Amare, Retirement, and Remembering the Times

On July 26th, 2016, Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement from the NBA. A skilled scorer and ferocious dunker in his prime, Amar’e never left a game without a highlight when he was at his best. What was most surprising about his retirement was that he chose to sign a one-day contract and retire as a New York Knick, stating “my heart had always remained in the Big Apple”.

Not only was Amar’e drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2002, but he was around long enough to play alongside Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Goran Dragic, and Channing Frye. He was there for all of it, and became as synonymous with the Suns franchise as their signature orange and purple uniforms.

I’m finding that athletes have different priorities and it’s the primary reason I don’t take the wins and losses so serious anymore. Amar’e battled with those Phoenix teams. Sure they never won a title, but they were more beloved than many of the Tim Duncan-led Spurs teams that did. They were special. With Steve Nash at point, they put out a lineup that could go eight or nine deep with talented scorers. They converted a guard into a center, wings into swings, even swings into bigs. It was all about getting buckets.

We assume that every owner, general manager, coach, and player wants to win more than anything, but oftentimes that’s not the case. Owners are most interested in profit. General Managers worry most about job security. Coaches probably vow for wins more than anyone, but players can be a complex bunch. Depending on the point of their career, they can be eschewing winning for points, personal accolades, awards, a new contract, forcing a trade, playing with friends, etc.

Looking at Stoudemire’s four-year tenure as a Knick, it looks like he was most proud of being in a big city and dabbling in the fashion industry. On the court, he spent exactly half a season dominating and being run into the ground by Mike D’Antoni. It was fun, and the Garden was lively, but that was followed by the Carmelo Anthony trade that effectively gutted the roster of its promising youth and depth. That team would never make it past the second round, and could never pose a serious threat to LeBron’s Heat. As the story goes, Amar’e’s knees could never hold up much after those first few months.A career that once shouted hall of fame ended on a whisper.

The entire experience pales in comparison to what took place in the Valley of the Sun. They were undoubtedly one of the best teams to never win a championship (shouts to the 90’s Jazz and the 2010’s Thunder), with only poor injury luck keeping them from doing so. After winning rookie of the year in 2003, Stoudemire continued to develop his game and became a six-time all-star. The Suns routinely made long playoff runs with Stoudemire on board, and would most likely be hanging banners right now if Duncan and Kobe weren’t always standing in the way. They led the league in scoring nearly every year, and broke the monotony of mid-2000’s basketball. All the running-and-gunning was a throwback to the 80’s, so much so that a reporter followed the team for a year to document it and write a best-selling book.

How do you accomplish all of those great things in Phoenix and claim you’re a Knick?
Perhaps, Stoudemire is more like Chris Webber than we ever gave him credit for. To this day, Webber doesn’t keep any form of contact with the members of that legendary Fab Five team. It seems that the pain of those championship defeats was too much to bare. He refuses to speak openly on the topic in interviews and pretends as if it all never happened.

I can see a similar attitude from Amar’e. While his best years both individually and collectively came in Phoenix, he has opted to disassociate himself with that time of his career. After all, it was his one-game suspension in the 2007 Western Conference Finals that essentially decided that year’s champion. Nash and the boys never even got the chance to play in the Finals because Amar’e literally stood up to defend his lead guard after a cheap shot. The agony of those losses and coming so close to the summit must weigh heavily in Stoudemire’s mind.
I always viewed Stoudemire as a member of the Suns, even while he struggled with the Knicks. I knew how great he was when he was healthy and the place he etched in the minds of many when he suited up for Phoenix. Hopefully, he comes to acknowledge how special that time was one day too.