My husband was told he’d have to have emergency colon cancer surgery. (How’s that for a lead.) My executive producer at MSG, and my Knicks game producer told me to take off as much time as I needed. As I talked to doctors and my husband’s family, we decided he’d have the surgery on October 27th, 2010, I would stay with him that night to make sure everything was okay, then, the morning of the 28th, I would take a 6 AM flight to Toronto, because, “I have to be at Amar’e's first game.”
On the 29th, I was back at my husband’s side after taking a 6 AM flight from Boston, back to New Jersey. Today, my cancer free husband and I joke about this all the time.
On February 10, 2015, the sun was shining in warm Orlando. At Knicks practice that morning, there was talk of going to Universal Studios, Epcot, sitting in the lazy river at the hotel pool. It sounded so good, after a 10-42 start, grueling schedule, and below freezing temperatures at home. But no … I had to get to Lake Wales, because “It could be my last shoot for Amar’e. I need to cover this before his last game.” I’m not always right. And hate that I was, February 10th.
We are supposed to be unbiased sports journalists. But, I’m a compassionate human too. And I like people. Good people. Oh, and news flash: I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was 12. I also know basketball pretty darn well for someone who hasn’t made a jumper since senior year gym class. Before watching thousands of NBA games in person from the court, I grew up in a family of basketball coaches. And every Friday night in the winters I was either watching my mom’s cousins coaching basketball games at the high school and college level, or cheering at a game. I never missed a home Maryland Terrapins women’s or men’s game in 4 years, and covered the Terps my junior and senior year. So no need to post on my social media about Amar’e's contract, or the fire hydrant, or the Boston post season back injury. I was under that back board when Amar’e slapped the glass, saw it happen, and watched him grab his back until the first free throw when he called out. And I saw his blood on the Knicks locker room floor in Miami, it was in 3D. And I’m well aware of the injuries, and post season record. I’ve reported on it ALL. But I will miss this man and his family tremendously. And haven’t stopped looking at photos I’ve collected.
My husband says to me, “He didn’t die, he went to a contender, you know the business of basketball better than anyone with all the moves you’ve covered … ” But this is different.
When I was interviewing “Duane from Lake Wales”, seventeen years old, 6’6″ and growing… I asked him, “What does it mean to you that Amar’e has refurbished this court, where you play basketball?” Duane took a deep breath. His eyes immediately glassed over. The linings got red. He could barely talk, saying, “He got out of here.” I assured him, it’s okay, “I know you’re emotional, why does Amar’e make you like this, how does he inspire you?” Duane took a moment and got out, “Because he proves, if you work hard, in school, in basketball, you can get out. He had it worse than me. He fixed this court for us now. It makes it easier for us. Even if I’m not in the NBA, I want to be like him.” Under my sun glasses, my eyes did the same. This is the Amar’e I know.
See, over the last 5 years, I’ve covered the ups and downs of the Knicks. Ups and downs of Amar’e Stoudemire. Asked the question, on July 5th, 2010, “Why are you wearing this Knicks hat, What do you have to say?” With a booming voice answering, “The Knicks are Back.”
I know Knicks fans know his story, numbers, surgeries all from there. And I saw it all.
Here’s what I also saw: a relentless competitor. A resilient athlete. A loving father. I watched Amar’e become a husband. And … let me into his life. In a candid interview in the fall of 2012, he really let me into the personal side. Always TV savvy, desiring some type of post basketball career in entertainment is inevitable … Amar’e and his PR group, assistant, agency, were extremely helpful in helping me put together, what we at MSG felt, was an important story, about Amar’e the person, and his “STAT fam”. Texting me photos from his private wedding in almost real time. Providing the only picture he has of his late father. And arranging a sit down with his wife, Alexis and kids!
Here’s the feature:
Whether it was our conversations on how much his 4th baby now weighs, or the latest movie to see, or what new bag I was carrying, or what he bought his wife for the holidays, or my shoes, or his hats … Amar’e is a fun, intelligent, positive person to talk to.
What I’ll miss most, is seeing him in the hotel gyms at 7 AM every road trip. The guy gave it 120%. His body may have betrayed him at times, but he never betrayed the process. “Tina, Tina! You getting at it this morning! Upper or lower body today?” Or … if he didn’t see me in the gym, “TINA! I didn’t see you in the work out room. You slacking?” He would check in on me when I was doing a vegan cleanse, and make sure I was doing similar recovery routines as he and his NBA counterparts when I was training for the marathon. He also kept me updated on his wife’s training the following year. “You runners are nuts,” he said on the team plane once.
It’s these little exchanges I’ll miss the most. Every exchange, a demonstration of his constant positvity and outlook on life. A life that had some very dark times.
On the professional side, he was always accessible as a Knicks player. He got us at MSG. Always giving me time, answering my questions, giving me nuggets even while running down a hall. Or around a corner where I couldn’t see him, but could hear his voice yelling back. Never saying no to a request. During the 2013-14 season, one of the Knicks PR officials and I always hoped Amar’e would have a good game on “Friday Night Knicks”. Why? He would start the on-court, walk-off interview with “Shabbat Shalom!” We got a kick out of that. Yet he truly meant it.
And, in an act, I’d like to think of as respect, with dozens of reporters standing around his locker after each game, as he would be finishing getting dressed, putting on one of his infamous hats, readying for the lights and cameras and questions, always saying first … “Tina, you ready?”
From a book I know Amar’e has read and studied, “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. I leave you, STAT with this quote:
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
I hope this new opportunity brings you the only thing you have ever strived for, since playing hoops on that ragged, gang surrounded court in Lake Wales, Florida during your youth … a Championship.