As expected-- though perhaps a bit earlier than expected-- it's officially over. Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks career-- which began with a sign-and-trade from the Suns and a five-year, $100-million deal in July of 2010-- has ended with a mutually beneficial contract buyout. Amar'e gets to go chase a ring, the Knicks get an open roster spot, and the rest of us are left to reflect on a Knick who constituted an era all to himself.
Amar'e may not go down as a Knick great, but he cleanly and fully represents the entire period between Isiah and Phil: the immense promise, the frequent derailments, the streaks of glory, the extravagance, and the constant, earnest weirdness. What follows is a glossary (Glossar'e) of memorable moments and themes from a complicated Knicks career. Feel free to add your own definitions in the comments.
In late 2012, Amar'e published the first in a series of books for middle grade readers: the "STAT: Standing Tall and Talented" collection. The stories are inspired by his own childhood, which means that Book 2 -- "Double Team" -- probably has nothing to do with the awesome Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dennis Rodman film. "I decided to write for children," he explained, "because although I am an avid reader now, I wish I had read more as a child. I hope that...we can creatively inspire a new generation to read." A noble effort, to be sure.
Used both hyperbolically to represent hope for an era of Knicks history and derisively to point out just how far Amar'e's star had fallen in a short time. Technically, the term as it applied to the Knicks referred to the threesome of Amar'e, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler, but it was only coined as a result of the team's wrong-headed interest in replicating the Miami Heat's trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. By the time the Knicks' Big 3 was fully formed, with the arrival of Chandler in December 2011, Stoudemire had already begun to break down. Expectations were high for what many called "the best frontcourt in the league," but the team always seemed to play better when at least one of the three was injured (usually Amar'e). Sadly, the Big 3 never got a chance to truly coalesce and the term will forever be known as a representation of failed dreams.
The Knicks appeared ready to try another Big 3 combo before their 2014-15 season opener, but things never quite worked out:
Crazy to think that only one of the Knicks' Big 3 is still on the roster: pic.twitter.com/MvAheXvrC7— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) February 16, 2015
Never has a single Knick been more relentlessly championed by a more prolific P&T commenter. This is the end of an era in our comments section, too.
Amar'e played a key role in perhaps the best win of the 2010-11 season, a 91-86 upset of the Heat in Miami. Amazingly, it was his defense that saved the day. Nursing a one-point lead with seven seconds remaining, STAT came out of nowhere to block a LeBron James layup. It's a moment that still resonates four years later.
An ailment that would plague Amar'e for quite some time. First sustained when, prior to Game 2 of the 2011 playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire pulled a back muscle while attempting to dunk during shootaround. The injury would reappear in late March 2012, when Amar'e was officially diagnosed with a bulging disk after an MRI. Nagging injuries such as this one would come to define Stoudemire's tenure in New York. Not to be confused with "bulging dick."
The Buzzer-beating 3 that wasn't
Mike D'Antoni loved to draw up late-game three-pointers for Amar'e. They almost never mattered, but it felt like he almost always hit them. In December of 2010, he came fractions a second away from beating the Celtics with one. Still counts in our hearts.
No injury ever seemed to derail Amar'e's penchant for rising up and viciously cramming on fools-- unfurling his arm and striking like a scorpion. Give him a few games with limited minutes, and the next thing you know he's capsizing Tyrus Thomas back into NBA obscurity where he belongs. He may have lost a bit on his vertical, but he never struggled to crush it through the defenders' outstretched limbs. Whatever happens next for STAT, he'll certainly find some time to wrecking-ball his way to the rim and pummel some unsuspecting chumps.
Amar'e is easily the greatest BayHawk ever without even playing in a game. So great they came to him to practice.
A fiery personality on the court, an oddball injury concern no matter where he is. After a particularly vexing 2012 playoff loss in Miami, Amar'e took his frustrations out on the cabinet that a lowly fire extinguisher called home. STAT crammed his fist through the glass and left his hand looking like a slobbering dog's favorite baseball. Apparently one millimeter away from a nerve, the injury required at least 14 stitches. Amar'e left the arena in a sling and didn't return until Game 4.
Amar'e suffered a detached retina during the 2008-2009 season, resulting in a decision to wear goggles for the rest of his career. The fashionable STAT has sported three major designs as a member of the Knicks.
Beginning during the lockout of 2012, Amar'e paid quite a bit of money for private post-game tutelage from the great Hakeem Olajuwon. The steep tuition-- and the notion that Amar'e would shell out to learn post moves instead of basic defense-- drew laughs at the time. It's hard to deny, though, that Stoudemire came away a more capable player. Careering, straight-line drives became deft feints and spin moves, such that Amar'e could thrive in an unnatural, isolated, back-to-the-basket state instead of picking and rolling all the time. So many fewer charges, so many more dazzling moves and finishes along the baseline.
On February 6, 2012, Amar'e's older brother Hazell died in a car crash in Florida. After an extended absence to mourn with his family and rehabilitate an injury, Stoudemire returned with a tear tattooed on his face, an everlasting tribute to a troubled man who nonetheless played an integral mentoring role in Amar'e's development. A year later, Amar'e honored his brother's memory by hosting a whole bunch of local kids at a game in Orlando.
SUCK IT BATTIER.
"I don't have to do anything fag"
"I've never been taught defense"
Midway through the 2012-2013 season, Amar'e made his return from a left knee injury. After a team practice on January 2nd, STAT made a startling declaration.
"I've never been taught defense in my whole career," Stoudemire said, and went on to praise then-Coach Woodson for teaching defense. It's a bit absurd that a six-time All-Star was able to claim that he was simply never taught to play defense. Unfortunately, Stoudemire would fail to grow as a defender under the tutelage of Woodson, as the Knicks continued to suffer defensively with STAT on-court for the duration of his time in uniform.
