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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Amare Stoudemire's head games

By LZ Granderson
ESPN.com

Many of us agree that one of the best aspects of seeing the Miami Heat's run to the NBA title is that LeBron James finally got it.

We all knew he had what it took to be a champion physically, but he didn't always show it mentally, and sports at the highest level is always more mental than physical. Lots of athletes can make game-changing plays, but under pressure, few know what to do when.

Seeing a player of James' caliber make that leap is one of the more magical moments in sports, and I still have hope that a handful of other talented players will exhibit similar growth soon.

I'm looking at you, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and John Wall.

Amare' Stoudemire
Amare Stoudemire played the final two games of the playoffs with his left hand wrapped.

I also used to believe Amare Stoudemire was on the cusp of making that jump … but I am starting to lose faith.

He recently apologized for using an anti-gay slur in a tweet that was in response to a fan who was criticizing him. The NBA is currently investigating, and judging from history, he should expect a fine. Obviously, I am not happy that he used that word, but I was glad to see he quickly apologized.

Despite having a down season for the Knicks, Stoudemire remains one of the most popular players in the league and he has influence among young basketball fans. In fact, this week he is in Chicago working with up-and-coming big men to help them with their game.

Apologizing for the slur shows leadership. Using the slur in the first place shows a mistake in judgment. Using it on Twitter, after everything that's happened on that medium over the years, shows he still doesn't get it.

Consider that tweet next to the image of him punching his hand through a glass in April after a frustrating playoff loss to James' Heat: He may never get it.

We love to see our best athletes show emotion because it tells us they care as much as we, the fans, do. But emotion that hinders a player's or a team's success is counterproductive. Stoudemire, nine years into his NBA career, has yet to connect those dots.

I'll admit, I pull for the guy. When I look at his backstory -- his mother has been in jail multiple times on charges including drug possession and prostitution -- and I see the person he has become in spite of it, I am genuinely happy for him. Again, I am bothered that he used the slur, but I'm not going to allow that to entirely cloud the fact he's dedicated to helping underprivileged youth.

Because I pull for him, I watch him closely. And while his talent is undeniable, I am still waiting for the mental aspect of his game to catch up.

In 2007, he received a one-game suspension during the playoffs for stepping too far away from the Suns' bench after the Spurs' Robert Horry flagrantly fouled Stoudemire's then-teammate Steve Nash.

In a statement, Stoudemire said in part "… I should have had some more restraint …" That was more than five years ago. Now he misses another playoff game with a self-inflicted injury. Here we are in 2012 and some dude tweets something he takes offense to and again, Stoudemire is unable to show proper restraint.

A team needs its franchise player to show restraint in order to get to the next level. If athletic talent were all that was needed to win a ring, LeBron would have eight by now. It's the mental part of the game that separates All-Stars from Hall of Famers, legends … true champions.

I believe Stoudemire when he says he wants to bring New York back to glory, and he has the game to do it. But his actions in the past two months make me wonder whether he'll ever "get it," whether he'll make that championship dream come true.