Amare Stoudemire was born on November 16, 1982, in Lake Wales, Florida. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Carrie and Hazell, already had one son, Hazell Jr. Amare later welcomed a younger half-brother named Marwan.
Lake Wales is an hour’s drive from Disney World, but a planet-and-a-half away in every other sense. Things move slowly in this part of central Florida. Too slowly for some. The lure of Lincoln Avenue can be overpowering, and the chance to make easy money when hard work (or no work) is all you know can lead even the best young people astray.
Amare's mother crossed over in her teen years. Her people picked oranges in the spring and migrated to New York State each fall during apple season. She worked the fields with her family, but she also worked the system. Carrie was arrested many times for crimes like petty theft and forgery. At first she stole for fun, or for pocket change. But later she did it to survive. Bold, brash and opinionated, her strong personality did not help her once her legal problems started.
The best thing to happen to Carrie was meeting and marrying Hazell. He did landscaping and lawn care, coached the Pop Warner football team his sons played on, and blew a mean saxophone. He was a large, powerful man who knew how to keep his boys in line. He constantly reminded them to “stand tall and talented.”
Hazell Jr. was a big basketball and football star in his high school days. Eight years older than Amare, he stood 6-10 and inherited his father’s long arms, barrel chest and out-of-the-gym hops. Hazell Jr. was known to everyone as “Baby Shaq.” By Amare’s own admission, his big brother was a superior basketball player as a teen—and may still be all these years later.
Hazell Jr. played high school ball with the likes of Peter Warrick, but the headlines he grabbed were more likely to be of the police-blotter variety. When it came time to turn his talent into a college scholarship, no one wanted to touch him.
The Stoudemires divorced when Amare was young. He split time living with his mom and dad. Carrie married Artis Wilson in 1990 and had Marwan. They lived for several years in upstate New York. Amare and Hazell Jr. lived in that part of the country, too.
By his early teens, Amare was turning into quite a football player. He pictured himself as a receiver for Florida State, Florida or Miami, and then as a star in the NFL. Amare also fooled around with basketball. His brother had taught him how to use his body and jumping ability to intimidate opponents, and by sixth grade he could do reverse dunks in the playground. Amare’s basketball hero was Shaquille O’Neal, who played just a few miles up the road in Orlando. He remembers watching him on Inside Stuff and seeing how much fun he was having. Amare went crazy when Shaq destroyed a backboard against the New Jersey Nets.
When Amare was 12, his father decided to start a trucking business. Things were looking up for the family. When Hazell began feeling the occasional chest pain, he ignored it—despite a family history of heart trouble. Sure enough, one morning Amare’s dad didn’t wake up.
The family imploded soon after. Carrie, desperate to provide for her boys, was in and out of jail. Hazell Jr. was lost to the streets. At times, Amare and Marwan had nowhere to go. They often stayed with Burney Hayes, a local cop who let the boys sleep in a corner of his trailer. Hayes convinced Amare to give up football and concentrate on basketball—this, he predicted, would be his best chance at an education and a better life.
Amare thought Hayes’s suggestion made a lot of sense. Soon he decided that nothing would stop him from becoming an NBA star. The race was on—he needed to ink his first pro deal before his family passed the point of no return.
Amare was remarkably well-equipped to embark upon this odyssey. Besides his prodigious basketball talent, he had a cool, analytical mind. He knew how to read people, and how to use people before they used him. Amare’s most valuable asset may have been the protective shell he created around himself after his father died. He cried that day and never cried again. Ever since he has embraced a kind of emotional numbness. He never gets too high or too low. And he never forgets his father’s last words to him: “The sky’s the limit, Amare.”
Standing 6-6 by his early teens, Amare needed to develop his game fast. He had always been able to operate freely in pick-up games by letting his big brother run interference for him. But the teenager had virtually no formal coaching or any kind of experience in organized leagues.
Amare joined an AAU team over the summer and proved that there was only so much coaching he needed. His power and anticipation made him a force as a defender and rebounder. His quickness gave him a move that no one could defend. Amare would grab a pass in the low post, get his defender to commit one way or the other, and then twirl and simply dunk the ball over them. He also had a nice little jumper he used when facing the basket. In his first AAU tournament, he was named MVP.
