Seven years after he was named NBA Rookie of the Year, joining the ranks of basketball legends Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, power forward Amar’e Stoudemire landed in Israel on Wednesday morning, drove straight to Jerusalem, and joined the ranks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well.

“The Holy Land has always been high on my list of places to visit, and when this opportunity arose, I wasn’t going to push it off any longer,” Stoudemire told The Jerusalem Post as he ate dinner at one of the capital’s fine kosher establishments with his girlfriend, Alexis. “I’m here for a vacation and to get some rest before the season.”

I am “so excited to be here,see all the important historical sites, learn Hebrew and to get a better understanding of my heritage,” he said.

Stoudemire said he planned to be in the country for about a week before heading back to New York to prepare for the Knicks’ upcoming season. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Phoenix Suns.

The 28-year-old NBA superstar had announced his plans to come to Israel via Twitter on Tuesday as he was boarding his flight.

“This is going to be a great trip,” Stoudemire wrote on his Twitter feed, “@Amareisreal.”

“The holy land. Learn about it,” he wrote, adding, “ze ha’halom sheli” – Hebrew for “this is my dream.”

With the 2009-10 NBA season over, and a $100 million deal signed earlier this month with the Knicks, the 6-foot, 10-inch, 249-pound (208-centimeter, 113-kilo) athlete decided to visit.

“I don’t really consider myself to be a religious person, but rather a deeply spiritual individual,” Stoudemire told the Post.

“I have been aware since my youth that I am a Hebrew through my mother, and that is something that has played a subtle but important role in my development,” he went on.

“I have never hid my spiritual roots,” he said. “They just weren’t something that came under the spotlight.”

Stoudemire added that he had always channeled his spirituality through the way he played basketball.

“I am proud to be a Hebrew and embrace my Jewish background,” he said Told that his new status might give him more “street cred” in his new home – as New York has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel – Stoudemire laughed deeply and said, “I look forward to that.

This season is going to be great, and bonding with the New York fans is going to be special also.

“I’d like to thank all my fans in Israel and my supporters worldwide,” he added. “I plan on having a great vacation and learning a whole lot as well.”

Stoudemire’s Twitter announcement had both the sports and Jewish worlds abuzz on Wednesday, with news organizations and bloggers speculating as to what a Jewish Stoudemire might mean.


“#1 Jewish athlete of all time” was the most common online response to the news, although others expressed hope that Stoudemire would join his NBA colleague, small forward Omri Casspi – who plays for the Sacramento Kings – on the Israeli national basketball team.

Stoudemire was born in Lake Wales, Florida, but graduated from high school in Orlando, opting out of college and going directly into the NBA in 2002.

He has played in the NBA All- Star Game five times, made the first-team All-NBA Team in 2007, and won a Bronze Medal with the US men’s national basketball team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

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