Phil Jackson might have given New York new life this week, but the one who really brought relevance back to the modern-day Knicks was Amar'e Stoudemire, in the summer of 2010. Who knows where things would've stood today without Stoudemire leading it off? Then came Carmelo Anthony, followed by Tyson Chandler. Overall, three straight playoff appearances.
That was all part of a plan put into motion when Stoudemire and Knicks owner James Dolan first met privately to discuss a deal, as well as future personnel and development, in July 2010. Four years later, it's remarkable in many ways that Stoudemire is still standing tall and talented. During that span, he's had to overcome three knee surgeries—as well as other injuries—and reinvent his game to become more of a low-post threat.
While Stoudemire's massive $21.7 million salary gets most of the national attention—his co-agent, Travis King, admits trade inquiries might happen after the season because of the expiring contact in 2015—his consistent productivity in his 12th season is noteworthy. Though the Knicks could still miss the playoffs, he's not the reason. Stoudemire has missed only 16 games this season (72 the two previous) and is shooting 55.2 percent on only 8.1 attempts in 21 minutes per game. He had 21 points in an upset of the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, the Knicks' season-high seventh straight win.
Speaking with Bleacher Report over dinner at his New York City penthouse apartment in the West Village this week, Stoudemire reflected on his Knicks signing, the ups and downs of the past four years, his continued faith in the team and goal of winning a title, what's next in New York and much more. With his consent, his insights are presented here from his first-person perspective, edited for clarity and length.
I first came to New York City on July 4, 2010.
That night, I went to James Dolan's house party, and the next day, with my agents Happy Walters and Travis King and the rest of my business team, I met with Mr. Dolan at the Four Seasons hotel. All of the main Knicks personnel were there, too. We sat down and had brunch, and afterward Mr. Dolan and I met alone at the hotel.
It was great to meet with him. We talked about some basketball, and we just had a great time together. We really hit it off very well, and he asked me to come to New York for the max amount. At the time, the Miami Heat were a serious option for me—I met with them first—but they were waiting on LeBron James to make a decision. I didn't want to wait. Also, the plan was for my business team and I to still fly to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, but I told Mr. Dolan in our meeting that I wanted to come to New York. And that was it.
A lot of people were like, "Why would you want to go to New York? There's no winning mentality there." They hadn't been to the playoffs in six years at the time. But the first year coming to New York was really trying to change to a winning mentality. That's why signing with the Knicks is still my biggest highlight in New York.
I was like, "The Knicks are back." I mean, those words were gold to the city of New York, and to follow through with that was even more precious. I think that's why the fans here have such an open heart for me, because there was a time when a winning mentality was much needed and no one wanted to come to New York. It was a forbidden place, and I took the chance to come here and Mr. Dolan took the chance on signing me, so we had a great marriage.
I mean, it wasn't an easy decision—looking at the roster at the time, it wasn't very intriguing—but I was familiar with Mike D'Antoni's system from Phoenix, and I knew he could win with not-so-great talent because the ball moves, everyone gets the ball and he brings out the best in players. So I knew that was a positive for me to come here. My business team and I also knew that Mr. Dolan was going to spend the money to do what he had to do to put a solid roster together, and he worked with Donnie Walsh, one of the top GMs in basketball at the time.
Another intriguing factor about New York was that it's New York City. I wanted to be the face of a franchise and wanted to play in a huge market. New York is the mecca of basketball, playing in the Garden. I was also very intrigued with the fashion. It was just everything about New York. I knew that signing with the Knicks came with a lot of expectations, but I was fearless and ready to accept the challenge.
I also knew that I needed a star teammate, and that's something I talked to Mr. Dolan about when I signed. My ultimate goal my first year in New York was really to set the tone from a winning standpoint, and then to bring in players that were going to help capitalize and build on that. I mentioned a few players to Mr. Dolan who would be fun to play with, and Melo was one of them. Mr. Dolan and I talked about, "Which players in the near future are going to be available?" Then we said, "Let's make the move and try to trade for Melo." That's how things first started with the Knicks going after Carmelo Anthony. That was a decision Dolan pretty much made with helping myself.
Melo and I have always been friends. We've always admired each other's games. My business team and I actually went out to dinner with Melo's friends in L.A. before the whole free-agency process started, and we talked a lot about playing ball together one day. That was definitely a highlight for me to play with him that first season; also breaking that 48-year-old record with the nine consecutive 30-point games. I mean, that was remarkable. Those are probably the two main highlights, and then making the playoffs for the first time in six years was a lot of fun, playing against Boston.
But then I was hit with a couple of injuries.
Last season was extremely tough. I came back from left knee surgery on New Year's Day, played well and then I got hurt again and needed right knee surgery in March. It was tough because I wanted to do more, I wanted to be myself as a player and really provide for the city and for the state and just for the team, but I couldn't. It was very frustrating, a lot of long nights.
