Have you seen the Heat lately? They've climbed the Eastern Conference standings over the past few weeks, and they are playing as well as anyone in the league right now. Of the most successful lineups in the NBA since the All-Star Break, two of the top five belong to Miami. One features younger stars like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Hassan Whiteside. And the other is a crew of veterans—Stoudemire, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, and the newly-signed Joe Johnson—all of whom were supposed to be washed up as recently as December.
It's a pretty fun mix. I was among the many who doubted the Heat before the season, but with a combination of young players exceeding expectations and veterans refusing to disappear, things are clicking right now.
Amar'e Stoudemire, now starting at center and baffling observers with his production, is as good of a symbol as any for what's happened with this Heat season. He's had knee injuries and countless surgeries that have derailed the second half of his career, but with Miami he's found a veteran role that fits him perfectly. He's one reason the Heat have been able to win without Chris Bosh, and he's helped tutor some of the younger players who've made this team dangerous.
We caught up with Amar'e earlier this week, on a plane to New Orleans. That night, he had 16 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. That afternoon, we talked about the Heat's chemistry, Suns memories, art in Miami, Trainwreck and more.
Andrew Sharp: One of the best parts about watching the Heat recently has been seeing you pop up down there. After everything you've been through, it looks like you're in a good place in Miami. Are you at peace with how all this has played out?
Amar'e Stoudemire: "Yeah, you know what? It's been a great transition for me. Playing in Miami. We got great guys, they make the game so much easier. It's so much fun to be around these guys. I mean, to play with a team that has a chance to compete for a title, as a player that's what you want. It brings out the best of your ability. Your preparation has to be sharp, and that's what you want as a veteran. To be back in that fold again."
AS: And you're starting now! You're really back in the mix. Did you have any idea you'd have this big of a role?
Amar'e: "I didn't know what to expect. I knew we had a chance to compete in the playoffs, but this season has been kind of up and down for us. Now we've been able to build a good rapport, and my role has become the starting center. I just bring that experience, and it's panned out well for me."
AS: So, you go back to Phoenix with Joe Johnson. Did you have a role in recruiting him a few weeks back?
Amar'e: "Joe and I have always been good friends. We lost communication briefly over the years, him in Brooklyn and me in New York, but we always kept a solid rapport. When I heard we had the chance to get him, I immediately reached out. Saying this organization is great, I'd love to play with him again... I'm sure it was a tough decision for him at one point. But I'm glad he made the right decision."
AS: Were you selling him on the Miami lifestyle?
Amar'e: "Yeah, it's a good life here when you're winning. I think that made it easier for him. Not only are we in Miami, but we're also a winning team with a chance to compete for a title."
AS: So now Miami has you, Wade, Joe Johnson... Chris Bosh when he comes back. Do you feel like there's an old guy bond with all the veterans still doing it down there?
Amar'e: "Yeah, we have a nice sneakiness as a team. Great veterans. We got great leadership, with me, Chris, Dwyane, now Joe... And then we got some great young guys as well. Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson... We got guys who are willing to accept our leadership and put in the work."
AS: What about Hassan Whiteside? How much time do you spend working with him?
Amar’e: "With Hassan, it's about keeping him locked in. Making sure he understands the importance of details with the game of basketball. Fundamentals carry you a long way. Once you learn the details—the small things that add up to become big for us—that's gonna elevate his game even more. That's what we've been talking about with him all year. He's had a really good season, and we're ready to progress through the rest of the year."
AS: Do you draw on any of your own experience, learning the game your first few years in Phoenix?
Amar’e: "Yeah, I give him little words of advice as games go on and practices goes on. But I was an 18-year-old rookie Phoenix. Hassan is 27. He's ready to take that next step and dominate. I think the time is now."
AS: So speaking of the Suns... Everyone talks about how Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni helped revolutionize the NBA and create the offenses we see now, especially with the Warriors. But do you feel like people sometimes forget how dominant you were in some of those years?
Amar’e: "You know what? I do. A lot of people have forgotten how dominant I was. We created this new type of basketball that Golden State's playing. When you have dynamic point guard like Steve and a finisher like myself, it makes the game so much easier. But I do think that a lot of people have forgotten how dominant I was."
AS: Yeah, I was looking at your playoff numbers earlier... You were averaging 25 and 12 in 2007... You put up 38 and 12 on Tim Duncan in Game 6 of that Spurs series... How often do you go back to that series?
Amar’e: "Well, there's been a few Spurs series. The one that you're speaking of... you know, I always went into every game trying to apply my dominance. Every game. When the playoffs came around, that team, the Spurs, seemed to bring out the best in me. I was able to maximize my potential."
AS: Do you ever let yourself think about what that series would've been like if you hadn't been suspended?
Amar’e: "Yeah, well it wasn't just me who was suspended, it was also Boris Diaw, who'd played a big role in our whole season. It was tough for the NBA to make that call."
AS: It was real questionable.
Amar’e: "Yeah, it was very questionable. But you know, we haven't seen it again since. So I'm sure the NBA logic rests on that, as far as players and coaches."
AS: Alright, happier memories. What's your favorite dunk from those early years in Phoenix?
Amar’e: "Oh man, there's so many [laughs]. I was sitting on the plane with the [young guys]—myself, Hassan, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow—and we were all sitting down looking at the old highlights. I guess it was a video with the top 200 dunks of my career.
