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Despite choice to retire as a Knick, Amar’e Stoudemire will always be a Sun

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Phoenix Suns v Seattle Sonics Photo by Otto Greule/Getty Images

Amar’e Stoudemire signed a ceremonial contract to retire as a Knick on Jul. 26. He said his “heart had always remained in the Big Apple.” He said “Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

It doesn’t matter. Amar’e is a Sun.

Still, signing with the New York Knicks to end his 14-year run in the NBA came as something of a surprise. Many Suns fans — and Knicks fans for that matter — remember him best for his time spent in the desert, reinventing the game alongside Steve Nash and Shawn Marion. His time spent in New York was markedly less successful.

Stoudemire played eight seasons in Phoenix after being drafted ninth overall in 2002 out of Cypress Creek High School. He was named an All Star in five of those seasons, and helped lead the Suns to two Western Conference Finals. In that span, he averaged 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds over 516 games.

But Stoudemire would leave after the 2009-10 season, taking the Knicks’ fully guaranteed 5-year, $100 million contract to join former coach Mike D’Antoni in New York. Stoudemire had a strong initial season with the Knicks, but injuries and team dysfunction derailed those final four years. His four-and-a-half years wearing a Knicks jersey saw him average 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds over 255 games and his Knicks win just a single playoff series — a series he didn’t even participate in due to injury.

That is why Stoudemire’s decision to retire as a Knick doesn’t seem right. It would be like Ken Griffey Jr. choosing to enter the Hall of Fame with a Cincinnati Reds cap on his plaque. Surely there had to be a reason behind Stoudemire’s choice, and it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start churning out possibilities.

The most interesting possibility, reported by multiple sources, was that Stoudemire approached Phoenix about signing with the team this season for his swan song but that the Suns had no interest in adding him to their roster. Feeling jilted and running out of NBA playing options that suited his tastes, he approached the Knicks about retiring with them on a ceremonial basis — an offer that wasn’t extended to the Suns.

If this is true, the Suns can hardly be faulted for turning down the offer. While it must have stung to have the Suns turn him away again, he just didn’t fit into this team. Stoudemire was unhappy with his diminishing role in Miami, and that was with him averaging close to 15 minutes per game. Even if he had accepted that role with the Suns, who would lose their 15 minutes? One of the rookies? The Suns did not have a role for Stoudemire, and giving him a Kobe-lite farewell tour would not have been the right move for this front office to make.

For his part, Stoudemire never seemed to hold any ill feelings toward the Suns organization. He thanked the fans and team for all their support over the years in a full-page ad that appeared in the Arizona Republic on Jul. 16, 2010 after he left for New York, and the interest Stoudemire repeatedly showed in returning to Phoenix the last couple seasons should suggest those good feelings remain.

Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, was even quoted on azcentral.com yesterday as saying, “Amar’e will always have love for Phoenix. It’s where it all started. He loves Phoenix and has high regard for the fans. He will always have super great feelings and a close relationship with Phoenix. But six years later after going to New York, he grew close with the people there, too. (Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden chairman) Jim Dolan and New York always showed him love.”

Whatever Stoudemire’s reasons to “retire” as a Knick, it doesn’t change history. It doesn’t erase the 38 points he scored against Kevin Garnett as a rookie or wipe away Stephon Marbury’s stank face when he flushed it over Michael Olowokandi or revoke Adonal Foyle’s donation of his body to the Amare Stoudemire Foundation. The 37 points he averaged against San Antonio’s defense as he rode Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball through their frontcourt in the 2005 Western Conference Finals still stands, as do the career-high 50 points he scored against Portland on Jan. 2, 2005 and the 20 points he scored — also against Portland — when he tried to return early from his microfracture surgery in 2006.

The nicknames (STAT, Sun Tzu), the number changes (32, 1), the fluctuating nature of the spelling of his first name (Amare, Amaré, Amar’e). Even the goggles. It all happened with the Suns. So Stoudemire can sign a contract with New York if he likes, but it changes nothing.

If there are some hurt feeling over not getting to re-join the Suns for one final run (or my personal theory: his “lucky dog” Twitter beef with Paul Coro), they won’t last. Even Charles Barkley came around after leaving the team on bad terms and now has his likeness immortalized in the team’s Ring of Honor. Stoudemire will join him there one day.

Because he is a Sun.