Amar’e Stoudemire has been keeping busy in retirement. In addition to becoming an avid art collector and world traveler, the former All-NBA big man has signed on to spend part of his summer playing in Ice Cube’s Big 3 league.
SB Nation had the opportunity to talk to Stoudemire in a career-spanning interview ahead of the Big 3’s stop in Chicago last week. We discussed his jump from high school to the NBA, ushering in the league’s modern era with the Phoenix Suns, the high stakes free agency summer of 2010 and his favorite Boris Diaw stories.
Flanked by Nate Robinson and Jermaine O’Neal, Stoudemire had six points and three rebounds as his Tri-State team went on to win their game in Chicago. Tickets for the Big 3 are now on sale.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
I want to start from the beginning with your decision to enter the pros out of high school. You had committed to John Calipari at Memphis but ultimately decided to enter the draft. This is a hot button issue again because the NBA is thinking about abolishing the age minimum. What do you remember from that time in your life?
That experience was breathtaking, being a high school player who was thinking about the NBA as a major jump. I felt like my body was ready. I factored in every single detail that I could just to make sure I made the right decision.
When I decided to commit to Memphis, coach Calipari’s background, how well he does with one-and-done players, I wanted to be a part of that one-and-done opportunity. At the same time I felt like I was ready for the NBA. Physically, mentally, I was geared up for taking on those responsibilities as an NBA player.
Do you think the NBA should allow high school players to enter the league again? Where do you stand on that? It seems like it’s coming.
I think they just have to be a little more strategic on how to evaluate the talent from high school to the NBA. You have to figure out ways to somewhat dissect the player to see if they’re mentally prepared for the NBA. To see if they are prepared to take on the financial awareness to handle that level of income. There’s a lot that needs to take place. There should be an infrastructure put in place strictly for high school players to learn and prepare for the NBA. There’s some great ones that came out of high school, and there’s a lot that we don’t hear about that wasn’t successful.
So, if you want to try to shorten that gap, I think the NBA should create a system that will cater to those high school players to get them to see if they’re ready for the league.
You were a part of the 2004 Olympic team that won bronze so early in your career. You had the older guys like Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury. Then you had you, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony. What was that team dynamic like?
For me, when I got the call to play in the Olympics, and to represent USA, I’m like, I’m all the way in. For sure. The chance to get USA on my jersey, get a chance to represent in front of the world, I was locked in.
Once we got going, it was an eye-opening experience for me. I was maybe 22 years old at the time. Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan are here, I’m like these guys are the guys I grew up watching. I want to watch how they practice and watch how they work out. It was a learning curve for me. Even though guys like myself, LeBron, Dwyane, and Carmelo didn’t play a lot, we were still able to learn from those guys.
It seems like guys do become closer to each other through those settings.
Absolutely. I’m still close friends with all those guys. We may not be the best of friends, like a call every single day, but we’re still pretty tight with each other. Every time we see each other we have so much love for one another. You do build that friendship on those type of trips.
The 2004-2005 season is the one everyone remembers. You guys sign Steve Nash, jump from 29 to 62 wins. When did you realize that team was going to be special?
My rookie year, we had a completely different team. We had Penny Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, Tom Gugliotta. The next year we brought in Leandro Barbosa, we got Shawn Marion also. The year before we brought Steve in, we traded or released like six guys. So we only had seven, eight players who were playing the rest of the year. Our record was like 29 wins, but we had young talent.
We had a young Amar’e Stoudemire, a young Shawn Marion, a young Joe Johnson. We had a nice nucleus of young players, but we needed one more piece of the puzzle. Once we brought in Steve, it was just pkew. He elevated all of our games.
You were one of the first “small ball [centers].” Do you think you were ahead of your time in that sense? Back then, Mike D’Antoni was an extremist for playing like that, but now the whole league has copied that system.
It’s very true. At the time, I had a little rebuttal. I didn’t want to play [center]. I felt like I was a natural [power forward]. I had skills that could associate me as somewhat of a [small forward]. I felt like I was digressing if I went to the [center spot]. It makes me too robotic, is what I was thinking.
Obviously the coaches know more about the game than the players. They study a lot more than we do. So I was like, no problem I’ll move to [center].
When I moved to [center], I realized, wow, I can still use my entire skill set against guys that are too slow to keep up. Then Shawn Marion moved to [power forward]. It was like, these two guys are transcending these two positions right now, and the league does not know what’s going on. We were winning by 20 points, 30 points, just tearing them up game after game after game, because no one really knew what was happening. Now, the entire league has caught on.
