Amare Stoudemire is talking at some length about what he has doing in Israel.
I salute his boldness.
He's someone who makes his money from being a warrior -- a tough guy who does not traffic in half-measures -- and yet is willing to expose himself as something of a wanderer -- a young person in seek of meaning, and open-minded about where to find it.
He has a yarmulke, he has a star of David tattoo, and when asked if he's Jewish, he has this answer: "Through history, I think we all are. It's a beautiful culture, it's the original culture. From a spirituality standpoint, this is where it all started. I feel blessed to be able to come to this understanding at a young age."
He says he'll recognize the Jewish holy days in his own life, and will even fast when called for, unless he has a game that day. He's not saying he is Jewish, exactly -- but he's walking right up to that line.
"One thing I wanted to do was try to find my original culture," he tells Sport5. "I'm very spiritual. This trip helped me a lot. ... I knew my personal history. I knew it began here. It was a great opportunity for me to travel and learn this culture so I can now apply that to my everyday lifestyle."
The best basketball players really don't get much of a chance to explore their own personalities without public ridicule. I was lucky enough to spend several months of my teenage years, as part of a college semester abroad, living with Tibetans and learning about Buddhism, for instance. Changed my life. When Stoudemire was a teenager he had no such chance to reinvent himself on the road, surrounded by loved ones. He was surrounded by a pack of reporters (I know, I was one of them) asking him whether or not he thought he could guard Shaquille O'Neal. In that setting, you're not supposed to be wishy washy about your feelings and interests, or to explore your own emotions and feelings.
And yet he had the urge to do that kind of thing. So he's doing it now. Good for him. I wonder if any NBA player is having a more meaningful summer.
There's a good chance it'll play really well in New York too. My friend Randy is both Jewish and a Knicks' season ticket holder. I asked for his reaction to the video above: "At this point," he replies, "we’re counting him as the world’s biggest Jew, and calling it a day."
So, it's a happy thing. Stoudemire gets to explore, a chunk of his fans get to feel closer to him.
Maybe I'm being a jerk for even bringing this up.
I just really hope Stoudemire isn't playing around. Not that I suspect he's being the slightest bit insincere, but when I hope he's not going to cycle too quickly through this passion and on to the next, and the next after that. On the topic of faith, people take things pretty seriously! If, in a few months, we learn Stoudemire's greatest passion is no longer Judaism but is instead motorcycle racing or opera then he'll score points as a worldly dude, but he may also bruise some feelings among those who were excited to observe the high holy days with the Knicks' power forward.
And I only bring this up because Stoudemire has a track record of being a little loose about how and what he gets into. For instance, there's a broadway show called Rock of Ages which celebrates songs like "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." That's not news, but for some time various people in basketball have been telling me that they went to see that show because they got tickets from that show's producer, who happens to be sports agent Happy Walters. Walters is a huge name in the music world, and it's pretty common knowledge that that's Walters' show.
Walters represents Amare, so on July 3 when Stoudemire visited New York, it was no big surprise to see Stoudemire tweet: "Just touched down in NY, going to a Broadway Show tonight. Rock of Ages. It's going to be great. What else is good this evening?"
A few hours later he wrote: "The Rock of Ages Show is Great. I'm a Producer of this musical. Look forward to the traveling show on Sept 15th. This is 1 of my Projects."
That's a musical celebrating an era of rock from shortly before Stoudemire was born. It's one of his projects? I'm told he is a significant investor, but is this really one of his great passions? Isn't it really a Walters project, that's convenient and friendly and possibly a moneymaker for Stoudemire's camp?
Similarly, Stoudemire's Twitter feed has been rich with flurries of links to this or that energy drink he seems to be working with, or some way to get tickets to sold out basketball games through his preferred partner. Then there was his fascination with Sun Tzu.
I'm having a hard time trusting Stoudemire to tell me the difference between his passing fancies and his life passions. They all sound similar out of his mouth.
Is his commitment to Judaism more or less meaningful than his impassioned tweet about Jesus Christ a few weeks ago?
I'm specifically not saying Stoudemire is dabbling with Judaism as a business ploy. I am saying that, Stoudemire is lucky enough to have the time and resources to get into just about anything, and he avails himself of that, which is what he should do. But along the way, especially by sitting down for interviews like the one above, he sends messages that he's really passionate about 80s hair rock, or a certain way to buy tickets. And when he's saying that, is he speaking from the heart in a way that endures?
It didn't matter before, but when the topic is religion, it's almost like when the topic is marriage -- it's not nice to coy.
And on that front, I'm thrilled that he's open-minded and exploring, and not at all sure whether this is a conversion or a passing fancy. I won't be surprised if it's the latter.
One of the demonstrations of Stoudemire's commitment to Israel is his budding relationship with Israeli Sacramento King Omri Casspi. But in the video above, Stoudemire calls him "Omar" every time.