Emotional Amar’e eulogizes big brother
LAKE WALES, Fla. — In the end, the pain was too much to bear. Amar’e Stoudemire rarely shows emotion on the basketball court, and those close to him say had not cried since he was 12, when his father died. But Stoudemire could not hold back any longer.
As he spoke yesterday at his brother Hazell’s funeral here at the First Baptist Church, a flood of feelings came forth.
“Big brother, oh man,’’ Stoudemire said as he hunched over the pulpit, just above Hazell’s closed casket, covered with a bouquet of red roses. “He was my guardian angel. He pretty much guided me all the way through, I’m proud to say.’’
Earlier, when Stoudemire first walked into the church, the casket was open and he lovingly reached in to touch his brother’s hand. This was a day filled with raw emotion.
“This is hurting me more than you could imagine,’’ Stoudemire said.
Dressed in gray slacks, a light-blue shirt, gray tie, and wearing sunglasses, Stoudemire, the rock of the Knicks franchise, broke down with tears of love for his big brother Hazell, who died Monday at the age of 35. A nine-man Knicks contingent, which included All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, owner Jim Dolan, interim general manager Glen Grunwald, assistant GM Allan Houston and teammate Baron Davis, watched from 10 rows away, along with about 1,000 other mourners.
Understanding the pain Stoudemire was going through, the crowd broke into applause and shouts of encouragement four different times during his seven-minute tribute to his brother. Each time Stoudemire steadied himself and continued to honor his brother, who was known as “Big STAT.”
The 6-foot-10 Hazell had a world of problems, spent time in prison, was arrested 22 times since 1993, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s website, but everyone who spoke yesterday emphasized Hazell finally was getting his life in order.
Early Monday morning, Hazell was killed in a car accident when his Cadillac Escalade ran into the back of a tractor-trailer on U.S. 27. The Cadillac was traveling at a high rate of speed, and Hazell was not wearing a seat belt, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Hazell tried hard to turn his life around, said Pastor Jermaine Shepard, who delivered an inspiring eulogy, noting Hazell even had become something of a religious scholar, proudly showing off the Bible app on his iPhone. Hazell might have become a better basketball player than Amar’e, but played only one year of high school ball. That year, his team went undefeated and won the state championship.
“He never lost a basketball game,’’ Amar’e said.
Hazell did not return to Bradenton Southeast after his junior year. In so many ways, he never reached success in life, but without his guidance, Amar’e never would have become the player and person he is today. Hazell played the role of older brother, father and even mother, because growing up their mother, Carrie Stoudemire, was swallowed up her own demons. Carrie is a preacher now, and she also spoke yesterday.
Amar’e, 29, easily could have been overwhelmed by the world around him as so many other young men were, especially after his father, Hazell Sr., a landscaper, died at the age of 41. It was his father who encouraged his sons to Stand Tall and Talented. That’s how Hazell got the nickname Big STAT, which was tattooed on his neck.
“I know where you are at,’’ Amar’e said of Hazell, “in paradise, sitting on your own throne, chilling. I’m going to hold it down for you, Big Homey. He looked out for me. He kept me off the streets. He gave me courage. He gave me that path. He did everything for me. He tried to do the right thing.’’
Amar’e Stoudemire did the right thing yesterday, telling the world he never would be the success he is today without the guidance and help of his big brother. Hazell could not escape his big problems. Amar’e escaped only because Hazell was there to keep trouble away and to make sure his little brother did not walk the same dangerous path.