Nearly four months after his $100 million signing bolstered New York basketball hopes, Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire is ubiquitous in the world’s largest market.
He glares intensely from Knicks-sponsored billboards, tweets to his nearly 159,000 followers (Twitter handle: @amareisreal) and Facebook fans, boasts a top-10-selling jersey at the NBA Store and on NBAStore.com for the first time and, on Friday, reads the Top 10 list on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Instead of a former Cleveland Cavalier who once captured the city’s imagination, New York has Stoudemire, who toured Israel for a week during the offseason to explore his affinity for Jewish spirituality — before returning to a city with perhaps two million Jewish residents. New York’s would-be basketball savior is a 27-year-old pro who starred for eight years with the Phoenix Suns who is introducing himself strongly before his Knicks have even won two games.
“I think he has a real opportunity, if he wants it,” said David Schwab, vice president at Octagon, which helps brands figure out celebrity strategy. “His ceiling is whatever he makes it out to be.”
But Stoudemire said he wanted to at least securing the Knicks’ first playoff berth since 2004 before expecting to build a regional and national marketing brand on par with the Yankees’ Derek Jeter or the Giants’ Eli Manning.
“It’s really about if you’re successful on the basketball court in New York, then you’re going to become a local hero regardless,” said Stoudemire, who led the Knicks to a season-opening gut-check win at Toronto on Wednesday(he had 19 points and 10 rebounds) after averaging a league-best 25.7 points during six preseason games. “That’s where the focus lies.”
Added Stoudemire: “I’m pretty sure there’s a few sponsors out there that’s interested in doing business. ... I think that will all fall in place if we continue success. And that’s what we aim to do.”
In addition to his primary partnership with Nike — which co-sponsors Stoudemire’s eight traveling basketball teams in Florida, youth tournaments and basketball camps — Stoudemire and his agent are entertaining some new offers that neither would divulge.
“Not the norm, not the guy out there pitching a car,” said his agent, Happy Walters. “Maybe some off-brand things, or things that are a little bit left of center. … We’re building Amar’e’s brand.”
Stoudemire, Phoenix’s No. 9 pick of the 2002 NBA draft straight out of high school, is the most talented Knicks big man since Patrick Ewing. An occasional MVP candidate during years of playoff contention in Phoenix, he possesses an all-court power forward's game, with a work ethic that helped earn him a five-year deal despite post-operative leg and eye conditions that made his $99.7 million Knicks contract uninsurable.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who previously coached Stoudemire on contenders in Phoenix, called the five-time All-Star “better than ever” and deemed Stoudemire’s focus “incredibly good.” It’s not about putting up stats, Stoudemire emphasized, but “putting up the W’s.”
“We’re kind of taking it slowly,” said Walters, who acknowledged that Stoudemire is well-paid by the Knicks and does not need to chase opportunities for quick profit. (The Knicks are owned by MSG, a recent spin-off of Cablevision, which owns amNewYork and Newsday.) “Basketball is obviously his focus. He’s got to do well on the court.”