Hapoel Jerusalem player and former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire was granted Israeli citizenship on Wednesday. As a citizen, Stoudemire will be registered with the Israel Basketball Association but won't be able to play for the national basketball team.
While many Americans who came to Israel in the past five decades changed their status as foreign players in this manner, Stoudemire may have been the first to do so in the garb of an ultra-Orthodox man — a black kippa on top of his dreadlocks, black pants, a black tie and a white shirt from which the ritual fringes underneath stuck out.
"Yehoshafat Amar’e Stoudemire is a great ambassador for this country, there hasn’t been an athlete who’s contributed so much," Interior Ministry Arye Dery said at the ceremony, using Stoudemire's Hebrew name. "He’s tied his fate to the people of Israel. The Culture and Sports Ministry and the Israel Basketball Association recommended him, so I decided to grant him citizenship," explained Dery.
"This is a joyous day for Jerusalem and the country," said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon. "All the city’s residents love Amar’e. I want to thank you for all you’re doing for Jerusalem and the State of Israel." Leon thanked Stoudemire for helping Jerusalem win the championship, adding, "now they have no excuse."
Hapoel Jerusalem owner Eyal Chomsky kissed Leon, calling him "my friend." Of Stoudemire he said: "He’s a well-known figure around the world, he’s always talking about Zionism, Israel and Jerusalem, studying Torah every day."
Hapoel Jerusalem gave Dery and Leon a red No. 1 team jersey with Yehoshafat on the back.
The honor of having the last word was given to the Stoudemire. "This is an emotional moment for me, I’ve loved Israel for a long time. It’s an honor for me to be part of this country. I want to represent it at national and international events," the new Israeli citizen said.
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