BY MATTHEW MODINE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JACK GUY | September 30, 2011 | People
|Wool suit, Stoudemire’s own. Polkadot cardigan, Saks Fifth Avenue ($198). 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000. Cotton dress shirt, Ermenegildo Zegna ($285). 663 Fifth Ave., 212-421-4488. Cashmere wool necktie, Brunello Cucinelli ($220). 379 Bleecker St., 212-627-9202. Pocket square, Brooks Brothers ($30). 346 Madison Ave., 212-682-8800. Socks, Falke ($39). Saks Fifth Avenue, SEE ABOVE. Logan penny loafers, G.H. Bass ($99). Tani, 131 W. 72nd St., 212-595-1338|
We live in a universe that is so enormous it is beyond our ability to comprehend. It’s been said that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sands on our earth. That we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the depths of our oceans. We live in a universe full of mysteries, so we continually search for truth and insight. Fact.
Amar’e Stoudemire wants to know the facts. Don’t tell him what you think; tell him what you know to be factual. If you tell him there are mythological gods, that Zeus has control of the heavens or that Thor throws lightening bolts at the earth out of rage, you’d better have some physical and scientific proof. It’s no wonder he wants physical proof. Amar’e works in a physical profession where his body is his factory. His muscles and agility are his company, trademark and brand. His skills aren’t provided by wishes, hope or magic, but by hard work, mental toughness, bodily effort and self-confidence. One just needs to look at his body for evidence of all the above.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, he explains achievement as a combination of events and time that occasionally deliver an individual to a place of great accomplishment. Ten thousand is the number of hours Gladwell believes a person must invest before mastering a personal goal. If this is the case, watch out, because Amar’e is about to reach that ten-thousandth hour. I did the math.
There are an estimated 6.96 billion people on the planet earth. America has about 312 million of them. The National Basketball Association averages only 360 to 450 players among 30 teams. The number of high school basketball players that have gone straight to the NBA (prep-to-pro) is only 41. In this elite group, you have athletes like Kobe Bryant, Brandon Jennings, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire.
In 1971, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7–2 against the NBA’s requirement that a player must wait for four years after completing high school before turning professional. This ruling allowed players to enter the NBA Draft without four years of college. Only two from this group have won the Rookie of the Year Award: LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire.
I was invited to do this interview and jumped at the chance because I admire Amar’e. I recently played a character who said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” I thought it would be cool to hear Amar’e’s point of view about life.
We began our interview over the phone—not my preferred approach to meet someone, let alone do an interview. I need to see their eyes and body movements, so I can “hear” nonverbal replies to questions. “Is there anything in particular you want to talk about?” receives the reply from Amar’e, “No, man, it’s whatever you want to talk about.” Who knows what his body was saying.
Amar’e had just returned to Florida from California. He sounded exhausted. Before that he was in China at the Festival of Sport with other Nike branded athletes. One of them is a friend of mine, Paul Rodriguez, or P-Rod, as he’s known in the world of skateboarding. As a boy growing up in Florida, Amar’e was a skater. In his teens, he had to give up skateboarding when he grew in height from six feet to six-footsix. Too tall to be a skater dude, he took up another sport. “Do you know Paul?” I ask. “Yeah,” Amar’e enthusiastically replies. “He’s hot; P-Rod is cool, man."
And then the interview takes off.
MATTHEW MODINE: As a teenager, I knew I wanted to be an actor, but I didn’t think college was going to help me achieve that goal. So I moved to New York and studied with a great teacher. Sometimes I think it would have been better to have gone to college, just for maturity, and to have learned more about the profession of acting, the history of theater and the great playwrights. I didn’t, so I had to learn on the road, from experience. So I wonder, what was it like for you to go from playing high school basketball to such a huge arena as the NBA and not having that college experience in between?
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE: Going from high school to the NBA is something that’s not an easy challenge. Again, you have to be totally prepared to make that step. The NBA is definitely a totally different game from high school, so you have to be extremely advanced in order to make that jump.
MM: How do you prepare?
AS: You have to prepare mentally. You have to know from an accomplished standpoint that you’re ready to make that leap.
MM: So you just find that strength in your heart?
AS: No question. You find the strength in your own heart to know that you can do it. And you have to know you can do it. You’re not being cocky. You’re not being overly conceited. You just know that you can do it. If you feel that confident about it, you’ve got a great chance to succeed.
MM: It’s a rare human being who has that confidence at such a young age. Do you wish sometimes that you had gone to college?
AS: The only time I think about going to college is from the education standpoint. And to learn the fundamentals of the game is always good. I definitely feel I missed out on the fundamentals of the game as well as education.
MM: But you get the fundamentals from working with great coaches and playing with great players, right?
AS: Yeah, but it takes more time. They don’t have time to teach you all the fundamentals, but they do teach you some.
MM: You know who I miss on the Knicks? Raymond Felton. It was so much fun watching you two play together, because there seemed to be a kind of chemistry, an understanding. It’s like watching two great actors in a scene. It seemed like you knew what the other guy was going to do. Raymond always seemed to know where to put the ball for you. Do you miss Raymond?
AS: Yeah, I do, man. I had a great time with Raymond. I wish he could have stayed with us. He’s one of those point guards who is about to emerge.
MM: It was funny to watch the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs, because it was like “Knicks West.” The whole team out there seemed like former Knickerbockers.
AS: Right. Exactly
MM: What’s harder for you—game day or a day off?
