Amar'e Stoudemire, the former Rookie of the Year who became famous for thunderous dunks and breathtaking moves in his prime, has announced his NBA retirement after 14 seasons. Stoudemire, who played for the Miami Heat last season, signed a ceremonial contract with New York so he could retire as a Knick.
"I want to thank Mr. Dolan, Phil Jackson and Steve Mills for signing me so I can officially retire as a New York Knick," Stoudemire said in a statement. "I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that.
"Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart has always remained in the Big Apple," he added later.
Stoudemire is heading overseas to continue his basketball career after agreeing to a two-year contract with Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem, a franchise that he partially owns. "I'm looking forward to help the team compete for titles," he told European reporter David Pick.
There's long been a connection between Israel and Stoudemire, who considers himself "culturally Jewish." He had a Hebraic wedding in 2012, observes Jewish holidays and has tried to pursue Israeli citizenship. Now by signing in Jerusalem, Stoudemire will leave behind the Big Apple and South Beach to continue his spiritual journey and hoops career.
The 33-year-old played 52 games for Miami last season, averaging 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per contest. It was the first time he averaged fewer than 10 points a game in his career.
That was a far cry from the Stoudemire that terrorized opponents with his incredible leaping ability early in his career. He burst onto the scene with the Suns, earning the 2002-03 Rookie of the Year award despite entering the NBA Draft out of high school. However, a series of knee injuries slowly derailed his rise, causing him to be a shell of his former self in his final days.
But before those injuries, Stoudemire was on track to become one of the game's all-time greats. After winning Rookie of the Year with the Suns, he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds as a second-year player.
However, it was only after Steve Nash arrived that Stoudemire really took off. He hit his apex in the Suns' surprising 2004-05 season, averaging 26 points per game on 56 percent shooting. He then dominated Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, averaging 37 points per game in a losing effort.
That rise to stardom was derailed that summer when Stoudemire suffered a serious knee injury before training camp, which proved to be a harbinger of things to come. He elected to undergo microfracture surgery, which he now says he never would have done if he knew exactly what it was. He missed nearly the entire 2005-06 season.
Stoudemire recovered well enough to stay relatively healthy and near his peak for the next four years, with the exception of a serious eye injury that prematurely ended his 2008-09 season. The Suns would never get over the hump in the West, though they came close in 2010.
After that season, the Suns passed on offering Stoudemire a maximum contract, fearful his knee would not hold up over time. Stoudemire instead signed with the Knicks, proclaiming a new era for a team that had floundered for years before saving money to sign a superstar. "The Knicks are back," he proclaimed at his introductory press conference.
Stoudemire took to New York, even though his knees did indeed deteriorate as the Suns predicted. He dominated in his first year, averaging 25 points per game on 50 percent shooting to help lead the Knicks back to the playoffs, but he would never reach the All-Star Game again. A back injury slowed him the next year, and a resurfacing of knee trouble limited him in 2012-13. He also struggled to adapt his game next to Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. His most memorable New York moment was infamous -- he punched a fire extinguisher after a playoff loss to Miami, lacerating his left hand and inducing many internet jokes.
Eventually, the Knicks bought out his contract in 2014-15. He finished that season with the Dallas Mavericks, then had an anonymous year in Miami before heading overseas.
Stoudemire will forever be known for those vicious dunks, even if his career did get derailed by injury. Nobody since Shawn Kemp in the 90s posterized opponents as violently as Stoudemire. He never won a Slam Dunk Contest, but returned the in-game dunk back to an art form.
Though Stoudemire's best seasons were in Phoenix, he immediately embraced the spotlight of New York even as his on-court production deteriorated. Stoudemire has also been more in touch with his spiritual side over the years, often in public fashion. In 2010, following his new contract with New York, Stoudemire declared his desire to learn more about the Jewish heritage, saying he learned his mother was actually Jewish. He visited Israel for the first time and has maintained his connection with the country, even partnering to co-own the Jerusalem-based team he's now joining.
We'll never know what kind of player Stoudemire will be had never suffered that first knee injury, but it's been memorable watching him play all the same.
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