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Hope in Shorts

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Two days later, before he heads out to the Madison Square Garden floor for what a handler says is his first time as a Knick, Stoudemire, who has had me following him around all week, greets me by grabbing my arm and giving me one of those complicated handshakes that leaves me completely flummoxed and my arm throbbing for several days. “These are your guys today, right?” he says. They are. He’s here for the photo shoot for this story. “What do you think of the style?”

It’s the first time I, or anyone else, has seen him in a Knicks uniform—or Knicks shorts and T-shirt, anyway—and it is, for a Knicks season-ticket owner like myself, thrilling to see. I lose my breath for a moment.

Stoudemire drives and hammers down one of his signature dunks, a violent, pathological windmill. D’Antoni raises an eyebrow. “Hoo boy.”

We have seen such junk at the Garden for the past ten years, such expensive flotsam. We pay more money per seat than almost any other team’s fans and have been repaid for none of it.

But here is Stoudemire, dribbling between his legs, striding across the Garden hardwood. He is smiling, beaming, really, as if this is where he was supposed to be all along. Stoudemire is not unaware of what the Knicks have been through in recent years; after all, he has reaped the same benefits of playing them as everyone else. But he seems immune to—almost uninterested in—Dolan, Inc. Much of the fan base spent the summer wracked with terror that Isiah Thomas would be returning to the franchise; it was claimed in a few reports that his credentials as a former player helped sway Stoudemire to come here. Stoudemire puts that theory to rest, saying that during his short Knicks courtship, “I never talked to [Thomas] once.” (When asked if he’d even met him, Stoudemire said, “A while ago, I think.”) He says he barely knows Dolan and that it doesn’t really matter. “I’m really not too familiar with the outside situation,” he says. “We can only control what we do from the inside.” At one point, he is surprised to learn that Marv Albert no longer calls Knicks games; Albert split with the Knicks in 2004, in part for being too critical of the team on-air.

Stoudemire trots to the scorer’s table to sign some memorabilia. (His staff has about 100 pamphlets for him to John Hancock with the word STAT; it’s Stoudemire’s self-given nickname, an acronym for “Standing Tall and Talented,” and it’s how he’s addressed by everyone around him.) He notices one of the televisions on the scorer’s table playing highlights of an old Knicks-Suns game. He stops, looks closer, and realizes that it’s the MSG Network airing a half-hour show called MSG Countdown. This episode consists entirely of the 25 greatest individual plays Amar’e Stoudemire has made against the Knicks. This is too much for him to resist.

He walks around the scorer’s table, sits with Max, and watches himself jumping over Michael Doleac, faking Eddy Curry out of his shoes, smashing Malik Rose to the ground. It is a half-hour of the new Knick dunking on the past. He whoops with Max after one particularly kinetic destruction of Renaldo Balkman. “Damn!” they both yell. He smiles broadly. The photographer calls over; he’s ready. Stoudemire stands up. “Let’s do this,” he says, and runs onto the court, and then he is a Knick.


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