ADHS 2007: Signing Bonus

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital

Signing Bonus

By Josh Greene,

When he’s not making a name for himself on the court Amaré Stoudemire is often signing his name off it.

Judging by the number of fans surrounding him for autographs wherever he goes, the second-year forward may be the most popular player on the Suns' roster. A far cry from a season ago, of course, when he was just a new smiling face entering the NBA straight out of high school. What a difference a year and a Rookie of the Year Award make.

“This year a lot more people know me, know my name and my face,” the 21-year-old phenom said. “Last year, they kind of knew me. This year, it’s a lot different. It’s cool.”

Prior to Suns home games at America West Arena, Stoudemire can be seen signing autographs for the many fans pushing toward him from behind the front row of seats. A willing signer, "STAT" has no problem giving out his John Hancock to fans looking for a keepsake. But as much as he enjoys signing for true fans, he said he hates signing for anyone looking to make a quick buck off his name and fame. The Internet is chock full of auction sites peddling everything from basketballs, jerseys and photos to trading cards with No. 32’s signature on them.

“Some adults, all they want to do is put it on eBay and sell it,” Amaré said about so-called fans selling his signed memorabilia for up to $80 a pop. “I’m not a fan of that. I just don’t like it when they make money off my autographs. I want to give out autographs for them to keep if I’m their favorite player or whatnot.

“Kids, they’re going to cherish the autograph and that’s going to show they have a certain amount of love in their heart. When I was a kid, I always wanted to get a professional player's autograph. So I try to give most of my time off the court to the kids, because that’s the future.”

Stoudemire knows from experience what an autograph can mean to a young person. When he was in high school, which incidentally was only a year-and-a-half ago, he had the chance to attend a basketball camp run by certain No. 23. The Suns’ future power forward walked away with both valuable experience and mementos that he’ll cherish forever.

“I do have an autograph from Michael Jordan,” Stoudemire said. “I have a Bulls jersey and a ball. When I was in 11th grade, when I was the top player in the country, I went to his camp and he gave them to me as a gift. I got them in my trophy case. Before that I never got a chance to meet a famous NBA player, so I never had an autograph. I always wanted autographs of him and Shaq.”

Amaré's still working on that Shaquille O’Neal autograph, but at least now he’s got some pull if he wants to nail down the big man's signature. He plans on getting it prior to one of the Suns' two remaining games against the Lakers this season. And once he lands Shaq, that’s about it for his autograph collection. Unless, of course, anyone else of that caliber pops up.

“It seems a little awkward now,” he said about asking his peers for an autograph. “But I’d still try to get autographs from guys like Muhammad Ali. He was cool, a nice guy.”

Stoudemire met the boxing legend during an impromptu visit to AWA last year but didn’t get a chance to land a signature. Just like any disappointed autograph seeker, even a 6-10 starting power forward can go home empty-handed.

Although Amaré wasn’t born with a Sharpie in his hand, he’s as comfortable handling one now as he is handling a basketball. With the countless signatures he delves out on a regular basis, it’s amazing his signing/shooting hand hasn’t cramped up from muscle fatigue. Of course, not every fan asks for an autograph.

“The weirdest thing was a fan who wanted to give me a kiss on my cheek,” he laughed. “And my girlfriend was sitting right beside me. That was kind of weird. It was cool, though. She was a real good fan.”

Stoudemire isn’t against hitting the road to sign for fans either. At a recent personal appearance sponsored by Budweiser, Suns fans anxiously lined up outside of The Stadium Club in Chandler to meet the power forward in a much more organized setting conducive to signing autographs.

“That went good,” he said. “I had a lot of fun out there. I’m a fan of that. No question. That’s fun to me.

“I enjoy every minute of this, because you don’t know how long you’ll be playing in the league. I just try to enjoy every moment of it.”

Going from a high school question mark to one of the NBA’s biggest stars has sent Stoudemire’s demand to a whole new level. But through it all he’s kept a level head and recognizes that taking two seconds out to sign an autograph for a fan is the very least he can do. The forward doesn’t charge for his signature, but he appreciates a different kind of compensation in return.

“Getting a 'Thanks,’” he said, “that’s the best complement you can get.”