Originally published in SLAM 85
The 6th Man: The weekend before this issue was going to press, I called photographer Atiba Jefferson to talk about the cover shoot. Things had gone fine—if a bit quickly—despite the fact that Amare was battling flu-like symptoms (which have been about the only thing that’s even remotely slowed him down this season). What Atiba talked about the most was Amare’s popularity, especially among high-school ballers. He’d recently shot Cali prep forward Davon Jefferson (page 111), whose Laker-inspired high school jersey bears a No. 32. Atiba, a lifelong Laker fan, asked if it was in honor of Magic Johnson. “No,” Davon replied. “It’s for Amare.”
Truth is, Amare’s easy to like wherever you live and whoever you are. He fills stat sheets and highlight reels alike, smashing Steve Nash lobs down like he was Andy Roddick and sidestepping bigger centers like they were standing still. His Suns are reason enough to drop the $180 on LeaguePass. And while he’s not mentioned all that often in the whole high school to pro debate—the attention always seems to go to the OGs, the projects and LeBron—Stoudemire may have been the best-prepared of all his brethren, despite a stormy prep career.
But that’s the past, shelved alongside his 2003 Rookie of the Year trophy, and Amare’s future is shining brighter than his team’s namesake. At barely 22 and 6-10, he’s probably already the best “center” in the West, and the thoughts of an All-Star front line of him, KG and Tim Duncan should make the entire Eastern Conference consider skipping that mid-February trip to Denver—as well as next season’s trip to Houston, and wherever the game is for the next, say, five years. He’s a beast, and he’s just going to get better. You might want to get on the bandwagon now.
P.S. Initially, this space was gonna be used for some thoughts on the Malice at the Palace. But seeing that it’s so late, it seemed redundant. We’ll just sum it up like this, for fans and players: Don’t be stupid.