You see him on the court for a few minutes each half and if you see him again, it’s only because you’re staring at the sideline, at him clapping, counseling, stretching. What goes unseen is all the work that goes into those spare minutes, all that goes into Amar’e Stoudemire still being available for a meaningful NBA role, which is one of the unsung success stories of this Heat season.
Consider that, in Miami’s 107-89 win against the Detroit Pistons, the 33-year-old Stoudemire made his 34th consecutive start, a role he was given in the absence of franchise fulcrum Chris Bosh, with his continuing competence allowing Hassan Whiteside to blossom in an expanded reserve role.
Stoudemire had just four points and four rebounds in just 14 minutes, eight to open the first half and six to open the second. But the man that teammates still call Stat, and who averaged at least 20.4 points in seven different seasons, doesn’t define himself by numbers anymore. He insists he can give more if needed, and cites his double-doubles in Whiteside’s injury-related absence as evidence.
“That’s still me, if that’s my role,” Stoudemire said. “But being in the starting lineup, my job is not to score, it’s to defend. So, not be concerned with putting up points. My job is to box out guys like [Andre] Drummond, keep him off the boards, and let guys like Lu [Deng] or whoever else get those rebounds..”
Which he did, until Whiteside relieved him, with Drummond not dominating as in prior outings against the Heat. Stoudemire’s defense has been a pleasant surprise, after it’s been disparaged or discounted during his career; his defensive rating of 101.9 since the All-Star break is third on the Heat behind only Justise Winslow and Whiteside.
He’s particularly pleased whenever this gets any notice, because “I really put a lot of effort into it this season, watching, studying, talking to coach, talking to my teammates about coverages, and studying them also.”
But when the work — on both ends of the court — ends for Stoudemire during a game, the more crucial work begins. Any athlete’s body would ache after 14 seasons, but Stoudemire’s has endured more than most, especially his knees. So, it’s common to see him connecting with a member of the Heat training staff, and then heading off somewhere else to sweat. Late Tuesday, he had to be talked out of extra cardiovascular work, told to rest and recover until the morning.
Even when the Heat, officially, has a day off, he doesn’t.
“There’s never a day I don’t do anything,” Stoudemire said. “There’s always something.”
It could be icing, or swimming, or massage.
“It’s a lifestyle at this point,” he said.
This began after he underwent the dreaded microfracture knee surgery, way back in 2005, when he was at his athletic peak.
Stoudemire can’t believe how long it’s been.
“Man … the last man standing,” he said. “A lot of guys didn’t come back from it.”
He mentions Chris Webber, Jamal Mashburn, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady.
“Guys never fully recovered from microfracture,” he said. “I persevered.”
That, he believes, may now be his legacy, more so than the six All-Star appearances.
“An example of how to persevere,” he said. “The resilience of a never give-up type of mind set. The will to work and embrace working.”
He credits more than will. He credits his willingness, starting around 2007, to accept trainers’ advice, in terms of how to work, how to push through fatigue, how to properly recover. “That is the hardest part but I think that’s what got me over the hump,” Stoudemire said. “And now it’s like, I love to work. I don’t mind coming in and doing the work. I tend to overwork now.”
He’s not over basketball, even after all the adversity, even with his role reduced, and even though he doesn’t necessarily need it. Like Bosh, Stoudemire has endless curiosity, and has accumulated an impressive portfolio of post-career opportunities. He mentions film, art dealing, living abroad and farming (“I love to live off the land, I love natural living”) as appealing post-career options. Still, he’s not ready for that career to end, nor to leave the Heat; he hopes to return after becoming a free agent this summer.
“This is a game I grew up playing, and I love, and still have a passion to try to improve and try to get better,” he said. “I don’t think that ever gets old. Dr. Naismith created something that is a blessing to all of us who play. It’s a team sport and you learn so much from it, you build so much camaraderie, you cancel out racism, you collaborate with so many different cultures. This game is a beautiful game, and you get a chance to really enjoy everyone on your team.”
And enjoy every minute.
Thursday: Bulls at Heat
When/where: 8 p.m. American Airlines Arena.
TV/radio: TNT, Fox Sports Sun; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 Spanish.
Series: Bulls lead 55-45.
Scouting report: The Heat routed the Bulls in the last meeting, setting a franchise record for shooting percentage, and Chicago hasn't played much better since. The Bulls desperately need a win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. Hassan Whiteside is questionable with a thigh bruise.