This is no ordinary game between a 14-19 team (Phoenix Suns) and a 20-14 team (New York Knicks). This game is a lens through which we can reflect back on some good times in Phoenix when Amare Stoudemire and Mike D'Antoni weren't in the visitor's locker room. It's natural of course, that those peeks to the past are colored with memories of the good times and somehow filter out all the negative.
Absolutely, fans should cheer for Amare and applaud Stat for all the great things he did in a Suns uniform and for the great player and person that he is. But let's not forget that Stoudemire and D'Antoni both had their issues while they were here and those issues weren't just about their failings. The Suns organization, and in many ways just the circumstances, didn't always do right by those guys.
The greatest example of that is Amare's development as a leader since leaving the shadow of Steve Nash. This was never going to be his team and the Suns were always going to pick Steve over Stoudemire. We can't blame them for that, but from Amare's standpoint, at 28 years old, he needed to spread his wings and there's no blaming him for that either.
Listen to what Knicks rookie Landry Fields had to say about Amare and imagine a Suns player ever saying that about Sun Tzu.
"He's a great leader. He really leads by example. I learn a lot from him, not just on the court but off the court how to deal with external stuff. He's been a great impact on me," Fields said.
Coach D'Antoni said basically the same thing, "On and off the court he's been the best leader and the best player you can ask for. He's kind of taken New York by storm."
These are not things that were said about Amare when he was in Phoenix and if he had stayed here they still likely wouldn't be. Here he carried the baggage of his youthful immaturity and would always be constantly compared to Steve Nash and Grant Hill. In New York, Amare's been able to grow and develop as a person. Good for him.
As for the game itself, it's almost an afterthought and that's not just for the fans and media. This is a big, emotional game for Amare and according to his coach he's going to have something to prove.
"He's looked forward to it. It will be fun for him," D'Antoni said.
The Suns will do their best to slow Amare but as we've seen over the years, if he's in that zone there is no stopping him and Amare is not the kind of player who fails to play well in big situations. He has flaws in his game that we all probably focused on too much while he was here, but one thing Amare never did was shrink when the lights got bright.
Amare's thoughts on coming back as a Knick?
"It's a different feeling, it really is. The great part is the love is still there. It's beautiful. Phoenix will always be my home. No question about it."
The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. local time and will be broadcast on ESPN and Fox Sports Arizona. Fans can follow along with other Suns fans on the live game thread at Bright Side of the Sun.