ON THE RISE
Word spread about Amare, and in no time the recruiters started coming out of the woodwork. Not just college coaches, but high school scouts, too. One was Joel Hopkins of Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina. The prep school was the home of one of the world’s best hoops program. When Amare was declared academically ineligible for his freshman year at Lake Wales, he saw Mt. Zion as the logical next step toward the pros.
The Eagles were happy to have Amare, despite his miserable academic record. It wasn't that he was a dumb kid. In fact, on an IQ test at Lake Wells, he scored higher than almost every kid in the school.
Amare shared the floor at Mt. Zion with a pair of future college standouts, Harvey Thomas and Jonathan Hargett. He also benefitted from his first real coaching instruction. Prior to Amare's junior year, his coach broke away from Mt. Zion to form his own school, Emmanuel Christian Academy. Amare and all but three of his teammates agreed to follow him, but the school folded before the season.
Amare went back to Florida and lived with Travis King, the coach of the Fastbreak USA squad that competed in AAU tournaments. After a summer playing for King and attending summer school in Orlando to get his grades up, he returned to Mt. Zion. But he left Durham shortly afterward and enrolled at West Orange High in Orlando. When basketball season rolled around, Amare was not in uniform. According to his Mt. Zion transcripts, he was academically ineligible—a claim he disputes to this day. He believes his records were doctored as “payback” for leaving the school twice. To his credit, he stayed focused on his NBA dream—and out of trouble.
When Amare had a falling out with King, he and Marwan moved in with Bill Williams, a local minister with a shady past. That relationship was shortlived, too. Williams was arrested on bribery charges, convicted of the crime and sent to prison. The next adult in Amare’s life was an acquaintance of Williams’s, Marc Little. He explained to Amare that his checkered past would hurt him when it came time to cash in on his basketball talent. Williams vowed to help him set the record straight.
Part of his advice may have been to blow off an Adidas summer hoops camp in 2001 in favor of Nike's. Whatever the truth, Adidas was pissed, Nike was delighted, and Little was handing out homemade press kits as Amare made the best teenagers in the country look like children.
Among those Amare embarrassed on the court were Dajuan Wagner, DeSagna Diop, Ousmane Cisse and Tyson Chandler. (Amare’s thunderous dunk over Chandler became an instant Nike camp legend.) Also legendary were his one-on-five forays to the hoop, which usually ended badly. Amare was an awesome player to behold, but he basically had no idea what he was doing. Still, he achieved his goal of becoming the nation’s top-ranked prospect going into his senior year of high school.
Off the court, Amare was playing it smart. When HBO heard about his twisted tale, producers approached him to do a segment for Real Sports. He agreed to open his life up to the media, knowing the basketball footage it would include would be seen by millions. The show that aired was about a poor kid surrounded by tragedy getting shuffled through a heartless system. In reality, Amare was slyly getting closer to his ultimate objective. Every move he made was designed to upgrade and showcase his basketball skills.
With his grades straightened out and his senior year approaching, Amare began to feel the full-court press from college recruiters. He was most impressed with John Calipari and told the Memphis coach he would like to play for him. However, even before the campaign started, it was becoming clear that college would probably not be in Amare’s future. He had become quite adept at using recruiters for whatever he needed. He had even talked a sneaker company rep into depositing $100 into his mom’s store account in prison. Any school that gave him a scholarship was going to be under an instant NCAA investigation, so everyone backed away. That was fine with Amare. His eyes had always been on the pros. He dedicated his senior season to grabbing the attention of NBA scouts.
Amare enrolled at Cypress Creek High. Located on the outskirts of Orlando, the school was not part of the basketball mainstream. In fact, Cypress Creek's biggest claim to fame is its award-winning marching band.
Only one returning hoops player, guard Tony Pratt, had a shot at playing college ball, and two of the team’s projected starters had been benchwarmers the year before. The coach, Earl Barnett, was so out of the loop that when he heard that Amare was living in the district, he had no idea who people were talking about.
