Standing Tall, Talented and Defiant!

Updated, December 5, 2010 at 10:00am

“To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” (Howard Zinn)

Perhaps it was evidenced in his willingness to accept sole blame for a Knicks loss in which they surrendered a historic 31 points and 31 rebound to Timberwolves forward, Kevin Love? Perhaps it was evidenced in his critical words after a loss to the Rockets that pushed the Knicks losing streak to five straight? Maybe it was demonstrated in a rejection of Stephen Jackson’s attempted slam dunk – a block resulting in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats that extended the Knicks winning streak to five games? Or could it have been in his spirited marathon performance in a double overtime matinee win over the Pistons that halted a one game slide and sparked another winning streak? Maybe it was best manifested in his unyielding resolve to meet and match the best efforts of the opposing team’s best player that sparked a 3-1 record during the Knicks road trip out west and a 8-1 mark over the Knicks last nine games?

Whatever conclusion reached it was becoming evident that the Knicks latest franchise big man, Amar’e Stoudemire, wasn’t going to stand idly by and accept that the Knicks’ moribund losing culture extend beyond the ten year sentence on a once proud and venerated franchise. The adulation was already on it’s way as Stoudemire’s efforts on the Knicks road trip out West yielded him a share of the NBA’s Player of the Week honor entering the Thanksgiving holiday week.  But the resolve evidenced in the Knicks recent success under the leadership and efforts of Stoudemire underlies the resilience of a player whose star rose amidst chaos and instability and whose life and career has transcended adversity.

Articles documenting the rise of Amar’e Stoudemire, reveals the story of a person who had endured and overcome a lions share of instability and adversity early in life. Adversity that included the death of his father at the age of 12 and the absence of his mother’s presence due to intermittent periods of incarceration was coupled by scholastic instability. Stoudemire, who began playing organized basketball at the age of 14, attended 6 high schools in two years (7 in three years). After being declared ineligible to play during his junior year, Amar’e responded by working tirelessly to regain his eligibility as a senior. The trials of Stoudemire’s adolescence was compounded by the efforts of a bevy of unscrupulous professional, semi professional and collegiate recruiters who sought to sway Amar’e towards their own hardwood agendas. Stoudemire pressed on despite the tribulations of his adolesence, a rising prodigy whose explosion onto the basketball stage readily belied the fact that he was a late bloomer to the game. In the NBA Stoudemire would defy critics of his character, his game, return from injury and resurrect his career as a key member of the Phoenix Suns franchise.

Out of high school, Amar’e opted for the financial lure of the NBA to help his family. In doing so he defied doubters that believed the instability surrounding him made his early selection in the 2002 NBA Draft too much of a gamble. Yet, As the draft’s 9th overall selection, obtained by the Pheonix Suns via trade, Stoudemire earned the 2002 NBA Rookie of the Year award. While with the Suns Amar’e worked tirelessly to return to action for the 2006-07 season after a micro fracture procedure was performed on him the prior season. The recovery process required tremendous work and discipline from Stoudemire to correct an ambulatory condition that resulted in worn cartilage to the left knee. After surgery to repair a detached retina of his right eye ended his 2008-09 season, Amar’e returned for his final season with the Suns. That season Pheonix reached the Western Conference Finals with Stoudemire answering his playoff critics with a strong playoff performance against the eventual NBA Champion LA Lakers. 

In the summer of 2010 Amar’e signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks. While his decision was influenced by the security of a long term guaranteed contract, Stoudemire has proven to be the right player for the Knicks. Through the first  twenty games of the regular season the Knicks have marched to 11-9 record on the strength of a five and three game overall winning streaks and a string of six consecutive road wins. During that stretch the Knicks new power forward is averaging 24.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2 blocked shots and about 1 steal per game. Those numbers either exceed or are on par with Stoudemire’s career averages (not a surprise when you consider that Stoudemire’s playoff production exceeds his regular season production). In addition to Amar’e’s on court effectiveness and swagger, the Knicks captain is bringing another dimension to his game by taking the reigns of leadership of the Knicks. Leadership exemplified in Stoudemire’s work ethic, relentless approach to the game, willingness to accept blame, hold his teammates accountable and in the maturity to acknowledge the need to improve upon his deficiency in the area of defense.

Perhaps the perseverance that fueled Stoudemire’s rise and resurgence prepared him for the challenge of resurrecting a rebuilding franchise.  Perhaps after overcoming instability, adversity and physical injury the character of Amar’e has been made equal to the challenge of leading a youthful reconstituted Knicks team. Perhaps a life marked by defying the challenges thrust upon him readied Amar’e to defy the standard narrative of player migration throughout the league. A narrative in which Stoudemire’s piers signed on with teams with recent competitive pedigrees and another Star player on board. In contrast, Stoudemire’s singular path underscores the defiant spirit of New York’s latest Star player. A spirit and a stand very much welcome by a franchise seeking to turn the tide on a culture of losing and acquiescence.