Amare Stoudemire already knows some Hebrew phrases and sports a Star of David tattoo. Now he's come to Israel to explore what might be his Jewish heritage.
The five-time NBA All-Star who recently signed with the New York Knicks is on a weeklong visit to learn about Israel, its language and religions. He believes he has "Hebrew roots" through his mother, Carrie.
"She studied the scriptures and history and she believes she is a Hebrew," he told The Associated Press on Friday in Jerusalem. "I grew up in a very spiritual home. It's not about religion, it's about spirituality for me."
Stoudemire said he was "soaking up the culture," with his girlfriend and a few other friends from home.
He has long suspected his Jewish lineage — Judaism is passed down through the mother's side. Stoudemire's agent, Happy Walters, said his client is a "student of history" and is "exploring religions in general." He added that Soudemire may turn to a genealogist when he returns to New York to dig deeper.
The 6-foot-10 forward signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Knicks three weeks ago. He will now be playing in the city with the largest Jewish population in the United States.
The NBA features two Jewish players: Israeli Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings and Jordan Farmar of the New Jersey Nets. When Farmar joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006, he became the NBA's first Jewish player since Danny Schayes — son of Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes — retired in 1999.
Stoudemire said he's spoken to Casspi a few times about Judaism, "but we didn't go into details about it."
Stoudemire has begun studying Hebrew and his Twitter page features such words as "Shalom," ''Le'chayim" and "ze ha'halom sheli," Hebrew for "this is my dream."
"It's great," he said. "Hebrew is the original language."
On Twitter, he also called himself "the new Reggie White," saying "I'm going 2 Israel 2 study Hebrew. It's time 2 get a better understanding on who we R."
White, the late NFL star and ordained minister, traveled to Israel late in his life and studied Hebrew to learn scripture in its original form.
Stoudemire spent his first eight NBA seasons with the Phoenix Suns, where he won the 2003 Rookie of Year award and became one of the league's dominant players. Now, his possible Jewish ties have stirred interest in Israel, with bloggers dreaming he could one day join the Israeli national team.
Stoudemire, however, laughed that off.
"I'm looking forward to playing in the 2012 Olympics," he said. "For the USA."