Standing tall at a height of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.08 m), six-time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire cuts an imposing figure. But when the 34-year-old power forward sat down with NoCamels a few weeks ago to talk about what brought him and his family to Israel, one quickly realizes that size doesn’t matter.
In 2016, Stoudemire left the glamour of the NBA to play basketball for Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he partially owned. Flashing a broad smile, he feels very at home living in Israel, a place he had visited often and with which he’d long felt a strong spiritual connection.
Identifying himself as a Hebrew Israelite, he views the land of Israel as part of his religious and ancestral heritage. “My mother instilled it in us, as youth, about us being Israelites, being from the ancient children of Israel,” he tells NoCamels. So, as a family, we started to follow all the laws of Moses, and we just kept growing from there.”
Israel: Love at first site
As far as Israel is concerned, for Stoudemire it was love at first site. “I loved Israel, my first time coming,” he tells NoCamels. After that initial visit in 2010, he made annual trips, coming every summer with his family before settling in Jerusalem last year.
Stoudemire also sees himself as an unofficial ambassador for Israel, a mission for which he often teams up with Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA. “I also invited celebrities and athletes to come here to visit Israel,” he tells NoCamels, “and their first impression was the same as mine. They loved it once they got here. From the outside, looking in, sometimes they’re not totally sure, but once they travel here, they have a whole new perspective on Israel.”
Talking about his detractors, Stoudemire says, “I get some comments on my Instagram, but I put that aside, because I have a spiritual connection to Israel.”
Stoudemire, who was was recently filmed exploring Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda market (know by Israelis simply as the shuk), is going further than settling in the Land of Milk and Honey; he’s also learning its famously difficult tongue, Hebrew.
And the athlete’s devotion to the country seems to be more than a passing phase. Sports Illustrated recently reported that Stoudemire and his wife, Alexis, bought a four-story stone house in Jerusalem’s Old City, relocated their four kids (and personal chef) from Miami and made a commitment to stay in Israel for at least two years.
Forbes: “The most creative man in the Middle East”
After earning nearly $200 million from his NBA career, Stoudemire continues to pursue other interests. Aside from playing basketball, he also calls himself a fashion entrepreneur; art consultant; winemaker; published author and a promoter of interfaith cooperation. With so many ventures, it’s not surprising that Forbes dubbed Stoudemire “the most creative man in the Middle East.”
“I have a passion for each and every venture I’m involved in,” he told Forbes.
Stoudemire is also the owner of the Melech Collection, an online platform that advises celebrities on purchasing art that is likely to appreciate in value. Although they may have plenty of wealth to spend on cars and jewelry, Stoudemire says they often “don’t pay attention to their money.”
From humble beginnings to NBA stardom
Stoudemire overcame what was by all accounts a rough childhood to become one of the world’s most famous basketball players. A native of central Florida, he grew up poor, his parents divorced when he was young, and his father died of a heart attack when Amar’e was only twelve. His mother, a migrant agricultural worker, was in and out of jail for petty crimes, and his older brother had several run-ins with the law.
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Stoudemire attended five different high schools, but did not go on to college. Instead, the talented teenage basketball star went directly from high school to the NBA. Stoudemire was the only high school player chosen in the first round of the 2002 draft (by the Phoenix Suns with the ninth pick overall). He was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2003 and went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, with four different teams: the Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, and Miami Heat.
Through all the adversity, Stoudemire remains humble, attributing his success to the people around him.
“When I was drafted at 18 to the Phoenix Suns, I was fortunate to have veteran players around me,” Stoudemire told the crowd at Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Tel Aviv last month, an event which drew hundreds of young entrepreneurs from around the globe to Israel for the second year in a row. “I was learning from great veteran players and I happened to take on that positive influence and apply it to my professional life.”
Peace though basketball
This summer Stoudemire will again be holding his Amar’e Stoudemire Basketball Peace Camp, a program that brings together players from all of Israel’s diverse cultures.
Advice to youth: Be yourself – and stay positive
Stoudemire, who cites basketball icon Michael Jordan, the late rapper Tupac Shakur, and legendary musician John Lennon as his idols growing up, sees himself as a role model to his own kids first, then to his throngs of loyal young fans.
“All the lessons I learned as a youth, growing up, I try to instill in them (my children). I always take them back to my humble beginnings, where my family lives,” he tells NoCamels. “I take them back there to hang out with the uncles and cousins in Florida so they get an understanding of what a humble beginning is about. It’s a little bit different from my upbringing, but they still get a taste of it.”
As far as advice for the Israeli youth who dream of playing in the NBA, he says, “For me, I’m just being myself. I’m being who I am, and I think for them, it’s really about being who they are. But they should have some positive affirmations. Taking the positive from certain leaders that they follow, and applying it to themselves, which is the model that I took.”
Startup Nation: Meeting of the minds
Stoudemire is also getting involved in Israeli innovation and startups, telling NoCamels, “There are a lot of great people doing amazing things here in Israel. Now that I live here, I’m learning more and more about it.” Asked what he believes makes Israel the “Startup Nation”, he cites the collaborative brainstorming which he finds inspiring.
“I think it’s just a matter of the meeting of the minds. People here are constantly trying to wrap their mind around a better way to improve, so that’s great to see.”