Amar’e Stoudemire on Tuesday announced his return to Israeli basketball, and roiled many of his fans in the Jewish state by signing with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the arch-rival of the club he formerly played for and still part-owns, Hapoel Jerusalem.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s perennial top team, announced that Stoudemire had been signed through the end of the season and will make some $55,000 per month.
The former NBA All-Star, who in recent years has began the process of converting to Judaism, acquired Israeli citizenship and adopted the Hebrew name Jehoshaphat, will be able to play for Maccabi as an Israeli player.
“I am very humbled for the opportunity, happy to be in Israel, the place that I love,” Stoudemire said in a statement posted on Maccabi’s website. “I have a chance to play in the highest level in Europe, which is a dream come true.”
“We are very pleased that Amar’e Stoudemire will wear the ‘heavy’ jersey of Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv,” said coach Giannis Sfairopoulos. “He is coming to help his new teammates and the team in the Israeli league and in the Euroleague. I want to welcome him to our team and in the Maccabi family.”
Maccabi is currently first in the Israeli league and has had a very successful season so far in the Euroleague, but several key players, including former NBA player Omri Casspi, are currently suffering from injuries.
Stoudemire signed a deal in October to play for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association, but left after just two months and 11 games and returned to the United States, from where he is now headed back to Israel.
However, many of his fans in Israel were outraged at the news. Stoudemire played several seasons for Hapoel Jerusalem, Israel’s second-best club, which has had an intense decades-long rivalry with Maccabi. He had been one of the most beloved players in Hapoel, won the Israeli championship with it, acquired Israeli citizenship thanks to its efforts, and promised that “the only team on earth” he would play for was Hapoel.
And remarkably, Stoudemire is still one of the owners of Hapoel, controlling 5 percent of its shares.
— Yiftach Samuel (@yiftachsam) January 22, 2020
“This is absurd,” a source in Hapoel was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site. “There was always talk about this but we didn’t believe it would happen.”
“The owner of Hapoel Jerusalem signs with Maccabi and says it is a dream come true. I’m sorry but there is no club as lame as Hapoel,” said Twitter user Avihay Halak in Hebrew.
“Welcome Amar’e, as far as I’m concerned don’t play for a second, this is still the trolling of the century,” tweeted Zohar Israel.
Another user called the move “the betrayal of the century.”
Journalist Akiva Novick tweeted that Stoudemire had committed an act of betrayal worthy of MK Gadi Yevarkan, who recently defected from the centrist Blue and White party to its main rival in the upcoming Knesset election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Stoudemire played for the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns among other teams in a 16-year NBA career.
He played for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016 and 2017 and returned for the 2018-19 season, during which time he was granted Israeli citizenship.
Stoudemire identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites, and observes Jewish holidays.