By Steven Scheer
(Reuters) – Veteran basketball standout Amar’e Stoudemire on Monday said he turned down offers to continue playing in the NBA and decided to follow his “Hebraic roots” and play in Israel for Hapoel Jerusalem.
A former first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns and six-time All Star, Stoudemire, 33, last week called time on his NBA career and signed a two-year contact with Jerusalem, saying he wanted to lead rather than come off the bench.
“I felt like I didn’t want to just wait around and be the last guy on the roster, I don’t want to end my career that way,” Stoudemire told Reuters.
“I want to end my career on a good, healthy note so that’s when I decided to retire (from the National Basketball Association),” he said after a news conference with Israeli media in Jerusalem.
The 6-foot-11 (2.11 meter) Stoudemire said three NBA teams, whom he did not name, discussed contracts but he “didn’t want to play for a team that didn’t have a chance for a title.”
Playoff contenders overlooked him after a season with Miami where he started most of the Heat’s final 40 games, he added.
Stoudemire, who averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a game in his NBA career with the Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Heat and was hampered by injuries in recent years, called Jerusalem his favorite city in the world because of its ancient history.
“Now, to be able to continue to play the game of basketball in Jerusalem is an opportunity that can only happen once in someone’s lifetime,” said Stoudemire, who a few years ago discovered he had maternal Jewish roots.
Last season, Hapoel Jerusalem failed to retain the league title it had won for the first time a season earlier and was knocked out early in European club competition. Stoudemire, who had owned a stake in the team, said his goal was to win both.
“I don’t play for fun,” he said. “I play because I want to win.”
In the past week, Jerusalem’s season ticket sales have jumped. His entry is sure to inject more energy to the league, which in the past has been dominated by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Stoudemire admitted it will be an adjustment playing in Israel and Europe just as it was coming out of high school to play in Phoenix. “But I want to make sure that I am going to play here while I still have good health,” he said.