He would find out soon enough. Though out of shape and more than a little rusty, Amare was a whirlwind who drew thousands into a gym that had rarely seen crowds in the hundreds. Some games he was fantastic, others he was merely mortal. But rarely a quarter passed in which he didn’t do something that made your jaw drop. Despite Cypress Creek's ho-hum 16-13 record, Amare was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball, averaging 29 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks per contest.
By season’s end, Amare stood 6-10 and weighed a rock-solid 240 pounds. Standing next to the nation’s other top high schoolers at the 2002 McDonald’s All-Star Game, he literally looked like a man among boys.
As draft day approached, most NBA scouts agreed that Amare was the most impressive athlete in the draft. His talent was raw, but how do you ignore a three-foot vertical leap from a guy his size? Some teams were scared off by his background. Could a kid who basically had no parents deal with the challenges of pro basketball? Some thought he would get eaten alive, but a few teams looked at his upbringing the other way. Amare had survived unimaginable pain and dealt with situations far more threatening and complex than anything he would face in the NBA.
The Phoenix Suns were among the true believers. Helping the process along was Amare’s agent, John Wolf, who worked behind the scenes to generate interest among the Phoenix brass. Wolf had been Dee Brown‘s agent, and Brown—an executive with the Orlando Magic—had introduced him to Amare. Wolf later got Amare a multi-million dollar sneaker deal from Nike.
After administering a psychological test, the Suns realized that transitioning to the NBA would be one of the easiest things Amare would do in his life. Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo gave the youngster the thumbs up, saying that he got the same feeling the first time he watched Kobe Bryant. Amare traveled to New York for the draft and was taken with the ninth pick by the Suns. The teenager was the only high schooler taken that day.
As with most things in Amare’s young life, the silver lining was quickly overshadowed by a dark cloud. Carrie Stoudemire would not have missed her son’s big day for anything. Not even a parole violation. She was not allowed to leave Florida without permission, but she traveled to New York for the draft anyway. Carrie was arrested upon her return and jailed for four months.
To ease Amare’s transition into NBA life, the Suns asked veteran center Scott Williams to take the youngster under his wing. Williams had lost his parents in a murder-suicide, so he shared a similarly nightmarish childhood with the rookie. Meanwhile, assistant GM Mark West, a former center, kept a sharp eye on the rookie’s spending and social entanglements.
Amare wasn’t stupid. He knew he was being baby-sat. But he also recognized a safety net when he saw one and appreciated it. Instead of railing against this control, he embraced it fully. It had been a long time since someone had been there to watch his back. Amare also concentrated on being a solid citizen. When traffic made him late for a couple of preseason practices, he moved 10 minutes away from the arena. He avoided night spots and limited his outings to the local mall. He even acceded to the classic NBA rookie treatment, carrying bags, bringing doughnuts to shootarounds, and racking up balls after practice.
Teams generally like to get to know their young players’ parents. In the case of Amare's mother, that took place at a sentencing hearing that summer for her New York parole violation. Suns coach Frank Johnson accompanied Amare back to Florida for the proceedings and spoke with Carrie for more than two hours. She told Johnson everything she thought he should know about Amare, and made it clear that if the Suns did not treat him right, there would be hell to pay. Johnson did not question this for a second—Amare’s mom was a bona fide force of nature.
Amare proved a force of nature, too. In the Suns, he joined a good, young team—half the squad was 25 or younger, including point guard Stephon Marbury and forward Shawn Marion. The hope was that he would develop into an impact player within a few years, and Phoenix would be a championship contender.
Almost from Amare's first day with the team, his fellow Suns realized that they would have to give him room to operate. He grabbed rebounds with alarming ferocity, and when he dunked, it sent a message to everyone on the court, not just the other team.
But Amare was also soaking up tons of basketball information. During his itinerant high school days, he rarely got any basketball theory. Midway through the preseason with Phoenix, he admitted to reporters he had already learned more about basketball in a couple of weeks than he had in his whole life.
Amare began the season as Tom Gugliotta’s backup, and then ascended to the starting lineup when Googs went down with an injury just before Thanksgiving. The Suns became a different team—a winning team—and their record climbed steadily above .500. Amare, meanwhile, exhibited refinements to his game that had not been there a few months earlier. Usually, whatever nuances coaches showed him in practiced showed up in games within a week or two.
