Amar’e Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection and Rookie of the Year whose pick-and-roll finishing and rim-rocking dunks made him one of the game’s most electric offensive forces for a number of years, announced his retirement from the NBA on Tuesday after 14 pro seasons.
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A free agent after spending last season with the Miami Heat, the 33-year-old power forward/center signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the New York Knicks — the team he joined in 2010 on a five-year, $100 million deal, pledging to lead New York back to NBA prominence before injuries, inconsistency and internal intrigue scuttled those grand plans — so he could announce the end of his NBA playing days.
Whether this means Stoudemire’s done playing entirely remains unclear, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:
Amar'e Stoudemire has lucrative interest from China, sources say, or could play in Israel for the team (Hapoel Jerusalem) he co-owns … BUT
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 26, 2016
But I'm told Stoudemire plans to take some time before deciding if he intends to play pro basketball abroad in the coming season or stay put
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 26, 2016
… but it appears his days in the NBA are over, and he sought out the Knicks to make it official.
“I want to thank [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] for signing me so that I can officially retire as a Knick,” Stoudemire said in a statement released by the Knicks on Tuesday afternoon. “I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil and Steve have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again.”
Knicks general manager Steve Mills said the team was “honored to oblige” when Stoudemire reached out to find out if the team would be receptive to him retiring in orange and blue because, as he put it, “Although my career has taken me to other places, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple.” And yet, to many fans, the enduring image of Stoudemire — who ends his career having averaged 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 31 minutes per game — will be him wearing the orange of the Phoenix Suns, setting a screen for Steve Nash, taking a pocket pass and diving hard to the rim, knifing through defenders before elevating for a thunderous slam.
“The Phoenix Suns family congratulates Amar’e Stoudemire on a remarkable NBA career,” the Suns said in a statement released Tuesday. “As the 2003 Rookie of the Year and a five-time All-Star during his time in Phoenix, Amar’e’s eight seasons with our franchise provided some of the most exciting Suns basketball this city has ever seen. Off the court, Amar’e represented himself with integrity and class every step of the way, leaving an indelible impression on countless kids in our community. We’re proud to have called Amar’e one of our own and wish him nothing but the best in retirement.”
It was the Suns who drafted Stoudemire — a 6-foot-11 physical specimen who had only begun playing organized basketball at age 14, and quickly rose through the ranks to become Florida’s Mr. Basketball and the top prep recruit in the country — out of Cypress Creek High School in Orlando with the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA draft, making him the only player that year selected to make the leap straight from high school to the pros. He proved his mettle right away, appearing in all 82 games for the Suns, including 71 starts, and averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in 31.3 minutes per game en route to winning the NBA’s 2002-03 Rookie of the Year award.
Stoudemire spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Suns, blossoming into a well-rounded and devastating scorer and rebounder. He still ranks sixth on Phoenix’s all-time scoring list, fourth in franchise history in points scored per game in a Suns uniform, third in total rebounds, and fifth in blocked shots.
The arrivals of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash in Arizona fully unleashed Stoudemire as a holy terror for opposing defenses; he ranked fifth in the league with a career-high 26 points per game as the primary finisher in the go-go “Seven Seconds or Less” offense that propelled the Suns to a stunning 62-20 record and a Western Conference Finals berth. Though the Suns would ultimately bow out in five games to the San Antonio Spurs, Stoudemire shined bright on the grand stage, taking the fight straight to Tim Duncan to the tune of 37 points on 55 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds in 41.4 minutes per game … all at the tender age of 22.
What looked like it would be a rocket rise to superstardom, though, was short-circuited by left knee soreness that led to the discovery of cartilage damage, prompting microfracture surgery that sidelined him for nearly the whole 2005-06 season. While Stoudemire did come back the next season to play all 82 games and recover his All-Star form, the injury began a series of knee and leg ailments that would continue to plague him throughout the rest of his career.
With Nash running the show and Stoudemire continuing to serve as the offensive focal point, the Suns remained a force in the Western Conference, but could never get over the top and make it all the way to the NBA Finals, falling in six games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Stoudemire opted out of his contract, hitting the market as an undeniably high-scoring free agent, albeit one with a history of knee issues that rendered his contract uninsurable. The Suns decided not to offer him a full five-year maximum-salaried contract; the Knicks, coming off a 29-53 season in D’Antoni’s second year on the New York bench, were willing to take the risk.
