JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former NBA star Amare Stoudemire was granted Israeli citizenship.
Stoudemire received his official Israel identity card in a ceremony at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was granted citizenship due to his “unique contributions” to Israeli society. Now, Deri said, “Amare will be Israel’s ambassador to the world.”
“It’s a very exciting moment for me. My body is flooded with emotions now, my love for Israel has been with me for many years, and being part of Israel is something very special,” Stoudemire said at the ceremony, the Hebrew language Ynet reported. “I would like to say thank you also to Hapoel Jerusalem for giving me the opportunity to play on the team and to help me in this process.”
Stoudemire has been playing professional basketball for the Hapoel Jerusalem team since 2016, though he left briefly in mid-2017 to try for a return to the NBA. He was granted residency rights in January. Having citizenship will free up one of the team’s few allowed slots for non-citizens in Israeli League competition.
He identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites, and observes Jewish holidays. He told HBO sports reporter Jon Frankel at an event at Harvard University in April 2018 that he is “in the process” of converting to Judaism.
Stoudemire played for the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns among other teams in a 16-year NBA career. He had to suspend his part ownership in Hapoel in order to play.