By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
The Knicks headed into the summer of 2010 -- perhaps the most anticipated free agency period in NBA history -- looking for a face of their franchise. They'managed the salary cap to position themselves to pursue the big names that were scheduled to hit the free agent market, headlined by the likes of LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade.
When all the chaos had come to a close, the Knicks had nabbed superstar big man Amar'e Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns.
Exactly three years ago today, on July 8, 2010, STAT was officially introduced as a Knick at Madison Square Garden. Holding up his No. 1 jersey with a smile as wide as a city street, Stoudemire eagerly stepped into a leadership role the Knicks had been searching for since Patrick Ewing.
"It's the start of a new era," Stoudemire told reporters at his introductory press conference. Once he had properly adjusted the orange and blue hat embroidered with a bold "NYK" on the front, he continued: "The Knicks are back."
STAT wasted no time proving he could handle the bright lights of Broadway, averaging 23 points and 9 rebounds in October and November of that first year. At the tail end of his second month as a Knick, Stoudemire began a streak of nine consecutive 30+ point performances, breaking the Knicks franchise record set by Willie Nauls in 1962. By the time he was announced as a starting forward for the Eastern Conference All-Star team -- a game in which he'd score 29 points in 28 minutes -- STAT was hearing "MVP" chants at the Garden on a nightly basis.
The addition of a consistent outside jumper (he shot 44% on the year from 10+ feet out) to go along with his unrelenting inside dominance (63% shooting at the rim) made STAT one of the toughest players to defend in the league. It also enabled him to become the first Knick since Ewing (in 1992-93) to capture two Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards.
The Knicks were 28-26 and sixth in the Eastern Conference when they traded for Carmelo Anthony in late February, and would finish the season in that same playoff spot with a record of 42-40. In his first season as a Knickerbocker, Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points (tied for fifth in the league), 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists (a career-high) and 1.9 blocks (seventh in the league) per game. His impressive numbers, plus his leadership on and off the court got him selected to the All-NBA Second team, and his 22.8 Player Efficiency Rating was good for 12th in the NBA.
Despite a spectacular STAT stat line of 28 points and 10 rebounds, the Knicks lost Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs in Boston to the Celtics. An unfortunate back injury suffered during halftime of Game 2 limited Stoudemire's minutes and his effectiveness and the Knicks never recovered. But even though they were outed early in the playoffs, the "new era" Stoudemire spoke of on this day three years ago had officially begun.