So, about that whole “Amar’e Stoudemire is retiring” thing …
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As it turns out, the whispers that Marc Stein was hearing when STAT announced “his retirement as a player in the National Basketball Association” (ah, that careful word choice!) last week were founded in fact. Word trickled out on Sunday …
Amar'e Stoudemire agreed to deal with co-owned Hapoel Jerusalem to become best-ever NBA star in Israel. https://t.co/FbRb03vzPJ
— David Pick (@IAmDPick) July 31, 2016
Basketball officials in Israel tell @espn they expect Amar'e Stoudemire to announce Monday that he'll play next season for Hapoel Jerusalem.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 31, 2016
… and the deal was confirmed on Monday morning. The 33-year-old power forward/center will continue his career overseas, signing a two-year deal with Hapoel Jerusalem, the Israeli basketball club in which he bought an ownership stake back in 2013.
Stoudemire made the move official in a Monday morning press conference at Madison Square Garden in New York, and in a piece posted to The Players Tribune:
I may be retiring from the NBA, but I’m not saying goodbye to basketball just yet. My next step is playing for Hapoel Jerusalem, one of the top teams in Europe. This isn’t about collecting a paycheck overseas, though; it’s a spiritual journey, too.
The Scripture speaks about Jerusalem as a holy place, and I can feel that whenever I’m in the city. This is a chance for me to be a better husband and a better father, to help me lead my family into righteousness. The opportunity to play there, and grow as a player and person, is a blessing.
While Stoudemire — who averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game in 52 appearances for the Miami Heat last season — isn’t nearly as dominant a force as he was in the earlier stages of his career, before knee and back injuries robbed him of the athleticism that made him such an offensive terror, the six-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection and 2003 NBA Rookie of the Year still becomes the best and most decorated player ever to suit up in the Israeli Basketball League.
Stoudemire will sell his shares in the club to majority owner Ori Allon — with whom Amar’e first partnered on the purchase — as part of his contract to join the team, according to Hapoel Jerusalem’s statement announcing the deal:
“We are thrilled to have a player of Amar’e’s caliber join our team, solidifying our place among the top echelon of Israeli and European basketball,” said Dr. Ori Allon, President and majority owner of Hapoel Jerusalem. “More importantly, bringing Amar’e to Jerusalem raises the profile of the entire Israeli Basketball League, and we hope that his joining our team will lead to increased interest in our league from basketball fans around the world as well as talented international players.” […]
“I am looking forward to playing for Hapoel Jerusalem and helping the team compete for titles,” said Stoudemire. “My family and I are excited to start a new journey in Israel, a country I have grown to love.”
One of the oldest clubs in Israel, Hapoel Jerusalem won the 2014-15 Israeli Basketball League title and finished second last season. It will compete in the 2016-17 EuroCup tournament, Europe’s second-tier continental competition, one step below the Euroleague; it last won the EuroCup in 2004, and hopes that adding Stoudemire’s scoring, experience and leadership will lead to both continued domestic success and a return to trophy contention in international play.
“What impressed me most when talking to Amar’e was his deep desire to come play for Hapoel Jerusalem,” said head coach Simone Pianigiani in a team statement. “His experience will be a great asset to our team. I’m confident he will have a positive impact on our season, and I look forward to it.”
In the summer of 2010, shortly after signing a five-year, $100 million contract with the New York Knicks, Stoudemire traveled to Israel to explore what he believed might be “Hebrew roots” through his mother, Carrie, in a “weeklong visit to learn about Israel, its language and religions,” according to The Associated Press:
“She studied the Scriptures and history and she believes she is a Hebrew,” he told The Associated Press Friday in Jerusalem. “I grew up in a very spiritual home. It’s not about religion, it’s about spirituality for me.”
Stoudemire said he was “soaking up the culture” with his girlfriend and a few other friends from home.
He has long suspected his Jewish lineage — Judaism is passed down through the mother’s side. Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, said his client is a “student of history” and is “exploring religions in general.”
For Amare, on his retirement day: May we never forget his yarmulke, which he decided to wear one day after practice pic.twitter.com/NhC9dBA8C3
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) August 1, 2016
Over the years, Stoudemire’s ongoing exploration of his relationship to Judaism led him to categorize himself as “not technically Jewish,” but “culturally Jewish,” observing Jewish holy days and seeking broader spiritual enlightenment. From Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
“When I traveled to Israel for the first time, the world took hold of that and [the media] made it a big deal, and … it just kind of blew up from there,” he says.
“But I was always this way, even when I was in Phoenix or even in high school here in Florida. But it just happened to become more visible when I traveled to Israel.”
He wore a yarmulke and prayer shawl for his 2012 religious wedding. There are Sabbath family dinners and observances of the Jewish holidays. He tweets “Shabbat Shalom” on the eve of the Sabbath and has started days with Twitter messages of “Boker Tov,” Hebrew for “good morning.”
As Stoudemire speaks, it is clear his connection to Judaism is about culture, engagement and search for greater truths. It is an embrace that is inclusional.
“Just studying history,” he says, “knowing that Constantine changed all the Christian rules. He changed everything.
“And a lot of us that read the Bible don’t understand history and don’t really try to connect the dots.”
Now, Stoudemire’s effort to both connect those dots and extend his playing career will take him to Jerusalem, a possibility he discussed two years ago, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“We’ll see,’’ Stoudemire told The Post. “You can’t rule anything out. The future is unknown and so if I have an opportunity to [play in Israel] and am still in great health, it would be great. I have one more year left on my deal and we’ll go from there.’’
The Knicks reached a buyout agreement with Stoudemire midway through the final year of his five-year contract; he finished the 2014-15 campaign with the Dallas Mavericks before inking a one-year deal with the Heat. While he performed well in Miami, coming on midway through the season to play a larger-than-expected role thanks to injuries to starters Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, Stoudemire evidently did not find any NBA suitors, prompting him to announce his NBA retirement last week.
“I’m at peace with it because I gave everything that I had,” Stoudemire told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic last week. “It took a while. The game is such a beautiful game. I was truly in love with it but there were no teams who needed my position.”
That might’ve been true stateside, but now Stoudemire’s found a new home for the next chapter in his journey — one that will give him the chance to keep pursuing spiritual growth, and that will allow him to continue playing ball as long as his body’s able. As second acts go: not too bad.
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