By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Nov 20 2008 4:11PM
LOS ANGELES -- Is it possible that we all have pegged Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire wrong?
How can you know a guy when you've been getting his name wrong ever since you met him. It's Amar'e, and it always has been. Not Amaré. Not Amare. But, Amar'e.
The three-time All-Star and 2003 Rookie of the Year has always intrigued the basketball world with his talent. His tremendous hops, his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame, his elbow-in, perfect-guide-hand placement shooting stroke, his ability to get from foul line to foul line in seemingly just a few long strides. His game is part David Thompson's power with a dash of Patrick Ewing's midrange jumper.
Stoudemire's star was rising so rapidly in his first three seasons -- from Rookie of the year, to 20 and 10 guy in the 2003-04 regular season to nearly a 25 and 10 guy in the 2004-05 regular season to 30 and 10 guy in the 2004-05 playoffs -- he seemed prime to dominate the league from a big man's perspective in the same way that monoliths like Wilt, Kareem, Hakeem and Shaq had before him.
Then microfracture knee surgery happened, causing Stoudemire to play just three games in 2005-06 and also causing whispers about the big man's shaky work ethic to surface. Suddenly the future face of the league wasn't so appealing anymore. He was viewed as an immature star that relied solely on athleticism and also labeled a poor defender when put under the microscope.
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Instead of referencing Amar'e's endearing S.T.A.T. moniker (Stand Tall And Talented), Stoudemire was mocked for his pompous Black Jesus tattoo. He returned to the court in 2006-07 as a 20 and 10 guy, recessing from the lofty status he established two seasons prior. But Stoudemire started to prove the doubters wrong, returning to his 25 and 10 level in 2007-08 and earning First Team All-NBA honors.
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Now three years removed from the knee trouble, Stoudemire is playing like a man possessed as Phoenix has sprinted out to an 8-4 start. After attending six different high schools as a teenager for a variety of off-the-court reasons, Stoudemire is playing in his seventh NBA season in the same city where he spent his first six years and he likes his home. In the early going, Stoudemire has already pumped in 49 points against Indiana, hit a game-winner in overtime against Sacramento and most recently had 29 and 11 followed by 30 and eight in back-to-back games against Detroit and Utah.
Stoudemire caught up with NBA.com's Dave McMenamin to talk about the season and look forward to Thursday's matchup with the Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
Q: Congratulations on the recent birthday. You're getting old, huh?
A: I feel pretty good about it. I feel blessed to be 26, but I'm still young.
Q: What's it been like to spend your whole career in one place after bouncing around so much in high school?
Amar'e Stoudemire has continued his rise this season as one of the NBA's elite big men.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images
A: Well, I mean, it's not a problem, really. It's pretty settled down. Once you get to a team you got to respect the organization, you got to work hard and I'm pretty sure guys will do their best to keep you around. We've been pretty successful, so I think I'm pretty blessed to stay with one team my whole career so far.
Q: ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson recently called you the "most slept on future Hall of Famer in the NBA." Do you think you're underrated in a way? Do guys like Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard get brought up as the best players in the league more often than you do?
A: Yeah, I think so. I think with those other players, their organizations really do a lot to promote them. Out here in Phoenix, we're more of a team organization. We promote the team, not just a key player. I think most other teams or organizations promote their key player, I think that's the reason why.
Q: There was speculation that part of the reason that GM Steve Kerr parted ways with Mike D'Antoni was because Kerr wanted you to be a more integral part of the offense. Did you know that your role would be increasing this year under Terry Porter?
A: Uh, yeah, I kind of had an idea that I was going to step up and pretty much show what I can do a little thing. I think stepping up is something that any player eventually wants to do is become a leader of their team. We've been very open about our captains and our leadership and I feel at ease stepping into that role.
Q: How would you access the Shaquille O'Neal experiment at this point? Is it working out?
A: We just got to continue to grow, to continue to get better. It's going to take time, but we're on the right track.
Q: First you change your jersey number from No. 32 to No. 1, now you change your name from Amare to Amaré to Amar'e. What gives?
A: There is no name change, that's how my name as always been spelled. It just hasn't been spelled that way, for some reason, for my whole career. I don't know why. That's been wrong since I was a rookie. For the past seven years all you guys have been spelling my name wrong.
Q: Can you talk about your involvement with Africa and what a big part of your life that has become?
A: Just going to Africa is amazing, it all comes back to the motherland. It's pretty much where everything started. It's a blessing to be able to accomplish that in your lifetime and also to be able to help the unfortunate from a goodwill standpoint was definitely the point of my foundation. I want to be able to help the unfortunate as much as possible.
Q: I was at that Nets game in 2005-05 when you went scoreless during your truncated comeback. That had to be your low point as a player. How did you get back to where you are now?
A: Any knee surgery is definitely going to hinder your game. At that point and time I couldn't really play the way I wanted to play because of the knee situation. I was able to maintain a focus and keep my goals in mind and work with the training staff to get back to 100 percent.
Q: Any melancholy this summer seeing USA Basketball winning the gold, especially knowing that you were on the FIBA Americas squad in 2007 and played a key part in putting Team USA back on the map?
A: Not at all. I think the most important thing is your career; individual goals, that comes second. My thing was ... I wanted to make sure I was healthy and I felt great going into this season. I've been playing summer basketball the past three years ever since my knee surgery so I never really had a chance to let my legs and my body to rest up from basketball. It was a tough decision for me. I knew the guys were going to go out there and get the gold medal because we prepared for it two-three years prior. Seeing those guys win it was a blessing. I still felt a part of it.
Q: It's been a pretty dominant start to the season for you so far. Are you playing your best ball yet?
A: I'm just getting warm, just getting warm baby. I still have a ways to go.
Q: What can you say about the Lakers?
A: They're an entire team. They're playing well ... they went to The Finals last year. They got their starting center back, so they're a team that are going to be tough to get over but I feel like we're playing great as well. It's going to be a great matchup for us on Thursday.
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