Catching the ball in the low post is often one of the most difficult skills for young power players to master, yet Amare was doing it like a pro. Indeed, teammate Penny Hardaway—who Amare had rooted for in his days with the Magic—told teammates that the teenager handled the ball down low as well as Shaq had done in his rookie season. And once Amare got both hands on the ball near the basket, forget about it. Someone was getting posterized. As an unexpected third scoring option, Amare opened up the floor for Marbury and Marion, and the two stars flourished. The Suns were on the rise.
The toughest part
transition to pro ball was the lack of whistles. He was surprised at the
amount of holding that went uncalled by NBA officials. Unable to get the
position he was used to, he became frustrated at times. When coach Johnson
sat down with him, Amare complained that defenders were pushing
and grabbing. Johnson told him to push and grab right back. Amare’s
eyebrows lifted, the lightbulb went on, and he began to fight back.
Other high draft picks have had memorable starts, but eventually they were taken to school by the veterans. There was one sure sign that Amare was no flash in the pan. An unwritten rule in the NBA that says you teach rookies a lesson when they try to dunk on you—a little “welcome to the league” message, as it were. Interestingly, no such messages were being delivered to Amare, who was flat-out intimidating the league’s top stars. Instead of challenging him at the rim, they were backing off and letting him do his thing.
In Amare’s first meeting with Kevin Garnett, he dropped 38 on the All-Star center and added 14 rebounds. Michael Olowokandi tried to stop Amare on one of his more vicious dunks and lived to regret it. Paul Piece challenged Amare with a drive and paid for it with two teeth. In his first contest against Shaq, Amare held his own in a Suns victory and told reporters it was the most fun he’d had in years.
Once word got out that Amare was a threat to score 20, he saw a steady diet of double-teams, a tactic that confused him. Lacking the finesse to wriggle out of trouble, he usually didn't kick the ball out to the open man fast enough. Coach Johnson could see the rookie’s frustration and feared what he might do if pushed too far. Every so often, he would joke around with Amare to break the ice and avoid any serious carnage. Privately, Johnson also worked on Amare’s psyche. He told the kid not to get too full of himself, and to stay humble. If he ever saw cockiness or conceit, he promised he would bench Amare on the spot.
With Amare playing so ferociously, most of the league‘s experts predicted he would hit the wall around 40 games and begin to lose his edge. But he blasted through the midway mark and maintained his intensity. And while Houston rookie Yao Ming was generating all the headlines, Amare was pulling down more boards, scoring more points and logging more minutes. And the Suns were in the playoff hunt, while the Rockets sank out of contention.
Amare’s life away from the court—a big worry at first—seemed to be going smoothly, too. He was rooming with boyhood friend Michael Walker, and Marwan was living nearby with their mother. As soon as she was able, Carrie came to Phoenix, where Amare he bought her a Mercedes, $40,000 in jewelry and set her up in a house. Though she alienated some of the people in her son’s new life, he remained ever loyal to her. Whereas others viewed Carrie as a “career criminal,” Amare saw (and still does) a woman who cared so much for her sons that she was willing to risk jail to keep them clothed and fed.
There were still concerns about Amare‘s family, though. His mother liked to stir things up, and that had the potentail to create tension between Amare and the Suns, his teammates and Nike, as well as disrupting the new relationships he was forming. There was also the issue of his brother, who was incarcerated in New York for dealing drugs and other serious crimes.
On the court, however, things were much more promising, even though the second half saw
Phoenix level out. Still, the Suns still finished with a 44-38 record and
snagged the final playoff spot in the West. Marbury and Marion poured
in 20-25 a night and Johnson used his bench well, finding plenty of minutes
for support players Casey Jacobsen, Bo Outlaw and Joe Johnson. Amare ended
up at 13.5 points per game on 47.2% shooting, grabbed nearly nine rebounds a night,
and was sixth in the league in offensive boards, with 250.
