By Jazmin Conner
Amar’e Stoudemire, a former six-time NBA all-star, announced on social media his return to Hapoel Jerusalem only months after declaring that he was converting to Judaism.
Stoudemire claims to have “Hebrew roots” and has already visited Israel a couple times in the past year. His most recent visit was in April when he participated in practices with Hapoel Jerusalem coach Oded Kattash.
“An African American identified with the roots of his ancestors is always cool especially someone as prominent as him who can bring light to certain situations which he does,” said Bird Duckett, a senior broadcast journalism major.
For the beginning of his second year in Israel, Stoudemire will be playing in the FIBA Basketball Champions League. Based on his performance, the team will determine whether he will rejoin the domestic games.
Ethan Jach, a freshman engineering major, describes himself as Jewish, but doesn’t feel like the recent actions of the basketball star are a big deal. “I don’t see it as a negative, but it’s also not like, ‘woah,’” said Jach.
Stoudemire started his career as the only high school player to be chosen in the 2002 NBA Draft when the Phoenix Suns made him their ninth overall pick. Playing alongside Steve Nash, a former Phoenix Suns basketball star, he averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first season earning him Rookie of the Year honors.
Although the two players played a competitive series, they couldn’t make it out of the Western Conference. They were branded as the “almost team” and Stoudemire as the “what if” player.
In his 2005 season with the Phoenix Suns, Stoudemire didn’t get a chance to build on his career because of a preseason injury to his knee that required microfracture surgery. Due to the injury, Stoudemire only appeared in three regular season games and missed the entire playoffs. Another memorable injury happened when he punched a fire extinguisher after a loss against the Miami Heat, forcing him to miss a game with a hand injury.
Stoudemire went to the New York Knicks in 2010 and spent eight seasons there. Before finishing his NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat, he experienced multiple injuries, further cementing him as the “what if” player.
Despite being branded as a “what if” player, Stoudemire made six All-Star teams in his career, was named to the All-NBA First Team in 2007, and made the All-NBA Second Team four other times.
Duckett said that Stoudemire is a “basketball freak,” but his conversion to Judaism and return to Hapoel Jerusalem is definitely a lot less about the sport and more about what he can do. “He realized that he’s a voice, so I think he thought he could make a change,” said Duckett.
Since joining the team, Stoudemire’s involvement in the Jewish community has only increased. He recently participated with Hapoel Jerusalem’s Hol HaMoed Sukkot free basketball clinic on Sept. 28 at the Jerusalem YMCA Sports Center.
Devin Stieglitz, a freshman Letters and Sciences student, is from New Jersey and is a big fan of the New York Knicks.
“I’ve been a fan of basketball my entire life, so I’ve watched [Stoudemire] progress through his career,” Stieglitz said. “I honestly think that he really committed to [the Jewish faith] because I don’t think you would make that major move [of announcing your conversion and returning a second year to Hapoel Jerusalem] if you didn’t actually believe in [the religion].”