Retired NBA Star Amar’e Stoudemire Shares His Journey to Judaism in HBO Series
Former NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire opened up about his spiritual journey to becoming an Orthodox Jew in a new episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that aired Tuesday night.
“Its been a quest of searching for emet, searching for the truth. I’m for sure a different person than I was before,” said Stoudemire, who played in the NBA for 14 years. “It’s very intense, you’re leaving your old way of thinking, you’re leaving your old way of action to a new concept.”
Stoudemire’s father died when he was young. When he was a teenager, his mother, before she was incarcerated for felony grand theft, claimed that they were from “the lost tribes of Israel” — a reference to an African Hebrew Israelite group. Her comment piqued Stoudemire’s interest in learning more about his roots.
Stoudemire was drafted into the NBA by the Phoenix Suns shortly afterwards, and shared in Tuesday night’s episode that even during his early years in the NBA, he would seek library books that could teach him more about his Israelite ancestry. He kept the information a secret for about eight years.
His search ultimately led him to visit Israel, where he appeared on local television and revealed his connection to Judaism for the first time. He eventually retired from the New York Knicks and moved to the Jewish state. From 2016 to 2019, he played for the Israeli basketball team Hapoel Jerusalem, leading them to a championship, and later for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“This is the place that I can make home because it allows me to be myself,” he said of Israel. “I can learn Torah on a consistent basis, I can keep Shabbat normally, [and] I can live in a space where I don’t feel like an outsider.”
He also spoke of his experience studying in a yeshiva, or religious seminary for men, saying, “You have this 6’10” African American guy with dreadlocks in a yeshiva with a lot of Ashkenazi Eastern European Jews. It’s very intimidating. Most of the rabbis are not smiling, their beard is probably down to mid-chest and they’re looking at you like, ‘Are you serious or not?'”
After two years of studies in Israel, he made a formal conversion to Judaism. “I felt like: mission complete,” he said about the accomplishment.
Stoudemire now lives in New York, where he serves on the coaching staff of the Brooklyn Nets, and maintains a modern Orthodox lifestyle. Tuesday night’s episode showed him praying during morning services in an Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn and dining at a kosher restaurant. Viewers were also given a glimpse inside his New York home, which was decorated with Judaica, and saw the sukkah that he constructed on his balcony for the holiday of Sukkot.
Speaking of raising his children to adhere to the foundations of Judaism, Stoudemire explained, “I don’t want them to feel that it’s super strict. You can still feel faithful and live a normal life. I want them to feel free and happy about believing in God,” he said. “I can be religious and focus on God and still be a cool guy.”
Stoudemire later shared that what he values most transcends his physical possessions.
“Yes, it’s cool to have nice stuff and yes, it’s all vanity. But at the same time, when it’s all said and done, when that casket drops six feet, all you got is what you’ve learned.”