Amar'e Stoudemire has been in the NBA for nine-plus seasons.
But when he walked toward the scorer's table late in the first quarter on Tuesday, in some ways it felt like his first day in the league.
"I was extremely nervous; I had butterflies," Stoudemire said. "My heart was beating fast."
The Knicks' $100 million man, the only big-name free agent willing to come to New York in the summer of 2010, was greeted with a standing ovation.
"I almost shed a tear when I walked out on the court," he said. "I haven’t felt nothing quite like that before in my career."
Once he took the floor, Stoudemire looked exactly like a guy who hadn't played a game since early May, which was to be expected.
His timing was a bit off, his shot was a little shaky and his defense left something to be desired.
But the most important thing for Stoudemire, playing his first game this season since he underwent knee surgery on Oct. 31, is that he walked off the floor healthy.
"The guy’s been sitting out a while and you throw him in there and he’s excited to play," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said after Stoudemire scored six points, grabbed one rebound and had two blocks in 16:41 of the Knicks' loss to Portland. "He’ll be fine. We’ll get him back to the old Amar’e."
Stoudemire started off slow against the Blazers, missing his first five shots. He said it felt like the game was going "100 miles an hour" in the first half. Woodson pulled Stoudemire over to the sideline and spoke to him after he botched a few defensive assignments early on.
"It was great teaching on his part," the power forward said.
Stoudemire seemed to grow more comfortable in the second half, getting several opportunities as the screener on the Knicks' pick-and-roll.
He scored his first bucket with 3:11 to go in the third quarter, on a pick-and-roll feed from Carmelo Anthony.
"We expect that from him and we can't wait to see more of it," Smith said.
Prior to his return, many wondered how Stoudemire would fit in with the Knicks. For now, he will come off the bench, something he hadn't done in 417 games prior to Tuesday.
And he's OK with that.
"I don’t want to interrupt nothing [the Knicks have established]," Stoudemire said. "Those guys have been playing well all season. So however coach feels my role fits, that’s what I’m eager to play.
"If he needs me, I’m there."