Amare edged Yao for the Rookie of the Year award, becoming the first high schooler ever to earn that honor. He led all rookies in rebounds and free throws and was second in points, blocked shots and minutes played. In the playoffs, the Suns nearly ambushed the Spurs, losing in six games. Amare raised his scoring, but he could not contain San Antonio’s Twin Towers. The Spurs went on to win the NBA championship, but they did not forget their tussle with Amare and the Suns.
Phoenix began the 2003-04 season with high hopes of making it to the playoffs for a second straight year. But when the team started slowly, coach Johnson lost his job. He was replaced by his former lead assistant Mike D’Antoni, who couldn't right the ship, either. Things got worse when Amare sprained his left ankle in early December against the Boston Celtics. The injury caused him to miss 18 games.
When Amare returned, he found himself among a host of new teammates. In one of the year's biggest trades, the Suns sent Marbury and Hardaway to New York for Antonio McDyess, four other players and a slew of draft picks. Phoenix was clearly looking toward the future—partly because the present was so dismal. The Suns finished the season at 29-53, next to last in the West.
Amare did everything he could to lift the team, but his supporting cast was far too weak. He upped his scoring to 20.6 ppg and pulled down nine boards a night. He and Marion shared the burden most games, particularly with McDyess slow to recover from an assortment of injuries.
From March on, Amare played like an All-Star. In April, he averaged a double-double in seven games, pouring in nearly 30 points a contest. If nothing else, Amare showed management that he wanted to win sooner than later.
MAKING HIS MARK
The Suns got the message loud and clear. In the offseason, they made major headlines, signing point guard Steve Nash to a long-term deal. The move had a ripple effect across the entire team. D'Antoni let Nash push the tempo every chance he got, which opened more scoring opportunities for Phoenix's young wing players, most notably Marion, Johnson and Quentin Richardson. In turn, there was less pressure on Amare to carry the load, a development that accelerated his maturation into a true star.
The Suns started the 2004-05 season in high gear and never slowed down. Thanks to Nash, Amare was converting more easy buckets, using his speed and athleticism to out-run bigger, slower opponents. As the campaign progressed, he also established a more powerful presence in the paint. Double-doubles in points and rebounds became the norm for him. He posted six in February, five in March and eight in April. Across the board, Amare produced better numbers. At 56% from the field, he was one of the league's best shooters, and he ranked fifth in scoring at 26 points a game. Opposing teams took to fouling him, sending him to the line 795 times, tops in the NBA. He made them pay, improving his foul shooting to 73%.
Phoenix, meanwhile, evolved into the NBA's most entertaining team. The Suns reversed their record, and then some, going 62-20 to capture the top seed in the West. Nash earned honors as league MVP, D'Antoni was named Coach of the Year, and Amare drew praise leaguewide, both for his production on the court and his winning attitude.
Despite their impressive regular season numbers, the jury was out on the Suns heading into the playoffs. Defense is the name of the game in the postseason, and few thought Phoenix played enough of it to be a serious title contender. The Suns, however, handled the overmatched Memphis Grizzlies in the first round without a problem. Amare looked a bit nervous in his playoff debut, but he found his rhythm over the next three contests, as Phoenix cruised in a four-game sweep.
From there, Amare stepped it up a notch. Facing the Mavericks in the next round, he was virtually unstoppable. Dallas tried a variety of defenders against him, but he was either too quick or too strong for every one of them. Amare dominated early in the series, averaging 35 points and 15 rebounds as the Suns won two of three. When Dallas responded with double- and triple-teams against him, Nash grabbed the spotlight, torching his former club with a couple of monster performances. The one-two punch proved too much for the Mavs, with Phoenix taking the series in six games.
Amare continued his
inspired play in Game 1 against San Antonio in the Western Conference
Finals, dumping 41 points on Tim Duncan and the Spurs. But his effort
wasn't enough to deliver a victory. The veteran Spurs ousted Phoenix in five games, beating the run-and-gun
Suns at their own game.
Prior to the start of the 2005–06 season, Amare signed a five-year, $73 million contract extension. Hanging over the negotiations was the condition of Amare's left knee, which required microfracture surgery to repair. Initially, the prognosis for a full recovery was three to four months, but Amare ended up playing only three games. The Suns won 54 gatimes in his absence and made it to the Conference Finals, where they lost to the Mavs.
