NBA Star Aims To Inspire Young Readers With 'Slam Dunk'
Amar'e Stoudemire is known as "STAT," an acronym for "standing tall and talented." He's an 11-year-old basketball player who wants badly to learn how to dunk — that's Amar'e the character, anyway.
In real life, Amar'e Stoudemire — who is also nicknamed "STAT" — is the captain of the New York Knicks, a six-time NBA All-Star and a man who can definitely dunk a basketball. On top of being a star athlete, a father of three and an activist for education, Stoudemire is also the author of three books for middle-school readers. The younger Amar'e is the star of the series, which explore the life of STAT when he was already talented, but not yet tall.
In the latest in the series, STAT #3: Slam Dunk, Amar'e deals with teasing from his older teammates. Then he suffers an eye injury and a doctor tells him to avoid practice for a week — the week before his team's biggest game. Amar'e must decide how to meet his obligations to his teammates, friends and coach, while also spending time with his family and taking care of his health.
Stoudemire joins NPR's Scott Simon to discuss his motivation for becoming an author and the message he wants to send with his novels.
On his childhood in Florida, the inspiration for the series
"My father was a hard-working man, and I grew up with him. And my friends, I was very close to all my friends. And all this is also inside the book series. My brother ... he taught me basketball moves. Book reports [were] very important, I had to turn in and make sure my father — make sure he understood I was making the proper grades. But yeah, I mean, my childhood definitely [had] some challenges, but all in all it was a great success and it was a lot of fun."
On the lessons he outlines in his book
"[It's] very, very important for the young boys to understand that being smart is very cool and that there's nothing wrong with being smart and intelligent. And two, for all the athletes, for most of the young boys who love to play sports, there's going to be challenges also, whether it's injury, whether it's schoolwork, whether its friends or peer pressure. You have to surround yourself [with] positive friends to have a successful start to your early career."
On why he writes for young readers
"A lot of young boys are starting to shy away from reading as if it's not cool, so I wanted to express ... how important reading really is to them. I remember when I was their age, going to the bookstore I went to, the first book that had any type of athlete on the book — whether it was Jackie Robinson or whether it was Bill Russell or what have you — whatever book I saw that had an athlete on it, you know, I bought that book and I read that book, and then that started to spark my mind to want to read more, so I want that same effect to continue on."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Amar'e, known as STAT, is 11 years old. He wants to dunk a basketball. He's one of the best players on his team but also the youngest. But then when he injures his eye, a doctor tells him to avoid practice for a week - the very week before his team's biggest game. His friends, Deuce, Mike, Coach Dunn are depending on him. So, how does young Amar'e meet his commitments to his teammates to play well and his family to get better? "STAT: Slam Dunk" is the latest book for middle school students from Amar'e Stoudemire, captain of the New York Knicks, a six-time all-star, father of three and an activist for education and involvement for young people. Amar'e Stoudemire joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE: No problem. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: So, this is STAT, a character named after your nickname, which, of course, Standing Tall and Talented, when he was merely talented, not yet tall.
SIMON: Is this a story from your boyhood in Florida?
STOUDEMIRE: Yeah. It's very similar. The book series actually mocks some stories from my childhood upbringing, for sure.
SIMON: Tell us a bit about your upbringing if you can. 'Cause in the book, this young STAT has a close, warm family, but I gather you've had some challenges.
STOUDEMIRE: Yeah, definitely. But I did - my father was a hardworking man and I grew up with him. And my friends, I was very close to all my friends. And all this is also inside the book series. My brother and I, he taught me basketball moves and book reports is very important. I had to turn in and make sure my father, made sure he understood I was making the proper grades. But, yeah, I mean, my childhood was definitely some challenges, but all in all, it was a great success and it was a lot of fun. But, again, definitely had challenges growing up and so that's why this book is an insightful book for the youth to understand that you may be faced with certain obstacles but here's a few tools that you need to succeed.
SIMON: And what do you see those tools as being?
STOUDEMIRE: Well, for one, understanding how important education is. That's very, very important for the young boys to understand that being smart is very cool and there's nothing wrong with being smart and intelligent. And, two, for all the athletes, for most of the young boys who love to play sports, there's going to be challenges also, whether it's injury, whether it's schoolwork, whether it's friends or peer pressure. You have to surround yourself around positive friends to have a successful start to your early career.
SIMON: Why has it been important for you to write books for young readers?
STOUDEMIRE: Well, a lot of young boys are starting to shy away from reading, as if it's not cool. And so I want to express the fact of how important reading really is to them. I remember when I was their age going to the bookstore. I went to the first book that had any type of athlete on the book, whether it's Jackie Robinson or whether it was Bill Russell, what have you. Whatever book I saw that had an athlete on it, you know, I bought that book, and I read that book and then that started to spark my mind to want to read more. So, I want that same effect to continue on.
SIMON: I don't want to give away what happens but I don't think anybody would be surprised to learn that maybe this young 11-year-old Amar'e in the book is able to finally figure out how to do what he wants to do with a basketball. But what are kids who aren't athletes supposed to take from a story like this?
STOUDEMIRE: Well, there's a lot of dialogue within the books that also talk about you bonding with your parents. For instance, in this book, it talks about me and my father, how I obeyed my parents and I was really - I took school serious and I had a great group of friends around me. That goes to show that all children around the world can take those three-pointers and apply that to their life. Now, the bonus is if you're an athlete or you play any sport, then you can also take the sports side of the book also with you.
SIMON: I found myself liking Amar'e's friends a lot in this book.
STOUDEMIRE: I got a pretty cool group of friends in this book.
SIMON: So, do we say we hope you had a nice Hanukkah to you?
STOUDEMIRE: Yeah, my Hanukah was brilliant. I had a beautiful Hanukkah.
SIMON: We should explain - you, I don't know if you've actually taken instruction, but you consider yourself to be Jewish.
SIMON: You know, I had an idea that could be the greatest promotional stunt of all time in the NBA to have you bar-mitzvahed at half-court during halftime of a game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.
SIMON: I mean, I can't imagine a bigger crowd, you know?
STOUDEMIRE: That would be the all-time most sold crowd ever.
SIMON: Barbara Streisand singing at your bar mitzvah. That would be pretty good too. Amar'e Stoudemire. His new book for middle school students is "STAT: Slam Dunk." Thanks so much for being with us.
STOUDEMIRE: No problem. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.