Of all the statements one could make about Amar’e Stoudemire, who announced his retirement from the NBA on Tuesday, this is the least divisive: He was the greatest Jewish basketball player in modern history. That he reversed the traditional migration pattern and returned from Miami to retire in New York is just a measure of his iconoclasm. He also bathed in wine, pioneered the black pilgrim look, and essentially ignored defense.
In his prime (2004–2011) and when healthy (so, not 2005–06, portions of 2008–09, or basically everything after 2011), Amar’e was a ferocious rim runner — 6-foot-10 of coiled spring that could get loose in a blink and snatch a dude’s soul right out of his chest. But like all good things, that version of Amar’e didn’t last. When he came to the Knicks in 2010 as a 27-year-old free agent, he arrived with a pair of uninsurable knees.
Upon his introduction to the city, he put on that New York hat and declared, “The Knicks are back!”
I, like most Knicks fans, responded, “Not really. But, fuck it, let’s roll.”
Amar’e was a monster for the Knicks that first year. And he had horses around him: Ray Felton hadn’t fully congealed into an asterisk (shouts to this game winner against the Raps that touched every part of the rim before dropping). Danilo Gallinari was developing a herky-jerky swag that had you thinking he was the next great shooter despite notching 41 percent from the floor. Wilson Chandler did everything fairly well. Timofey Mozgov would have his name chanted at the Garden. Landry Fields looked like an actual NBA player.
And Amar’e was in the middle of it all. He scored 30 points in nine straight games from November 28 through December 15. The Knicks were 28–26 when James Dolan completed a sign-and-trade deal for Carmelo Anthony. They could have waited to bid on him in free agency, but opted to blow up the team instead. For all their combined talents and skills, Amar’e and Melo never meshed. Even sadder: That glimpse of an Amar’e-centric, Mike D’Antoni–run Knicks team ended. It lasted 54 regular-season games. Not long enough.