Amare was back at full health for the beginning of the 2006–07 season. Once again, he and Marion teamed up to give opponents fits. Amare led the club with a 20.4 scoring average, while he and Marion often combined for 20 or more rebounds a night.
Prior to the season, Amare promised Phoenix fans he would make the All-Star team. He did that and more, scoring 29 points in the midseason classic. The Suns finished the year with 61 victories and another Pacific Division title. After the season, Amare was named First-Team All-NBA.
Amare stepped it up in the playoffs, boosting his numbers to 25.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. The Suns defeated the Lakers in the opening round in five games. In the decider, Amare led Phoenix with 27 points and 16 rebounds. The Suns met the Spurs in the next round and found themselves in another postseason war.
The Spurs decided to use their size and strength to slow down the Suns. They sent Nash to the bench in Game 1 with a gash to his nose. San Antonio won the opening tilt, but Phoenix evened the series with a Game 2 victory. Afterwards, Amare called the Spurs a dirty team, mentioning Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen by name. San Antonio won Game 3, and the Suns bounced back in Game 4.
In the waning minutes of that contest, Robert Horry shoved Nash into the scorer's table. In the subsequent scuffle, Amare and Boris Diaw left the bench. Although they did not get involved in the fight, they were both suspended for Game 5. With two key parts of their front line missing, the Suns could not hold back a frantic San Antonio surge, and they lost this pivotal contest. The Spurs wrapped up the series with a victory in Game 6.
At 25, Amare continued to evolve as an all-around star in 2007–08. He led the club in scoring again, averaging 25.2 points per game to go with 9.1 rebounds. He shot 59% from the floor and topped 80% from the line for the first time. He also played in his third All-Star Game. When the Suns picked up Shaq in a February trade for Marion, Amare had no trouble blending his game with his new teammate. Newcomer Grant Hill—healthy for a change—was a valuable contributor on the opposite wing as Phoenix cruised to 55 wins, good for second in the division behind the Lakers.
Once again, however, Phoenix fell to the Spurs in the playoffs. After watching Michael Finley and Duncan hit clutch three-pointers to foil a potential series-altering double-overtime victory in Game 1, the Suns went quietly and lost in five. O’Neal, the player acquired to help Phoenix’s halfcourt offense in the playoffs, missed half of his 64 free throws in the series—including several at the end of Game 5.
After the season, D’Antoni left Phoenix to coach the Knicks. He was replaced by Terry Porter. In the preseason, Porter urged his players to focus more on defense, and he slowed the dynamic offense down. Amare wasn’t pleased with the slower pace, but he was more concerned with his right eye, which was injured in October. Doctors told Amare he would have to wear goggles, but he tossed them out after a couple of weeks. He injured the same eye again in a February game and had to undergo surgery for a detached retina. He missed the rest of the 2008-09 season. Amare was leading the club in scoring and rebounding at the time.
In 2009–10, the Suns once again found themselves in a battle for the Pacific Division crown with the Lakers. And again they came up just short, winning 55 games to LA’s 57. Amare led the team with 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. He also averaged a team-best 34.6 minutes per contest.
The postseason got off to a shaky start when the Suns dropped Game 1 at home to the young Portland Trailblazers. But Phoenix rebounded to take four of the next five to win the series. Everyone contributed, including Nash, Hill, Jason Richardson—picked up from the Charlotte Bobcats the previous year—and young Channing Frye.
Next up were the hated Spurs. To Phoenix fans, beating San Antonio was as big as reaching the NBA Finals. Amare led the Suns to a sweep. He was the high scorer in Game 2 and Game 4, and he led Phoenix with 24 rebounds in the first two contests.
Aginst the Lakers in the conference finals, the Suns dropped the first two in LA. In Game 3, Amare was on fire, torching the Lakers for 42. In the pivotal Game 5, the Suns were poised to steal one on LA’s homecourt, but Ron Artest followed a Kobe Bryant miss at the buzzer for a deflating 103–101 win. In Game 6, Phoenix fans watched in dismay as Amare spent much of the game on the perimeter. Whenever he drove, the Lakers fouled him. Although he scored 27, he never found his rhythm. Meanwhile, Artest was given one open jumper after another and killed the Suns. The final score was 111–103 in favor of the Lakers. LA had the better team, but Phoenix could have easily taken the series.