"It was one of those moments... They were simply amazed by what I was doing on the basketball court. There were so many dunks, it's hard to choose just one."
AS: Yeah, I mean not many people have a top 200 dunk mix. Given all that, is it strange to now turn into this crafty veteran, next to athletes like Justise Winslow?
Amar'e: "No no... That's how it is. You can't rely on athletic ability your whole career. When you're young, take advantage of it. When you get older, you gotta elevate your game. Transform, become more efficient, more effective. That's what I've been able to accomplish."
AS: How good do you think Justise can be?
Amar'e: "As you continue to learn the game of basketball and have a great work ethic, the sky is always the limit. For him, he has an edge. He's already a really good defensive player. As he builds on that, his offensive game is going to expand. He can be really good in this league, for years."
AS: What's your favorite thing to do off the court in Miami?
Amar'e: "I enjoy going to different art galleries. Little Haiti's also another great place. I also enjoy going to the movies, casual dinner. But also spending time with my children, taking them to sporting events, and kind of giving them the rules to the game."
AS: Do all you veterans hang out away from the team?
Amar'e: "We do. We go out to dinner together as a family (laughs). But we leave the children at home for those types of outings. On the road, it's nice to go out as a team. And in Miami, the Heat do a great job organizing different family events, and that's when everyone gets a chance to hang out with each other's children."
AS: Some of you guys have some shared interests, right? With fashion, art...
Amar'e: "I talk fashion with Dwyane. I've been talking art with all the guys. Just trying to get them more involved. It's a work in progress, but they're starting to come around."
AS: So you're schooling the young guys on the art world?
Amar'e: "I am, actually. Justise has an open mind about all this, which is great to see. We'll discuss different pieces that we see on the Internet, and on social media. I'll send him different pieces I see that he may be interested in. Just trying to expand his mindset on what's nice, so he can develop a taste..."
AS: And you're trying to teach kids too, right? You guys had another event after the Cavs game?
Amar'e: "Yeah, it's with my collection, which is the Melech Collection. We present this series called "In The Paint", and it's for children. It's for the community. We team up with the artists, we travel to their city, and we set up an activation at a community center or school. We bring in local children, we set up three canvases for them to paint on, and we set up a basketball installation as well. After that, my foundation presents a check to the school, or community center, and we go from there."
AS: That sounds really cool. How did you get started with that?
Amar'e: "I'm an avid collector myself. I wanted to create something that would express my two passions, basketball and art, and also educate the community and the next generation on different ways to be successful. I wanted to give them a different look. Most kids in impoverished areas just want to become a basketball player, or use sports. Or become an actor or rapper. You can be a basketball player, or you can look at the artist right in front of them and say 'Hey, you can be an artist. You can be successful in many different things.'"
AS: And Miami is a great city for art, in general. Did you make it to Art Basel?
Amar'e: "Oh man, Art Basel was phenomenal. I spoke on a panel for Surface magazine at the W Hotel in South Beach. I also held a dinner with Bloomberg. In between all that, I was traveling to a bunch of different fairs. I saw too many good exhibits. I went to the Scope Exhibit, which was fun to watch. There's a lot of great, great work in the Scope Fair. I also went to No Commission. A close friend of mine, Kasseem, or Swizz Beatz... He curated this No Commission fair, which was really cool."
AS: And then you have acting, too. You were in Trainwreck this summer. What was that set like?
Amar'e: "I've been acting for quite some time. I produced a few films, some documentaries. I truly enjoy acting. There's so many different angles. It takes quite some time to get it all figured out. It's a lot of work. My biggest role was Trainwreck. It was a very, very funny film. Judd Apatow's a great director. Shooting with him was phenomenal. So was Bill Hader. My scene was the hospital scene, where [Hader] comes in for surgery all out of it, and I'm like, "This is not a good idea." I was laughing the entire on time on set."
AS: So will we get some more acting soon?
Amar'e: "I have a few scripts in front of me right now, stuff that I'm reading through. There should be more opportunities for sure."
AS: OK, back to the Heat at the end here. Did you have any idea that Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson could be this valuable for you guys?
Amar'e: "To start the year, I really didn't know what to expect. I wasn't really familiar with their games at all. But I'm watching their progress, and it shows you. If you come in with the right attitude, and take a positive mindset to work, you can become a major factor."
AS: Do you think some of the younger guys have learned from watching guys like Wade, and Chris, and you? Is that your role?
Amar'e: "Absolutely. Our role is to get us off to a good start. Get us in the flow offensively. Set the tone defensively. And then let the young guys step in and take it from there."
AS: Yeah, the other day I was looking at the most successful lineups since the All-Star Break. You guys have two completely different lineups that are in the top 5. Can you feel things clicking more now than they were earlier in the year?
Amar'e: "We're on a good pace right now. We're playing great defensively, which is what we hang our hat on. I truly feel like we're playing with high confidence. We feel like we've got a great opportunity to a be a special team."
AS: And you guys went out and beat the Cavs on Saturday. How much fun would that playoff series be?
Amar'e: "Remarkable. LeBron and the Heat playing against each other in the postseason... That would be historic."
AS: Is that something you guys talk about? Taking down Cleveland? Is the Finals the goal now?
Amar'e: "You never know how it will unfold. We haven't gotten that far yet, we're taking it one game at a time. We're just trying to win, move up in the standings, and we'll take it from there."
AS: That's a good veteran answer.