Why Did Phoenix Suns Legend Amar'e Stoudemire Retire as a New York Knick?

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2016

FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2013, file photo, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire smiles before shooting a free throw during the team's NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in New York. Stoudemire retired Tuesday, July 26, 2016, after signing a contract with the Knicks with much less fanfare than the $100 million deal he inked six years ago to halt the team's downward spiral.
Associated Press

Most of what you'll read Tuesday will be about how Amar'e Stoudemire revitalized New York Knicks basketball. This narrative might have been at the forefront of his basketball obituary anyway, but Stoudemire's curious decision to retire as a member of the Knicks, despite having played nearly twice as many years for the Phoenix Suns, makes his time in New York a larger part of the story.

The Suns drafted Stoudemire out of high school in 2002. He grew up as a professional in Phoenix, played eight seasons there and had his best years for that organization. Five of Stoudemire's six All-Star nods came while he was with the Suns. He made just one All-Star team in his four-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks.

When most basketball fans think about Stoudemire, they'll visualize him donning a purple Suns jersey and soaring through the air. When basketball historians consider his Hall of Fame case, Exhibit A will be his 2007-08 season, when he averaged a beastly 25.2 points per game on ridiculously efficient 59 percent shooting.

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 27:  Amare Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns goes up for a dunk against the New Orleans Hornets on February 27, 2008 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Yet Tuesday Stoudemire's retirement statement came from the Knicks, after he signed a one-day contract: "I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise, and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year's acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick."

There's no arguing the impact Stoudemire had in New York. Crazy as it sounds—especially when considering the Knicks' lone roster-building strategy for the past 20 years has been chasing elusive white whales—Stoudemire is perhaps the splashiest free-agent signing in franchise history. Think about it—who else is even on that list? Allan Houston? Bernard King? (Remember, Anthony was a trade acquisition).

Stoudemire's arrival signaled the Knicks had finally moved past the tempestuous Isiah Thomas era. So what if no other team was willing to insure his crumbling knees? So what if the five-year contract then-general manager Donnie Walsh handed him was too much.

Stoudemire made the Knicks competitive again. He gave New York just one full All-Star-caliber season, but Knick fans still insist he was worth it. Without Stoudemire, the thought goes, it's unlikely Carmelo Anthony is wearing orange and blue today.

PHOENIX - APRIL 25:  Amare Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns dunks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Antonio Spurs during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at U.S. Airways Center on April 25, 2008, in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs wo
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

Ironically, the Anthony trade triggered the all-too-quick end of Stoudemire's New York run. In his first season with the Knicks, Stoudemire garnered MVP consideration. Mike D'Antoni's team played like a Mike D'Antoni team, with Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler pinging the ball around the court. Their ceiling might not have been very high, but that was a fun group to watch.

Then Walsh was forced by owner James Dolan to send every asset he had to Denver in exchange for Anthony, and Stoudemire's starring role was no more. He and Anthony never jelled. Both players preferred to operate on the elbow. Neither was known for his passing. Anthony was the new prize.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 18:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks and Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns before their game on January 18, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Suns defeated the Knicks 91-88. NOTE
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Stoudemire took a backseat. It was equally admirable as it was memorable. It was also for naught. Stoudemire's next three seasons were derailed by injuries; even when he played, the Knicks fared better without him. The team's best season of the past 20 years came in 2012-13, when an injury kept Stoudemire out of the lineup at the start of the season and forced the Knicks to play Anthony at power forward.

Still, for all the flaws in Stoudemire's game, defense chief among them, not a day went by when teammates didn't acknowledge his effort and heart. Talk to former members of the Knicks training staff and they'll share dozens of stories detailing how hard Stoudemire worked to get back on the court. The point they're trying to get through is clear: Stoudemire didn't fail the Knicks. Rather, his body failed him.

Of course none of that answers the primary question: Why did he decide to retire as a Knick?

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks poses with Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan for a photo on July 8, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

Some theories: Perhaps Stoudemire wants to be remembered as the man who, however indirectly, brought the Knicks out of the darkness. Or perhaps no one has ever invested as much in him as the Knicks did. Perhaps something else.

Personality-wise, Stoudemire and the Knicks were never a great match. The Knicks are buttoned up and stuffy. Stoudemire is personable and gregarious. It wasn't uncommon to see Stoudemire answer questions from reporters even after some PR flak had announced media availability was over. That is almost unheard of in the bowels of Madison Square Garden.

So, maybe this was about Stoudemire the person, the human, the part-time basketball player. Maybe his time in New York was when he morphed from a young basketball player into a mature man. He got married while with the Knicks. He started taking baths in red wine and wearing strange clothing. He threw himself into the fashion world—and the entertainment world, too. He started acting and traveling and seemed to be the lone NBA star who didn't spend his offseasons in the company of his peers.

In New York, he delved into the histories of different societies and the fundamentals of various religions. One of his study partners once told me Stoudemire believes he's a member of the "10 Lost Tribes." He takes his faith seriously. On the night prior to undergoing knee surgery in March 2012, he phoned a friend and asked him to gather a rabbi and 10 men for a traditional Jewish prayer service on the roof of his Greenwich Village home.

Stoudemire is an eccentric man, just as interested in the world as the court. He's always been a bit different, but never did that shine through more than during his Knicks tenure. New York is where Stoudemire became the man he is today. That's something he will, no doubt, always remember. I hope the city does, too.

 

Yaron Weitzman is a regular contributor to Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Slam Magazine, The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Occasionally Tablet Magazine, The Cauldron and other places, too. Find him on Twitter here.