In July, Amare was one of several stars available in an unusually robust free agent market. The big name was LeBron James. The Knicks, hoping to show King James how serious they were about winning, signed Amare to a long-term deal. Lost in the hype was the fact that Amare had made a bold statement himself. In rejoining his old coach on a mediocre team, he instantly made the Knicks a playoff contender—and hopefully a magnet for other quality players. At the press conference announcing the signing, the team’s announcer, Al Trautwig, compared the moment to the trade for Dave DeBusschere in 1968 that marked a turning point for the franchise.
Amare did not disappoint Knicks fans. Early in the year, he strung together a franchise-record nine 30-point games in a row. More important, the Knicks were triumphant in eight of those contests. Amare was picked as a starter for the East All-Star squad and scored 29 points in a 148–143 loss.
With a long-awaited playoff berth in the cards, New York engineered a three-team deal during the break that put Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups in the orange and blue. The added skill and experience had Knick fans dreaming of a run at the finals. Amare finished the season averaging 25.3 points and 9.1 points per game, and he was a force on defense. With the help of the veteran Billups, the two superstar forwards were able to share the ball and find a decent rhythm.
However, by playoff time, Amare was worn down. He tried to play in the opening-round series against the Celtics, but he was not 100%. Boston swept New York out of the postseason, although the series could have broken differently. The Knicks narrowly lost the two opening games on the road. Had they secured even one victory in Boston, the outcome might have been very different.
Next came the long-anticipated lockout. Amare was tempted to play pro ball in Israel, but he stayed in New York to participate in the contract negotiations and rehab his back. When play resumed in the shortened season, the Knicks had made a key deal to land Tyson Chandler, a major presence in the paint who promised to take some of the defensive burden away from Amare. With a rock-solid front line, the Knicks needed to find the right mix of young and old in the backcourt to move deeper in the playoffs.
The team got an unexpected bump from 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, a rookie guard from China. Lin assumed the role of Steve Nash in New York’s up-tempo offense and began playing like an All-Star. Basketball in the Big Apple was fun again, as "Lin-sanity" transformed the Knicks into one of the league’s tougher matchups.
Unfortunately, tragic struck when Amare’s brother Hazell ws killed in a car accident in February of 2012. Devastated by the news, Amare immediately flew down to Florida to be with his family. He put no timetable on his return.
Amare has dealt with his fair share of adversity throughout his life. Again, he will be tested as he deals with the emotional fallout from his brother’s death. Meanwhile, New York is counting on Amare to take them bacl to the top of the basketball world. He is a leader, an inspiration and, the team hopes, a teacher for the young stars that will be playing in New York over the next few years.
Paired with Carmelo, Amare creates all sorts of matchup problems for opponents. How that translates into victories remains to be seen. So much of winning in the NBA transcends skill and involves outlook and attitude. A coach can only do so much to get his young players to buy into a style and a system. Having a player like Amare on the court takes this message the rest of the way.
AMARE THE PLAYER
When you see Amare take off to the basket—rising with such force and throwing it down so hard—you’d swear he was an Allen Iverson clone. It’s when he lands—and you realize he’s a half-foot taller than most of the other guys on the court—that you are truly awestruck. That used to be the entirety of Amare‘s offensive game. Today he uses his sure hands, quick feet, good first step and great leaping ability to trigger a variety of scoring moves, including soft jumpers and baby hooks.
Some predicted Amare would turn into the same player as Karl Malone. Amare lacks the outside shot of the Mailman, but he has become more consistent with his mid-range jumper. He also will use his left hand, and he knows what his options are when the double-team is coming. He shoots free throws well enough so that fouling him is at best a risky option.
Amare is a quality defender and aggressive rebounder. He racks up a fair number of fouls, but rarely commits silly ones. Although no one would call him a slick ball handler, he is a superb finisher on the break, and he knows how to hang on to the ball when opponents are jabbing and swatting at it.
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