Amare Stoudemire on joining the Big3, how his Suns teams changed the NBA, being a star in New York, paying NCAA players and more

Amare Stoudemire on joining the Big3, how his Suns teams changed the NBA, being a star in New York, paying NCAA players and more

Interview

Amare Stoudemire on joining the Big3, how his Suns teams changed the NBA, being a star in New York, paying NCAA players and more

As the Big3 enters its second season, one of the league’s biggest offseason additions was six-time NBA All-Star Amare Stoudemire. The 35-year-old big man will be playing for Tri-State alongside Jermaine O’Neal and Nate Robinson among others.

Over the course of his 14-year NBA career, Stoudemire averaged 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. He suited up for the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. Last year, he played on the team he co-owns, Hapoel Jerusalem, and led them to an Israeli League championship.

HoopsHype caught up with Stoudemire to discuss his decision to join the Big3, the seven-seconds-or-less Suns teams that were ahead of their time, what it was like being a star in New York, the NBA’s one-and-done rule, his experience in Jerusalem, his legacy and more.

First off, what made you decide to join the Big3 and what adjustments do you have to make as you transition to three-on-three basketball?

Amare Stoudemire: I heard about it last year when it first started and [co-founder] Jeff Kwatinetz is a good friend of mine, so we actually spoke about it before it went into production. But then I traveled to Israel to play there, so I somewhat lost touch with the Big3 for a bit. But then once it started, I heard about it over there and I heard it was doing very well. I’m excited, man. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to stay in shape and it gives me a chance to continue playing basketball and hang out with the guys. I’m really excited about it. I think a lot of guys are going to start looking at this as something to do when they retire. It’s a lot of fun and most of us are looking for ways to stay active once we’re done playing. As it continues to grow, more and more players are going to look at the Big3 as a place where they can keep playing while also expanding their brand.

As for the adjustment, we all grew up in neighborhoods and different cities playing street basketball. We’d go up to the park and sometimes, you only have six guys who can play so you’d start playing three-on-three. This brings back that playground atmosphere. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be really cool to have that playground feel while going up against the same players that I faced in the NBA.

Your squad has Jermaine O’Neal and Nate Robinson among others. How good can this team be and how do you think you guys will fit together as a team?

AS: I think we’ll fit pretty well together. Obviously we have two guys who play the same position or at least a similar position with Jermaine and myself, but Nate is a really quick, agile point guard who can get us the ball in certain places while also having the creativity to score on his own. I think we’re going to match-up well against teams. After the draft on April 12, we’ll see how all the teams look and how things unfold. Right now, we’re still in the beginning stages. But once the draft is complete, we’ll start to piece things together from there.

You have a lot of different off-court ventures including your own fashion line, a record label, a series of children’s books, numerous acting gigs and a team in Israel that you co-own. I think guys like you are an example for younger players, showing them how to be successful after basketball. What’s the key to picking the right off-court endeavors and having them succeed?

AS: You have to find ways to become an entrepreneur because you can only play the game of basketball for so long. You want to set yourself up properly so that when you’re done playing, you can continue to have fun and do stuff that you love to do. You want to still have that joy as you continue working. I think players need to start realizing that earlier [in their career]. I think you should choose ventures based on your personal passions, the things that you’re interested in. Then, once you find the right platform to do something that you’re into, you just have to give it 100 percent of your effort. It’s not always easy to try something new and you don’t want to try do something that’s really hard for you. That’s why I suggest focusing on endeavors centered around something you already love to do and then go from there.

Last year, you won a championship with Hapoel Jerusalem as a player and co-owner of the team. What was it like having both roles and then winning a title under those circumstances?

AS: That experience was remarkable. I don’t know if there’s any other player in basketball history that played for a team they owned and then won a championship with that team. Also, to do it for a city like Jerusalem… that’s such a historical city and it was great. Jerusalem is captivating. We had so much fun that year. I love Jerusalem, and I found some really nice bars and restaurants to hang out at. They have a great art scene. The people were very chill and relaxed too. Then, from a historical standpoint, it goes without saying that there are some really cool places to hang out and enjoy yourself in Jerusalem.

If you look at the NBA today, there’s a lot more three-point shooting and a faster pace. Do you feel like the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns teams that you were a part of were ahead of their time and ushered in this style of play that’s so predominant now?

AS: Yeah, I do actually. A lot of people have mentioned that to me, so it drew my attention and I started researching that myself and looking back on it. Now that I can sit back and look at it, what we were doing in Phoenix was so cutting edge. And at the time, we didn’t know that what we were doing was going to change the game to the point where it’s at now. All we knew is that those teams had something special. We were like rock stars, man! In every single city we went to, that seven-seconds-or-less offense is something that every fan wanted to see. It was definitely fun to be a part of that.