A lot of fans don’t realize it’s a sacrifice sliding up the lineup like that. Did the game eventually become easier for you after that move?
It got to the point where we became basketball players. It wasn’t about position no more. And that’s what we started to do that transcended the game. When someone asked me, ‘What’s your position?’ I said I’m a basketball player. Same with Shawn. It’s like, ‘Hey Shawn, what position do you play? I’m a basketball player.’
We can do it all. I’m not a point guard. I can’t pass the way Steve Nash does. But I can make certain plays on the court that can still elevate our team. I’m not just a one dimensional player. That’s how we thought as a team, that all of us had to be interchangeable and able to play multiple positions. That’s how we propelled that era of basketball.
The league was so iso-heavy in the Michael Jordan era. Now so much of the league is pace-and-space, similar to the system you ran in Phoenix so long ago. Do you feel like that’s a better brand of basketball? Do you think the game in general is better played now?
Oh yeah. No question about it. You look at teams like the Warriors. They are playing the game of basketball the way Dr. James Naismith wanted it to be played. The ball is moving. Guys are cutting, setting back screens, communicating. Everyone playing different positions.
Basketball is made of motion. It’s like poetry in motion. When it’s run smoothly and properly, it’s so beautiful to watch. That’s what the game is starting to become now. It’s less iso. It’s less me, me, me, me, me and more us, us us. And then “we”. That’s what makes the game beautiful in today’s era.
You had some epic clashes with the Spurs in the playoffs. The one that really stands out is 2007, with the Game 4 suspension that happens at 14 seconds left of a game you’re going to win. That has to be so tough considering all you did was leave the bench when your teammate got bodychecked, even though that was the rule. It’s like you were penalized for standing up for your boy. How much do you replay that scenario in your head? Do you think that was your best chance to win it all?
It was one of our best chances. At the time, no one knew about that rule, about not stepping on the court. We had no idea about that rule. In the heat of the moment, when Nash got knocked into the scoreboard, we didn’t know what to expect. So I’m looking to see what’s going on, I’m walking towards Nash, me and also Boris Diaw, and I didn’t think nothing of it. No one did.
Later on, we realized, now they might try to suspend Amar’e and Boris because they’re not allowed to step on the court during an altercation. I was like, ah man, I hope not. And sure enough, we got the call that said the NBA had made the decision we’re going to suspend Amar’e and Boris for Game 5. I’m like, what? Can they give us a warning at least? Just let us know, here’s the rule guys, next time you get suspended. Instead it’s first offense, in the playoffs, in the Western Conference Finals [Editor’s Note: It was the West semifinals, but the No. 1 seed had already been knocked out] …. but the powers that be made the decision and Boris and I weren’t able to play in Game 5.
The NBA was definitely on edge because of the Detroit-Indiana incident that took place. So I understand that point of view. I just wish they would have given us a warning.
Diaw seems like such a great character. What was he like as a teammate?
Man, Boris Diaw. I’ll tell you a funny story. We have a game that night, and after shoot around Boris is like, ‘Hey STAT let’s have lunch.’ I’m like cool. I go with Boris to the restaurant and sit down.
I have a routine before game days. I pump my legs, take a nap, get ready for the game. Go to the restaurant, Boris sits there and orders some tea. Gets the tea, he orders an appetizer. He orders the first course. Second course. Third course. Fourth course. Desert. Desert tea. I’m like Boris, the game is …. I gotta go, man. It’s just that French culture where you sit back, relax, and you just enjoy the croissants and the teas and the cheeses. I’m like, ‘I gotta get out of here Boris, y’all are depending on me to score 40 tonight. I can’t sit here and eat all day and expect to have high energy for the game.’
That’s just Boris man, he’s an easy going guy.
You hear stories about how he was such a great athlete when he was young, but he was also a very cerebral player. He also feels like someone who was ahead of his time in a lot of ways.
He was one of those players also that Mike D’Antoni was able to transcend his game. He was known as a point guard when he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. We brought him in and put him at the four. So that skill set he had at the four, the other four men could not deal with that. So that also turned up us a little bit more. Elevated our games. We had a great little nucleus happen during that era.
