Last year, Sports Illustrated’s big pre-All Star Game NBA feature was about Omri Casspi, the Sacramento Kings forward who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA. This year, with the All Star Game the weekend after next, the magazine’s big NBA feature is about another Jewish forward (well, sorta): New York Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s trip to Israel last summer captured a lot of media attention as well as the hearts of many who saw somebody genuinely curious about Judaism earnestly seeking it out. We learn more in this week’s SI:
Stoudemire’s much publicized trip to Israel last summer came off like a stunt, but it was actually motivated by the studying he did after eye surgery, which piqued his interest in Jewish history. Stoudemire wore a yarmulke on the trip, floated in the Dead Sea, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and touched the Western Wall with his left hand, which is marked by a Star of David tattoo. He met with Shimon Mizrahi, chairman of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club, and former Maccabi star Tal Brody, who offered Stoudemire a roster spot when his current contract expires. “We feel he is one of us now,” Brody says.
Stoudemire received invitations to more bar mitzvahs than he could possibly attend and grew uncomfortable with all the attention. He insists he is not Jewish—though he says an ancestor on his mother’s side may be—and practices no formal religion. He is planning a trip this summer to Mali, which is predominantly Muslim, because he wants to build a school there. But Stoudemire does keep kosher at home. “It’s a matter of learning the most I can about every culture and trying to bring people together,” he says, over a dinner of herb-crusted chicken breast, sautéed spinach and challah bread, prepared by his kosher chef. “That’s New York.”
You can, of course, select Stoudemire as your starting power forward on Tablet Magazine’s “pick your all-time Jewish-American starting five” game. Though personally I tend to go with Dolph Schayes in that position, there is no denying that Stoudemire, averaging 26.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for a (somewhat) resurgent Knicks squad, isn’t unworthy.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.