You mentioned being a rock star with the Suns, but what was it like being a star on the New York Knicks? That’s one of the biggest stages and you were the face of the franchise when you signed there. What was that experience like?

AS: We went from being rock stars in Phoenix to, like, mega rock stars in New York. It was amplified so much and it was crazy. I didn’t know what to expect. When I got to New York, it was kind of a challenge for me because I wanted to make the playoffs and change the paradigm for Knicks fans and change what people expect from the New York Knicks. Once we started rolling, once we started winning, and I was getting M-V-P chants in the sold-out Garden and everyone was on their feet… you can never duplicate that energy. It was truly, truly amazing.

You made the jump from high school to the NBA in 2002. Do you think the NBA should allow players to enter the league straight from high school again or should they come up with a system for paying college players? Having made that prep-to-pros jump, what do you think they should do?

AS: Well, you know what, there were a lot of successful guys who went from high school to the NBA. It took a few years for most of the guys to come into their own as players – there were only a few who stepped in [and made a big impact right away] like myself, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Kevin Garnett took a year or two, Kobe Bryant took a year or two. It all depends on the player. You just have to be honest with yourself and realistic about whether you’re capable of becoming an NBA player at a young age or whether you need to take your talents to college so you have some more time to develop.

But with the system we have in place right now at the college level, I think we should implement a payment scale for players. I think the payment scale is something they can figure out; they’re all business people and it’s a major corporation. They can figure out how to take care of all student-athletes.

As you mentioned, you were really effective as a rookie. You averaged 14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.0 block as a starter in your first season, winning Rookie of the Year and making the playoffs. How did you manage to make your jump to the NBA look so easy and what advice would you give to young players as they make the transition into the league?

AS: It wasn’t as easy as it may have looked. I definitely had a lot to learn and there was a learning curve. I had to listen to the veteran players who were on my team. I’d sit down with them and have conversations with them to improve on the court as well as learn the business side of the league. I shot extra free throws and extra jump-shots with veteran players after almost every practice. I would go to the coaches and just talk basketball with them a lot. There were a lot of things that I had to do to learn the NBA game as a rookie out of high school. You have some high school kids who don’t know much about the NBA; this is the highest level in all of basketball, the level with greatest players that the world has ever seen. You have to make sure that you’re prepared for that.

Who were some of the veterans who helped you out the most during your early years?

AS: Man… There were so many vets, bro. Penny Hardaway, who’s now the coach at the University of Memphis, played a pivotal role in my development during my rookie season. Stephon Marbury, who I think just recently retired from playing basketball internationally. Tom Gugliotta, who was initially the starting power forward during my rookie year until he got injured. Those guys were all great. Frank Johnson, who was my head coach when I first got to Phoenix, is another person who really helped me. Cotton Fitzsimmons, rest in peace, had been around for decades as a coach before he came to Phoenix and he played a huge role in my early success. It was a group effort and they were all great.

Who was the toughest player you faced – offensively and defensively? Which player gave you the toughest time on each end of the court?

AS: The toughest guy for me to guard? Man, Dirk Nowitzki was almost impossible to guard. I couldn’t figure that guy out, man. I just couldn’t guard him. He played the same position as I did, but he was about four inches taller and he was a sharp-shooter from outside. He was just something that the game hadn’t seen before, so it took me a while to figure out how to guard Dirk. Actually, I didn’t even figure it out, I would just put Shawn Marion on him every time we played them (laughs).

On the other end, it was hard to score on Kevin Garnett. Even though I had a lot of success – because nobody can really stop me from scoring, that’s just not something you can do – he would make it tough for me. He definitely made it tough for me out there, which was great. I loved it. Every time I played against him, he would make it competitive. And that’s what all competitors want: a competitive game.

You mention nobody being able to stop you from scoring. You averaged nearly 19 points per game over the course of your career, which is extremely impressive. You were a six-time All-Star. You were just so dominant at times. When it comes to your legacy and how your career is perceived, do you think you’re somewhat underrated?

AS: I don’t think so. I think the fans out there respected my heart and the way I played the game of basketball. When it comes down to the dunkers – the all-time greatest dunkers – I deserve to be up there in that conversation, for sure. But everyone can choose who they want to be fans of and who they respect. I understand that and I’ll let fans be the judge. I don’t even think about it much, though. I just take everything one day at a time. 

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