Former NBA star Amare Stoudemire was granted Israeli citizenship in an official ceremony at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
The winner of the Rookie of the Year Award in 2003 proudly showed his new Israeli ID card in a ceremony attended by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Hapoel Jerusalem co-owner Eyal Chomsky, and Hapoel Jerusalem general manager Guy Harel.
Mayor Lion noted, "two weeks ago I hosted the Hapoel Jerusalem team in my office and told him the next time we meet, I hope he will have already become an Israeli citizen. Now here we are."
Deri said he was granted citizenship due to his “unique contributions” to Israeli society. Now, Deri said, “Amare will be Israel’s ambassador to the world.”
“It’s a very exciting moment for me. My body is flooded with emotions now, my love for Israel has been with me for many years, and being part of Israel is something very special,” Stoudemire said at the ceremony, the Hebrew language Ynet reported. “I would like to say thank you also to Hapoel Jerusalem for giving me the opportunity to play on the team and to help me in this process.”
Stoudemire has been playing professional basketball for the Hapoel Jerusalem team since 2016, though he left briefly in mid-2017 to try for a return to the NBA. He was granted residency rights in January. Having citizenship will free up one of the team’s few allowed slots for non-citizens in Israeli League competition.
בטקס מרגש הענקתי היום אזרחות ישראלית לשחקן הכדורסל של הפועל ירושלים, אמארה סטודמאייר, או בשמו העברי יהושפט. שחקן כדורסל גדול, איש נהדר, שגריר אדיר של מדינת ישראל ושל בירתנו ירושלים, שקשר את גורלו עם ישראל. מזל טוב יהושפט! pic.twitter.com/Mz4ovQwCHY— אריה מכלוף דרעי (@ariyederi) March 13, 2019
The 6-foot-10-inch American-born basketball star told The Jerusalem Post during a visit to Israel in 2010, "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." He added he was “so excited to be here,see all the important historical sites, learn Hebrew and to get a better understanding of my heritage." "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,” Stoudemire added.He told HBO sports reporter Jon Frankel at an event at Harvard University in April 2018 that he is “in the process” of converting to Judaism.He was granted the status of temporary resident in January.
Stoudemire played for the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns among other teams in a 16-year NBA career. He had to suspend his part ownership in Hapoel in order to play.Abe Selig and Uriel Sturm contributed to this report.