Stoudemire started his Knicks career brilliantly, averaging 26.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his first 53 games in Gotham. He paired well with point guard Raymond Felton in the pick-and-roll, and helped elevate a Knicks team full of scrappy mismatched pieces — Italian shooter Danilo Gallinari, tweener forward Wilson Chandler, dogged point guard Toney Douglas, second-rounder Landry Fields, Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov — to a 28-26 record at the All-Star break.
At the 2011 trade deadline, the Knicks traded the bulk of that rotation and multiple future draft picks to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for superstar forward Carmelo Anthony, hoping that the one-two scoring punch of Anthony and Stoudemire could lift the Knicks from the middle of the Eastern pack into serious contention with the likes of the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh Miami Heat, Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls and Big Three Boston Celtics. The two top scoring options never quite meshed, though, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
While the import of defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler from the Dallas Mavericks helped on that end somewhat, the Knicks’ high-priced and supersized frontcourt found precious little space and success on offense when all three were healthy and sharing the floor. Those moments were few and far between, as Stoudemire missed significant time with knee and back injuries during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. He worked tirelessly to get back on the floor and to reshape his game, recasting himself as a back-to-the-basket post player to try to find opportunities for work in alongside Anthony on the bully block and Chandler slicing to the paint out of the high pick-and-roll.
Ultimately, though, the greatest success the Knicks saw during his tenure in Manhattan came during the ’12-’13 campaign, during which he was limited to just 29 games, prompting coach Mike Woodson to slide Anthony up to power forward in a small-ball, spread-out, 3-point-bombing attack that fueled the Knicks to 54 wins, the Atlantic Division title and their first playoff series victory since 2000. Regrettably, Stoudemire’s most memorable postseason moment as a Knick was likely punching a fire extinguisher at AmericanAirlines Arena out of frustration during a 2012 series against Miami, lacerating his left hand and likely snuffing out whatever small chance the Knicks might have had of toppling the heavily favored Heat.
After 36 largely nondescript outings, mostly as an effective scoring option off the bench, to start the 2014-15 season, Stoudemire and the Knicks agreed to a buyout of the rest of his contract, ending his tenure at Madison Square Garden. He caught on with the Mavericks, averaging a shade under 11 points in 16.5 minutes per game off the bench, before joining Pat Riley’s Heat last season. He spent the first half of the season on the bench before emerging from mothballs in late January to play a larger-than-expected role, starting games ahead of spring-loaded center Hassan Whiteside and earning heavy rotation minutes after Bosh wound up shelved after the All-Star break for the second straight year due to blood clot concerns.
Stoudemire took pride in his performance for Erik Spoelstra’s club — in his ability to stay ready, in his ability to produce when called upon, in the professionalism that he showed and in being able to show, at age 33 and a decade removed from microfracture surgery, that he could still play a role. From Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald:
“Man … the last man standing,” he said. “A lot of guys didn’t come back from [microfacture].”
He mentions Chris Webber, Jamal Mashburn, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady.
“Guys never fully recovered from microfracture,” he said. “I persevered.”
That, he believes, may now be his legacy, more so than the six All-Star appearances.
“An example of how to persevere,” he said. “The resilience of a never-give-up type of mindset. The will to work and embrace working.”
After the Heat bowed out in Round 2 of the 2016 postseason to the Toronto Raptors, Stoudemire seemed intent on pressing on, believing he could have (and perhaps should have) had a larger role in Miami, and that he still had plenty of offer. Evidently, though, his thinking has changed, so now, we’ll begin wondering where Stoudemire — a six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, one of just 26 players in NBA history with at least 15,500 points, 6,500 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 1,000 assists, who might never have been a defensive game-changer but was inarguably one of the league’s top players for the bulk of the 2000s — ranks among the all-time greats.
For his part, Stoudemire hopes the consensus is that his career merits enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“I’m actually very proud of my career. In my career, I’ve had some ups and downs,” Stoudemire told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated earlier this summer. “But I’m thankful that what I put into this game helped me achieve what I was able to accomplish. Hopefully, that gives me a bid into the Hall of Fame. That was my goal as a teenager, was to become a Hall of Famer. That’s what I’m still striving for.”
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