You left Phoenix in 2010 in the craziest NBA free agency summer I can ever remember. You were the first one to go to make a decision. Were you conferring with LeBron and Wade around that time, or did you make the decision on your own?
I spoke with the players’ representatives to see what guys were thinking. I lived in Miami. I wanted to obviously team up with LeBron and Wade in Miami, that would have been the ideal situation. But we wasn’t sure what was going to happen with that situation, they were taking way too long to figure it out.
Me personally, I wanted to make my decision quickly so I could get with this team and start building with the players. I made my decision first just based on the fact that I know where I want to go. I know what I want to do, I know what team I wanted to help, I know what organization I want to help. And it was the Knicks.
You were kind of the king of New York there for a minute. What was that time in your life like?
It was unbelievable. I’ve never experienced that type of excitement before in my life.
I didn’t know what to expect with New York, but I knew it was the best city in the world. I knew it was the biggest city in the world. When you’re winning, it’s second to none. The fans are cheering and chanting and ranting the entire game. They’re yelling ‘M-V-P’. You don’t pay for any dinners at restaurants. When you walk around town everything is free and taken care of. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful time for my teammates and myself. It was amazing to be a Knicks player in New York City.
The move for Melo was the big move to shape that roster. Do you feel like it would have been better to wait to sign Carmelo as a free agent the next year?
We were definitely very close. That was a big trade. We definitely traded a lot of our pieces. I think we traded six players and two picks. So it kind of put us in a little bit of a hole, but I think in the long run the fans enjoyed Melo being there for the things that he did. I know we didn’t win, but I think the fans enjoyed the excitement that I brought by bringing Melo to the Knicks for that time. They had a reason to be a true Knicks fan for the first time in a while.
You were hurt for a lot of 2012 with Linsanity going on. What was that even like watching on the bench?
It was unbelievable, man. I had never seen anything like that before in my life. Linsanity hit and it was like .. wait, what? Weren’t you just sleeping on Landry Fields’ couch just two weeks ago? It was incredible. The fans were ecstatic. It was like the Beatles, man. Rock star status. The taxies would stop and honk the horn. Anywhere you go people stop and the attention would shift because of Jeremy.
I was like the guy, so I would take him to the nice restaurants and the bars and the cool places, so whenever we go and hang out. It’s like, everything was free. It was incredible, man. Even when traveled on the road and played against teams, Jeremy Lin fans were so excited about what he was doing. It was a beautiful moment.
Did you see that in practice from him? Or was it when he got in the game and stoplight was on, he started performing at this incredibly high level?
I’m a guy who looks at point guards and finds ways to try to get help them get better. I’m able to help them in the pick-and-roll, that point of view. I saw Jeremy Lin, had practiced with Jeremy, and knew he was a good player.
But I didn’t know he had that much clutch in his game. He was able to not only put up 30 points, but when the clock is ticking down, he’s hitting game-winners. He’s scoring the last four baskets to win the game. I’m like wait, this is a special moment happening here. You got to ride the wave. When you feel that special moment and it just overtakes you like that, you’ve got to ride the wave. He did a remarkable job during that stretch.
I’ve noticed now you’re a big time art collector. How did you get into that and what’s that been like for you?
When I was in Phoenix, a friend of mine, Tonya Calderone, she painted a painting of me with my favorite artist at the time, Tupac Shakur. She had his lyrics at the back of the painting and I was like, ‘Ah, this is sick!’ Hung it up in my house on the wall and was like, I need more of this. I need more art. So I started to somewhat dab into art in Phoenix a little bit, just to fill my home.
When I got to New York, I moved into West Village which is like in the art distrcit kind of, right by the Whitney Museum and all my friends at the time were artists, whether it’s music or actual painters, and I was going to all the museums and shows and was really starting to develop an understanding of art. It just kept growing from there.
How’s Big 3 been for you so far? It’s a pretty drastically different game, just in terms of playing half-court three-on-three.
I love it man. I really do. This is exciting for me. It’s not street ball, but it’s organized and ran very well, where it’s like the NBA kinda, but half court and three on three. The atmosphere is awesome. I’m truly enjoying it.
What’s the competition like? Who’s still got game?
We only played one game so far, so it’s kind of hard to judge it right now, but Rashad McCants looks very impressive. He was my high school classmate. His game still looks sharp.
Do you think three-on-three is viable?
I think so. Eventually as this league grows, as it becomes an international brand, it will definitely have an opportunity to catch on.
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