Dissecting Amar’e Stoudemire’s decision to join Maccabi Tel Aviv

Injury depleted Maccabi Tel Aviv thrilled to sign 37-year-old big man to dismay of Hapoel Jerusalem

IT WILL be a strange sight for Jerusalem hoops fans to see former player Amar’e Stoudemire donning the yellow-and-blue jersey of arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV/COURTESY)
IT WILL be a strange sight for Jerusalem hoops fans to see former player Amar’e Stoudemire donning the yellow-and-blue jersey of arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Amar’e Stoudemire has made the switch from red to yellow-and-blue.
The six-time NBA All-Star signed this week with Maccabi Tel Aviv after beginning the season in China. Last year, the player formally known as “STAT” (an acronym for “standing tall and talented”) featured for Hapoel Jerusalem and was granted Israeli citizenship by Interior Minister Arye Deri in March, making it seem as if the big man would never play for another team in the Holy Land.
However, as the season wound down the winds of change were blowing strong in Stoudemire’s thinking process as he told The Jerusalem Post after his final home game with Jerusalem at the Pais Arena in reference to an Instagram post, “It is what it is. Whatever I posted that’s what I was thinking. I was just reflecting on the great times I’ve had here in Jerusalem and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get a deal done with this team. But I’ll be playing for sure next year.”
That remark was followed up by asking the 37-year-old Stoudemire if would like to play in the Euroleague?
“It’s always about competing at a high level. There’s always minicamps in the NBA and there’s always Euroleague teams, there’s always high level basketball and to challenge myself to play at a high level is always the goal.”
Well, Amar’e will have the chance to play in the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv, something that Hapoel Jerusalem could never offer him. In fact, both Maccabi and Stoudemire have a lot to thank Jerusalem for as he headed down Highway 1 from the capital city to the beachfront.
Had Hapoel Jerusalem not been instrumental in helping Amar’e receive his Israeli citizenship last year, it would be very hard to believe that he would be a member of the yellow-and-blue right now. But with his Teudat Zehut – Israeli ID card – STAT becomes a perfect signing to help Maccabi due to the injuries that have riddled the squad.
Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos said that Tel Aviv decided to sign Stoudemire once it knew that Omri Casspi was going to have surgery and would be out for the remainder of the season. Add to that the injuries to Nate Wolters, John Dibartolomeo, Yovel Zoosman and Tarik Black, and Maccabi had to make a move in one direction or the other.
Bringing in Amar’e, who also goes by the Hebrew name Yehoshaphat, opens up the possibility that American guard Aaron Jackson will be registered for the Israeli league which would use up the team’s eighth foreigner slot. Sfairopoulos said that the club would only decide on the last import after the derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv, which is slated for Sunday.
STAT fills a huge hole for Maccabi and his addition will also give his new teammates – including 2020 NBA lottery prospect Deni Avdija – and the fans a big boost as they head into the stretch run of the Euroleague regular season sporting a 14-6 record with 14 continental games to go. He also provides relief in the Israeli Winner League with the yellow-and-blue stretching its roster thinner than thin but somehow being able to keep a perfect 15-0 record thus far.
Stoudemire had said in the past that he would never play for another team other than Jerusalem in Israel, but that is now by the wayside as Maccabi can offer a lot more to an aging Amar’e – namely, the chance to play at the highest possible level, the Euroleague, after not securing an NBA contract.
There is still the issue of Stoudemire’s ownership shares at Hapoel Jerusalem, but as of now that shouldn’t stop him for playing for another team. The Reds fans are more than disappointed with Amar’e’s decision and management must be stunned and shocked to learn that he will now play for the Reds’ arch-rival after everything that they had done for him during his time with Jerusalem, and there was plenty.
Whether it was the favorable practice schedule, the chance to travel aboard during the season, being able to sit and learn in yeshiva or just sit down at a local cafe, the capital city squad bent over backwards to satisfy Stoudemire. However, the Euroleague would still not be an option should he have stayed or returned to Israel to play with the Reds. Now he has that chance and the opportunity to do something unique with what is turning out to be a very special Maccabi team.
Amar’e won’t be offered the same situation he had from a personal point of view with the yellow-and-blue, but he will be playing in what is the closest thing to an NBA environment, something that he had so badly wanted.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the Jerusalem fans will react when the Reds welcome Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Pais Arena in March and I’m sure there will be plenty of catcalls and boos from the Hapoel faithful. Do they have the right? Yes, no question. They can be upset, feel betrayed and just be downright angry as they see STAT in the yellow-and-blue uniform. However, they also have to realize that Stoudemire is arguably the most famous basketball player to grace the courts in Israel and he did help Jerusalem win a league title and for that they must be thankful.
There will be indeed mixed emotions from the fan base, but as Stoudemire said this week, “it’s just business.”
Following Stoudemire’s final Jerusalem home game last season, Hapoel star James Feldeine was asked what he thought of the situation.
“Hopefully he stays. It’s a decision he has to make and I’m sure the club wants him to stay. I’m going to be here next season and I want to play another year with him. Everybody knows we want him back, but he’s a little older and it’s not easy to be without his family here. And now he is Israeli so he can help us out in both leagues.”
Well, Feldeine will now have to face Amar’e on the hardwood as an opponent and not as a teammate. Plus, as Feldeine correctly pointed out, STAT will be able to help a team in both the domestic league and in Europe. But that will be with Maccabi and not Jerusalem.
It has shaped up as a very interesting situation indeed. But then, when dealing with a one-of-a-kind personality like Amar’e Stoudemire, how could it not?
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com.