root for a player like Stoudemire.
In a world where NBA players show up to camp out of shape and where maximum-salaried players become knuckleheads the moment they sign nine-figure contracts, Stoudemire has been the antithesis.
“The Knicks are back,” he boldly proclaimed on that July day back in 2010.
There, in all his glory, with a city and a team to call his own, Stoudemire dreamed of what his future in New York City may withhold.
“I’m looking to build something special,” Stoudemire said. “The ultimate goal for any player is to ultimately win a championship, so we’re gonna do whatever it takes to build the team up right and compete for a title.”
And from that day forward, Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald have done all that they could to bring that grandiose vision to fruition.
Along the way, though, Stoudemire’s body betrayed him and has left Knicks fans and NBA onlookers with a shell of the one-time prodigy’s former self.
Today, the Knicks enter the 2013-14 season as the reigning Atlantic Division champions for the first time since they won the division in 1994. Last season, the team had two representatives in the NBA All-Star Game for the first time since 2001. That year, Latrell Sprewell joined Allan Houston in Washington, D.C. after Commissioner David Stern anointed Sprewell as Grant Hill’s injury replacement.
Madison Square Garden is sold out and rocking each night as avid New Yorkers tightly pack the arena the same way they did in the mid-1990s when Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing and John Starks had the Knicks on the cusp of greatness.
Yes, today, the Knicks are back.
It is just a shame that they are back without Stoudemire.
From the moment he signed with the team, Stoudemire embraced all of the expectations that came with his mega-contract and his bold proclamation. Before the eyes of those watching, he became a leader and a mentor, sharing tidbits of the information and the wisdom that he had gotten from Steve Nash after running with the Canadian for six years in the deserts of Phoenix.
Although Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and Landry Fields have all since been traded, Stoudemire showed each of them, firsthand, what it meant to be a leader and a true professional.
For Knicks fans, he reminded them of what it felt like to have a superstar worthy of emotionally investing in.
With ferocious athleticism and a tireless work ethic that saw him go from an erratic jump shooter to an automatic midrange shot maker, Stoudemire became a household name across the NBA. After signing with the Knicks and being handed the keys to the franchise, he admirably led his troops over the season’s first 53 games and closed out the first two months of the 2010-11 season having emerged in the MVP conversation.
Under those circumstances, it would have been easy for any NBA superstar to publicly groan or complain or otherwise announce discontent when Anthony eventually became a Knick back in February 2011.
Upon arrival, Anthony became the focal point of the franchise and its long-term strategy for building a contender. That decision was easy enough to understand since Anthony is the superior player.
That Stoudemire so willingly stepped aside, though, was almost remarkable. Perhaps an omen, in Anthony’s very first game as a Knick, he attempted 25 shots to Stoudemire’s 13. And as his touches and opportunities decreased, Stoudemire’s demeanor and message was always the same.
There is no “I” in “team.”
Instead, Stoudemire, ever the leader, humbly stepped aside and allowed Anthony to ascend as the team’s franchise. One thing and one thing only concerned him, and that was winning.
NBA players and big egos go together like hot dogs and ketchup. Often, players who do not even come close to fulfilling lofty expectations thrust upon them or otherwise accomplish feats worthy of universal reverence develop an aura of entitlement that is befuddling.
But through it all, Stoudemire has been the antithesis.
As a player, Stoudemire was and is greatly flawed. Defensively, he is mediocre, at best. His rebounding, though not as inept as many believe, could be better.
He has undergone three knee surgeries over the past 12 months and, at this point, seems to be more of a distraction than a vital cog to the machine that churns the Knicks’ championship aspirations.
Yet still, through it all, Stoudemire has remained upbeat.
He listens to his doctors, he rehabs to the best of his ability, he smiles, chuckles and shakes hands with any and everyone who extends theirs toward him.
In one word, he is a professional, and in a league that has its fair share of prima donnas, he is a player that is worth rooting for.
It is just unfortunate that he will never be the same.
After undergoing knee debridement surgeries in both knees last season, Stoudemire had a third procedure in July. Though Stoudemire and the Knicks have both called the surgical procedure “minor” and “cautionary,” the fact that the team did not officially announce it and the fact that Stoudemire was unable to fully practice with his team when they began training camp on October 1 are ominous signs.
Instead of discussing the trio of Stoudemire, Anthony and Tyson Chandler causing problems for opposing defenses, Stoudemire and Woodson are discussing minutes restrictions, rehabilitation and uncertainty as to whether or not Stoudemire will be able to contribute on the court once the Knicks tip off their regular season in less than a month.
Standing tall and talented, the proud Stoudemire continues to go about his business and do all he can to give his team what he can.
The days of being an All-Star, in all likelihood, are over. The hopes of actively helping the Knicks compete for a championship are a long shot. As the man who began the modern revival, it is easy to be bitter. And for those who have never had the opportunity to observe Stoudemire up close, converse with him, watch him interact with teammates or see him intently nod his head when receiving directives from any member of the coaching staff, you should know that in a league where far more money is doled out than is earned, Stoudemire is rare.
Standing tall and proud, he refuses to give up on himself, his career or his ultimate dream of bringing a championship to the fans of New York. Because of what he helped start, Knicks fans can dream as well.
As the defending division champions and with an improved roster, the Knicks should have an opportunity to dance with the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Miami HEAT.
Though winning a championship remains a long shot, the franchise is closer than it was upon Anthony’s arrival and much closer than it was when Stoudemire signed on.
If contention is the mandate, then yes, just like Stoudemire said and predicted three years ago, the Knicks are back.
Unfortunately, here and now, they are without the man that began the revival.
As a competitor, a leader and a teammate, he deserved better. And as the 2013-14 season tips off, this is not an obituary for Stoudemire’s career.
No, it is merely the acknowledgement of a superstar who has all the reason in the world to be bitter, but is not, and has no reason in the world to be optimistic and resilient, but is.
With the weight of the city and the franchise on his back, Stoudemire accepted a great challenge, but his body betrayed him before he had an opportunity to make good.
Ever the fighter, he continues on, largely unnoticed and mostly forgotten. He continues on, likely in vain.
All things considered, he continues on, starring in one of the contemporary NBA’s worst tragedies.