My energy is also not the same when I know if I'm injured because I want to provide more. I can't be at the level that I want to be because I can't show them what I'm talking about. I can't really lead from the bench; I need to be playing. And so it makes me a little more reserved as far as leading and not playing. That's frustrating because I'm a natural-born leader and I love to lead and lead by example, and then show guys and teach them. I love that aspect of the game of basketball.
I happened to get married in December 2012, and that helped me through my difficult time because I could depend on my wife, Alexis, and children to help get me over the hump mentally. My family has always been there and very supportive. When I see my children, I kind of forget about what happened. I've also got my Team STAT. My business team is always optimistic, saying, "Hey, stay focused, keep working." And then when I get my eight hours of sleep, I wake up enthusiastic, ready to train, ready to work. So with building on that consistently, I'm positive about things.
Studying my spirituality helps in that regard. That's why I'm excited to talk to Phil Jackson, big time—spiritually and mentally, and about basketball. I'm a Zen guy. I love the peaceful spiritual element of what Phil brings to the table for sure, and then also the winning mentality. That all ties in.
I'm also constantly reading the Bible. I'm actually working on a college curriculum that ties in Biblical history and lifestyle enhancement improvement, which has already been credit-approved in the state of New York. Overall, I'm always studying. I read all kinds of books—a lot of history books, a lot of different religious books, a lot of books on activists and just special people in history. I read Jackson's book, Eleven Rings, and I've read some of Michael Jordan's books. I mean, anything I can get my hands on, I'll read it. The more you read and study, the smarter you're going to become.
I've had a similar mindset with training to recover from my injuries. The more you train as a player, the better you're going to become. When you're putting in that type of work and you've got that type of understanding, it becomes natural. I love to train. That's why I'm known as one of the hardest workers in the league. I tell my teammates all the time, "I may become a physical trainer when I'm done playing."
I help any of my teammates, like when Iman Shumpert went through his knee procedure in 2012. When guys get hurt within the Knicks, I'm there to school them on a few things. I also called Derrick Rose's agent, Arn Tellem, to relay a message from me to him when he had his second knee surgery last year. I told him, "Stay positive, keep your head up, continue to work. You've just got to be tough, you've just got to stay optimistic, stay positive, because you have a goal in mind as a player."
I think every great player has a goal, a vision, of what they want to be. And when hiccups happen from an injury standpoint, you can't let that take you off track. It may reduce the time of you getting there, but you just can't say, "I can't achieve that any more." My goal is to become a Hall of Famer. I want to keep working and keep training and focus on getting better and being a great teammate and winning, so I can eventually get to that goal. That's what fueled me to keep fighting and keep achieving.
My intense training focus first started after my microfracture surgery in 2005. That was the hardest recovery I've ever been through in my life. I actually didn't know what a microfracture was. If I had known what a microfracture was, I would have never gotten that procedure. Going into surgery, it actually wasn't guaranteed that I was going to have a microfracture.
The doctors said, "There's an option between a scope or a microfracture depending on how big the injury is." So I said, "OK." They said, "We're going to go in and see, and if it's a microfracture we're just going to have the procedure." So I wake up and there's a microfracture, so I'm like, "Holy smokes. How long am I out for?" They said, "Six to 12 months." I couldn't walk for like two months after the procedure. No weight bearing and I had a machine that flexed my knee for me. I was like, "Man, this is crazy."
When I went through the recovery, one day I feel great and the next day I'm in excruciating pain. It was just back and forth. I'm hearing, "Stoudemire will never be the same. He will not recover from this injury." They're naming Jamal Mashburn, Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber—all these great players who had this procedure and never returned. And I have a day where I feel like, "Oh, I'm back," and then I feel like, "Oh, can I ever get back?" So I had to work and train and work and train, and I developed a habit of training.
While injuries happen and you just can't control them, you can try to prevent them or recover from them better by exercising and eating a certain way. I was once told, "Look at yourself as a world-class athlete, and once you look at yourself that way, you will physically and mentally fuel yourself as a world-class athlete." That's why my personal chef, Max Hardy, was a good investment with me coming to New York to make sure that I was eating healthy and staying lean. Those things have helped me persevere through my injuries.
When I was hurt, I think people kind of forgot about my talents and what I have accomplished. But l still stayed optimistic throughout the coaching changes, player changes and management changes. I stayed positive from going from a starter to coming off the bench, to now restricted minutes. I knew that if I continued to work, one day the Knicks would say, "STAT, we need you again." Going into this past summer, I was able to really train and get my body back in top shape and get stronger again.
Now, I've had a successful, injury-free year so far and I'm back in the starting lineup. From the hard work that I put in, I knew it was going to manifest into some positive. I feel like I'm back to my dominant self and I'm still improving, still getting better, still getting stronger. Now, we're on a seven-game winning streak and we've got a chance to make the playoffs. We dug ourselves a hole, but we're fighting out of it somewhat, climbing out of the hole, so I feel positive about that.
The entire season, I've been feeling great, and it's just showing now with the consistency of minutes and play. Also, my good starts carry momentum throughout the game. To be honest, I've felt active and explosive all season. My preparation is still the same, my game is still the same, my explosiveness is still there as it was to start the year off. My training regimen was to be explosive and dominant from the start of the season, so that hasn't really changed at all, to be honest with you.