Amar'e began to fully embrace Judaism right around the time he came to New York, and one of his first acts as a Knick was traveling to Israel to learn about his "Hebrew roots." Many of us giggled at the time, but the dude keeps kosher most of the time, celebrates all the holidays, studies scripture and history, shuns Halloween(!), and is seriously involved in basketball in Israel. We wouldn't be surprised to see Stoudemire start a second career there once he's done with the NBA. Amar'e says a lot of things. Amar'e does a lot of things. But dammit, Amar'e means those things.
Stoudemire's knees were why his contract wasn't insured, and why Phoenix didn't offer more than three years guaranteed. His knees went downhill early, then often, and for most of his Knick years it seemed he was chronically being unfrozen from carbonite after setbacks or surgery.
The Suns weren't wrong. But that doesn't mean they were right. They've never made the playoffs since STAT helped lead them to the WCF in 2010. Not being wrong's easier than being right, just like playing not to lose is easier than playing to win. Few Knick fans would have bet that the Knicks' lone playoff success during STAT's tenure would be a takedown of the Rondo-less Celtics (a series he missed due to injury). But there was hope in the opening round against the still-feared 2011 Celtics, in large part because of Amar'e, who was a beast ('til he hurt his back). There was intrigue heading into the Miami series (till he punched the fire hydrant glass). Late last year, when the Knicks made a furious run toward the #8 seed and a matchup with the stumblebum Pacers, STAT played as well as anyone.
His health was his Achilles' heel, and his knees were his Achilles' heel's heel. But the journey, for many, was worth the cost.
"Knicks are back"
After signing with New York on July 5, 2010, Amar'e announced, "The Knicks are back." Nearly 5 years and $100M later, at 10-43, it might feel like the only "back" the Knicks are is "back to where they were," i.e. in need of talent everywhere you look. But remember how far the team had fallen before he came.
From 2001-10, the Knicks won zero playoff series. From 2002-10, they won zero playoff games. Twice in that stretch, they tied for the worst record in their history. At one point people were debating whether Nate Robinson deserved a video tribute when he returned to MSG as a Celtic. The stench of Isiah lingered like a permanent garbage strike.
Two years after Amar'e arrived, the Knicks were a 54-win two-seed thisclose to the conference finals. It may sometimes feel like two lightyears ago, but one part of STAT's legacy will always be that a generation of Knicks fans got their first taste of respectability and relevance after he came. However briefly, the Knicks were back.
Quietly the best part of Melo's 62-point game:
The genesis may or may not be lost to history, but the term we use when someone accidentally double-posts a comment at P&T will always be named for Amar'e.
Never quite clear, never totally obeyed, never really mattered.
One hundred million dollars
Stoudemire's contract was a big deal. It being uninsured was even bigger. But there were bigger fears in 2010 than the condition of his knees...like the Knicks getting frozen out of the LeBron sweepstakes and ending up with Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson [shudder]. One reason STAT's deal was a cap-killer was because the team picked up Chauncey Billups's option for 2012, then mere months later used the one-time-only amnesty on him to clear space for Tyson Chandler.
After a glorious start to his Knickdom, STAT became inextricably linked to his mammoth deal. But he's hardly the first human being whose pay stub didn't sync with his production. And he didn't stagnate after landing his big deal. Unlike Chandler, STAT attended Olajuwon's post-up camp and added a whole new dimension to his game. He got an offer no one would turn down, he continued working to improve, he gave the team his best, and after all is said and done, despite the injuries and shortcomings, he's still pretty much adored. Unlike Boozer and Johnson.
Possibly the most unrelenting part of Amar'e is his positivity. He spent his entire tenure in New York making sure everything was crafted well enough to be considered "phenomenal". He didn't wake up and eat breakfast. He slept phenomenal, arose and prepared a phenomenal breakfast and got ready to have a phenomenal day. Put in some time in the weight room: phenomenal. Went to practice, the team's effort was phenomenal. Phenomenal mid-afternoon nap. Got dressed for the game, feeling phenomenal. Eight points, four boards, three turnovers in 22 minutes. How'd you feel out there? Phenomenal.
It didn't click immediately, but for a while, the Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-roll was the best thing going. Everything in Mike D'Antoni's pre-Melo offense revolved around basic, spread-out, 1-4 action in the middle of the floor, and it got the big begoggled one a whoooole mess of dunks.
Amar'e's bulldog got sick, but then he got better.
Amar'e made major innovations in the towel-wearing game by stuffing the thing under the collar of his shirt to become a mighty, bench-dwelling king cobra.
The unequivocal high point of Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks career, basketball-wise. A nine-game stretch from November 28, 2010 to December 15, 2010 in which Amar'e broke the Knicks record for consecutive games with 30 points. During this period, he shot 59.4% from the field to the tune of 34.4 points a game to go along with 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. It was a majestic two and a half weeks in which Stoudemire destroyed every defender who stood in his way and was showered by daily chants of "MVP! MVP!" from the crowd.
Amar'e played himself or made cameos in more TV shows and movies than you can count-- and had a producer credit on the recent movie Beyond the Lights-- but everything pales in comparison to his ON-SCREEN KISS in a show called The Exes.
Where'd the ball go?
Perhaps the lasting memory of Amar'e's final season in New York will be the vinotherapy. Before the season began, Amar'e shared-- without a hint of irony-- a photo of himself taking a "recovery day" in a tub full of red wine. We couldn't believe it, but Amar'e wasn't kidding. This is apparently a real thing people do, and became such a topic that ESPN recently interviewed him INSIDE the wine bath.