Amar’e Stoudemire adds a sense of grace to an otherwise violent low-post game these days, an unexpected elegance especially noticeable considering the commanding physical frame with which he punishes his defenders and creates his own space.
His shoulders, like battering rams, pound through unassuming opponents while the rest of his body pounces, springs and leaps like a fawn. To himself and those around him, he is an anomaly; a walking, breathing, bouncing oxymoron. He’s like this for a reason.
Simultaneously imposing and frail, dominant and subdued, the 28-year-old forward surveys his path to the rim, like both a man in his prime and an elder reliving it.
It’s no secret what weighs on his mind as he throws his bulk, navigates the paint and jumps to the net, but the eight-year vet who feeds on crushed souls has stood true time after time and refused to let one teeny little catastrophe ruin his career.
From his 2002 debut until injury struck, Stoudemire thrived on the outer limits of the laws of physics; he took gravity and mortal limitations to new heights, made mockeries of both and tossed them aside. But in 2005 the majestic fell, like a modern day Hindenburg with questionable knees.
Suddenly, through months of intense rehabilitation, the 23-year-old sympathy case’s commitment to excellence was tested. Though it took years of adjustments and learning to work with new legs, he eventually excelled after undergoing microfracture surgery.
The sheer breadth of his skills, no longer just physical, evolved over the course of his injury as the gift of athleticism was plucked from his grasp. He was a different player when he returned to the court, older for obvious reasons, but wiser for one; as the elasticity in his new-found cartilage expanded, so too did the depth of his knowledge.
It’s 2011 now, and Stoudemire is as lethal as ever, but not in the sense that he was in his prime. Where once a young man soared up and over his challengers, this humbled new version has no such desire.
Nowadays he might not rely on sheer athleticism to create his points, but that’s not to say that those points don’t get created. Like a calculated cyborg, both physical and cautious, Stoudemire has familiarized himself with his own limitations.
The bulk is there, the grit is there, and one quickly realizes that the strength never left, but his highlights have changed, and he’s mellowed with age. As a result of the transformation, his ability to lead an NBA team has never been more obvious.
Seeing a reserved Amar’e Stoudemire is unfamiliar enough – let alone one walking around the court in a New York Knicks jersey – but the combination of events that have led to the present are what salvaged the remains of a once downward spiralling career.
Who would have thought that – in the wake of the Phoenix Suns’ implosion and a notoriously devastating knee injury – the cast aside ex-highlight reel who always played second banana to Steve Nash would be vying for MVP as the leader of a franchise that hasn’t been taken seriously since the 20th century?
Come to think of it, who would have thought he’d ever even bounce back from his surgery in the first place?