by Adam Figman | @afigman

I first ran into Amar’e Stoudemire last September, when we spoke in a trailer on the set of an NBA on ESPN commercial. (You know, the one where STAT and Jeff Van Gundy switch places in the RV, and JVG has to awkwardly reposition the driver’s seat.) The Q+A was quick, but it wasn’t his answers that spoke the loudest, strange, or cliché, as it sounds. It was his demeanor. Sure, Amar’e was (and still is) in a position that many other NBAers are in—he has, in no particular order: millions of dollars stashed in the bank; millions of fans located all around the world; tons of global marketing power; an interesting backstory; and a heap of people curious about and privy to his every move, be it via Twitter, gossip sites, newspapers, magazines, and so forth.

But, when we first met in September—and still to this day—Amar’e Stoudemire had something else. He had an entire city on his back. (Yeah, now there’s some help. More on that in a bit.) The arrival of July 1, 2010, meant the Knickerbockers finally had a blank slate, and New Knicks Phase One was launched a week or so later, with Stoudemire’s signing. When he put on that forward-facing fitted and proclaimed “The Knicks are back!” in front of Madison Square Garden last July, it meant something special to every Knicks fan who spent the past decade forced to witness and/or read about the outrageous contracts, absurd general managers/team presidents, out of shape players, sexual assault cases, truck parties and much, much more. It meant that the grass on the other side actually was greener. After two years of clearing house and rebuilding, the Knicks could finally afford a superstar. And here he was on this autumn afternoon, seated comfortably on a soft couch in a high-tech trailer, playing Madden. Just chillin’, as if an entire fan base wasn’t impatiently waiting for him to single-handedly turn the team’s status around. Amar'e Stoudemire

It was that poise—evident in the way he answered questions, responded to criticism, and spoke about his past—that made it clear Amar’e’s time in New York would work out just fine. Let’s be real: A lot of other guys couldn’t handle it. They went elsewhere. STAT didn’t, and it wasn’t a coincidence. When we spoke in September, he brushed off talks of “pressure” like some light sweat off his goggles, and he did so once again when we caught up at the MSG Training Center in January for this cover story. He’s cool with the attention. The lights, the cameras, the action—all that. He figured he could use it as a jumping off point to begin the next stage of his career—his prime—and he was correct. He’d probably credit it all to his “immortal swag,” and confusing as that may be, it does sound about right.

So here we are. Almost eight months since he inked the deal, and nobody’s been disappointed. STAT’s scoring numbers are as high as they’ve ever been, he was (rightfully) voted to start in the All-Star Game, and he reconstructed the Knicks into a (to-be) Playoff contender. And he’s doing plenty off the court, too: writing an autobiography, hosting camps for the youth, guesting on radio and late-night shows, and gracing the pages of fashion and lifestyle magazines—and now, this one. (The last time a Knick was on SLAM’s cover? SLAM #36, almost 12 years ago!) The longer you speak with Amar’e—which I did, about all of this stuff, after our shoot—the more you realize that as much as Stoudemire has done for the city and people of New York, the city and people of New York have done equally for him.

And yeah, he’s got a new friend in town, and now the bring-the-’Bockers-back responsibilities are shared. It’d be safe to assume SLAM will give Mr. Anthony some print shine in due time. New Knicks Phase Two is underway, and like you, we’re eagerly anticipating watching this thing play out. But in the meantime, we’re showing some love to the dude who rode his confidence to the Big Apple, and who will still be counted on to bring the Knicks to the—well, peep the coverline!

“[Stoudemire] understands the big moment, and the stage,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said after a STAT-led Knicks victory in late January. “That’s why he came to New York—he has that quality that he’s not backing down for anything.”

(For more on this issue, check out Tzvi Twersky’s post, which includes a rundown of the other features in the mag and some background on the alternate cover story, starring rookie sensation Blake Griffin.)

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