AS: Days off are definitely cool; you need those to heal. When you get those days off, you have to fully take advantage of them.
MM: Is there a player you like to stare down and play hard against?
AS: There’s not one particular player. I come out and play hard against everyone.
MM: What about a team?
AS: The Lakers
MM: That’s a great team. Great franchise. Great history.
AS: Yeah. [Which sounds like he’s a Yankees fan hearing me compliment the Boston Red Sox. It’s a grudging acceptance of fact.]
MM: I want to talk about Deion Sanders.
AS: [Laughs] You want to talk about Deion?
MM: He is a tremendous athlete, someone who in his way changed the game of football. And I feel that you have changed the game of basketball, in your own way. There’s a comparison in the excitement you bring to the game. Is Deion someone who influenced you when you were younger?
AS: Deion is probably my favorite NFL player of all time. For you to compare us as athletes—I mean Deion, he definitely changed the game of football, and you’re saying I changed the game of basketball. It’s just a matter of being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. That’s how I look at it.
MM: What do you think? Rookie of the Year, sixtime NBA All-Star, Olympic bronze medal…
AS: [Interrupting] That’s not bad, man! Being nine years in the NBA, six-time NBA All-Star; bronze medal; Rookie of the Year... Personally, that’s not too bad. [Laughs]
MM: That’s not bad at all, man! [We are now both laughing because it’s ridiculous what this man has accomplished since high school.] And then there’s the issue of ESPN where you’re on the cover, jumping naked into the pool…
AS: [Laughs] Oh, gosh... [He actually sounds like he may be blushing.]
MM: I know a lot of people that, if they had a body like yours, would be running around naked too.
AS: [Laughing] Yeah. Well, I don’t know…
MM: Do you have any tips for staying in shape?
AS: You just have to eat right and exercise. Those are the two main things. At least try to. It’s hard when you’re so accustomed to eating a certain way, but at least try to change slowly, and make sure you exercise.
MM: You’re not a vegetarian?
AS: No, but I try to eat kosher for the most part. It’s hard on the road.
MM: What do you imagine doing when you finish playing in the NBA?
AS: I don’t know, man. When I’m done with the NBA, I hope that I have enough of an entrepreneurial mind so I don’t have to do much. [I’m thinking about his five-year, $99.7 million contract and wondering, How much is his deal with Nike for his new signature Air Max Sweep Thru? His “entrepreneurial mind” is doing fine.]
MM: During games, they show the players entering the Garden in street clothes. You always look sharp.
AS: I appreciate that.
MM: You have great style. I like that lady you’re collaborating with on a clothing line, Rachel Roy. She seems cool.
AS: Yeah, she’s pretty cool. She’s good at what she does. Anyone who has passion in what they do, you get the best out of them.
MM: I’m curious—with the tremendous salary from the success that you have, are there tremendous temptations that come with it?
AS: Not really. It’s a matter of how to self-discipline. Whatever you accomplish, you have to be able to control it, not let it control you.
MM: How do you feel about money? They say it can’t buy happiness.
AS: It definitely can’t. It has no strong moral to it. It’s just kind of a material thing that helps you live. Other than that, you can’t take it with you when you leave here, so there’s definitely more important things out there than money.
MM: You just came back from China. How did that experience affect you?
AS: It was great. I was in Shanghai for the Festival of Sport with Nike, and I traveled to Beijing for my own personal studies.
MM: What was that like?
AS: Beijing was pretty special—so many monumental spots and historic landmarks, all very intriguing. It was great to check off another great city I’m studying.
|Suit, plaid shirt and glasses, Stoudemire’s own. Necktie, Brioni ($225). 57 E. 57th St., 646-624-5600. Royal Oak Offshore watch, Audemars Piguet ($32,100). 65 E. 57th St., 212-758-8400. Socks, Falke ($39). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000. Logan penny loafers, G.H. Bass ($99). Tani, 131 W. 72nd St., 212-595-1338|
MM: You say you’re spiritual. Does that mean you don’t hold to any particular religion? I call myself a humanist. I believe in the goodness of human beings and that we’re all struggling to be better.
AS: I’m definitely spiritual, but I work on facts. From a spiritual standpoint, and also from facts and history, is what I arrive on.
MM: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that he had a dream for his four children, that one day we’d live in a nation where they’d be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Are we there yet, or do we still have work to do?
AS: There’s a lot of work to do. We are not totally there yet, but we’ve made great strides from then until now. I think we’re continuing to make those strides in the right direction. But we still have a mountain. We still have a way to go.
MM: You’re a history buff. What do you think we learn from history?
AS: I think we learn about humanity, how it all came about and where we all are from.
MM: It’s said that what we’ve learned from history is that we haven’t learned from history, that we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. How do we get around that?
AS: First of all, you have to be open to the truth, to understand it and know that it’s factual. If you don’t think it’s factual, then look it up—in several different sources—to figure out if it adds up. And if it adds up, then it’s fact. Then you have to take the facts for what they are and stop trying to create something [non-factual] around them.
AS: Yeah, it’s just not cool. If you got facts, then let facts be facts. Don’t try and paint it.
MM: That comes with education?
AS: [He takes a deep breath; it reminds me of a wise person trying to make a student understand, Yoda-like.] That comes with understanding.
Photographs by Jack Guy; Styling by Rebecca Malinsky and Rachel Johnson; Barber: William James; Grooming by Louise Moon at Exclusive Artists/Chanel