My career in New York has been somewhat of a transition. In my first season, I was a complete player—I had the quick first step and was explosive, was solid from the free-throw line and efficient with the jump shot from the 15-, 17-foot area. Later, I started off working with Hakeem Olajuwon and was becoming just a back-to-the-basket post guy. And that changed. This year, I'm becoming my complete self again, just being an all-around basketball player and not just having one position. Now, I'm able to be a threat in the post and play inside and play outside, and be a stretch-4 for Tyson Chandler or whoever else is at the 5 position.
After I went down with injuries, everyone was saying, "Amar'e can't play with Melo and Tyson." I'm like, "Where are you guys getting this from? We haven't really had a chance to do these things." I'm thinking, "We're all All-Stars. Tyson is the Defensive Player of the Year, Melo is a seven-time All-Star, I'm a six-time All-Star. We've all been successful. We're top players in this league. It doesn't take much. We can figure this thing out. It's not that hard." Now in the fourth year, chasing the playoffs, we're showing that all three of us can play together on the same court. The sky's the limit with that group.
Right now as a team, we've got to continue to build on what we're doing. The ball is moving, everyone is having fun—we can't let that slip away at all. Everyone is just feeding off that energy of the ball moving and everyone is just freely having fun—and that ignites the defense. When you're having fun offensively and the ball is moving and everyone is scoring and you're high-fiving and you're chest bumping, defensively we're zoned in. We just can't resort back to not moving the ball, not getting involved in the game, players don't know if the ball is going to come to them, stagnant when it does come. That's when shooting percentages are low.
With that said, we don't want Melo to change his game. I mean, he's so dominant at being that player, mixing in with the point guards when he gets the rebound, and the wings fill the lanes and we go. Between Carmelo and myself in our half-court offense, we can create shots. But it's very important for him to stay aggressive and wreak havoc offensively in the one-on-one set. We need that. It's very important, but—as we're doing now—we need to mix in up-tempo, fast breaks, lobs, moving the ball. That creates a synergy that I think no team can match.
Looking ahead for us, health and continuity is the most important thing. We really haven't had a chance to develop a lot of chemistry together. I wonder how many different starting lineups we've had. If we're healthy and we're dominant, then the sky's the limit. You can build around that. I can't say which player we need, which player we don't need. It's not my call, it's not my job right now. My job is to stay healthy and dominate whenever I'm on the basketball court, period. So that's kind of my MO.
As for Melo, I'm not sure what he's going to do this summer. We haven't talked about it. I try to keep that a private conversation. I know he and his family are making a key decision this summer, and we know how great New York is. It's been a tough year for us because we haven't been winning, so I know all that plays a factor. I'm sure he talks with his family all the time about it, so I try not to bring that up. We talk winning right now, we talk about the playoffs and keep getting better. This is a big year for us to try to get in this playoffs, and then this summer is going to be very important, and next year we're going to see what we can do.
I want to be a Knick for life and win multiple championships here. I don't want to go anywhere else, especially with Jackson coming in. He has an incredible legacy; it's probably unmatched. With a leader like that, it can only become a positive output with that type of leadership. He's been around great organizations, from Chicago to L.A., so now joining us with the Knicks, it's great to see. Regarding the Triangle offense, it's funny because I've been hearing that it would be great for me for the past six years. It could be possible that we implement the Triangle offense, and I just can't wait to perfect whatever system we're going to be in. I'm ready to get to work now.
I want to play until I can't walk any more, to be honest with you. I'm only 31 and I just love the game that much. I feel like now I have a good grasp on how to go into the season, and how to manage my time and manage my body a lot better than I have in the past. Even after I'm done playing, I could see myself as the Knicks' assistant GM or director of player personnel. With me being a part owner of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, I've already talked to my business team about working in the Knicks' front office one day.
Reflecting on the past four years, the first year really stands out. It was all so much excitement that I had never felt before—playing the games and Raymond Felton picking the pick-and-rolls apart and throwing alley-oops, and then the behind-the-back passes and celebrations after the play, and then going out to dinner and having a good time with my teammates and my family and friends. Sometimes after a home win, we'd start off a dinner with four of us at a restaurant where I knew the owner, and by the time dinner was served, we'd be at a table with 20 celebrity actors and actresses.
I mean, it was just incredible, and then we'd do it all over again and all over again. I also went to fashion shows and then Broadway shows. I mean, there was just so much excitement and I want that to continue in New York. I want to get back to those winning ways—to having so much fun, and for the fans. Once we get back to that then we'll be on our way.
I think despite all of the changes we've made through the years, we've happened to make the playoffs every year, which was the goal when I first got here. I think the near future is very bright because we have a great nucleus with Tyson and Carmelo and myself, and now Phil Jackson. Those are all highlights that manifested from me signing here in 2010, when I came here to help the Knicks win. That's why I don't want to leave. I want to be here for the long haul and do whatever it takes to win, so whatever sacrifices I have to make, I will be willing to make them.