Ramy Youssef and Amar'e Stoudemire Discuss Religion and Basketball in New A24 'Ramy' Zine Interview

A24 zine guest editor Ramy Youssef interviews celebrity peers about faith, read his conversation with Amar'e Stoudemire here.

Ramy, Season 2 Episode 1

Image via Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Ramy, Season 2 Episode 1

In addition to being one of the hardest film companies out, real ones know A24's goods game is just as tight as their film selection. In addition to clean merch, they have a podcast that puts two auteur filmmakers in deep conversation as well as a quarterly zine, usually guest-edited by A24-related talent. Issue 12 is out now, guest-edited by none other than comedian and actor Ramy Youssef, who just released a fantastic sophomore season of his A24-produced series Ramy on Hulu (read our review here).

For his issue, Youssef selected a series of celebrity peers to interview about spirituality and faith—two core themes of both his series and his art in general. The zine is available for purchase now—featuring Youssef in conversation with the likes of Michael Imperioli, Rainn Wilson and Mindy Kaling—but you can read Youssef's dialog with the one and only Amar'e Stoudemire right here.

Amar’e Stoudemire is an American-Israeli professional basketball player for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israel Premier League and the EuroLeague. Previously, he played for NBA teams including the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns.

When you’re at the peak of not only fame, but just being really gifted at something and tapping into it—how’s that tied into you finding your spirituality?
When I was a young boy, maybe 12 years old or so, my mother told me we are from the Children of Israel and we should keep the law of Moses. From that point on, I’ve been asking her questions and I’ve been learning. Her husband at the time, my stepfather, was also practicing Torah, so I was learning along the way. And I just never stopped trying to get more of an idea about what my mother was saying.

Do you ever find yourself thinking about after? I mean, in Judaism, is there an afterlife in the same way as Islam? I’m curious, what motivates the spiritual grounding, too.
You have to keep in mind, Ishmael was one of Abraham’s sons, and he’s also connected to Isaac. They were brothers. So with the Muslim faith, we’re technically brothers, you know what I’m saying? For me personally, as far as learning and studying more, it’s about trying to become a better person. To clean out my interior mind, thoughts, and actions. I basically want to purify and clean out my body and my soul. So how do I go about doing that? I had to learn and see what God said, to be purified, to be a righteous individual. That’s what I’m striving for.

There’s this story in Islam about that brotherhood. When the prophet Muhammad was speaking with God, he was also speaking with Moses. He spoke with God about Muslims doing 50 prayers a day, and then the prophet Muhammad speaks to the prophet Moses, and Moses is like, dude you should go back and try and get a lower number. It’s going to be hard for your people to do that many a day. [laughs] So I always say this to my Jewish agents, I’m like, you guys have been negotiating with us forever. It’s really interesting to see the way the stories influence each other, though.
Yeah man. Absolutely. It’s all the same bro, it’s all the same.

How does your practice affect your basketball? Is there anything, whether it pertains to when you’re getting into the game or how you live your life every day, are there any objects that you use to ground yourself?
From a basketball standpoint, that’s a whole different level of culture. The feeling I got when I first started playing basketball was something I could never duplicate. I gravitated to the game of basketball. No matter what happens, what I’m learning, I’m still going to play the same way because that’s a whole other level of focus. Basketball was always outside of the realm of normal life. It was training, preparing, a lot of studying, watching film. Wanting to be the best to ever play, the best in your state, and so many other goals—that keeps you focused. As far as my learning is concerned, that helps with my sense of relaxation before games. It goes in waves. Sometimes I listen to hip hop, sometimes I listen to some Marvin Gaye, something real smooth, real chill. Sometimes I listen to Frank Sinatra. It depends on your feelings going into that game. But I wouldn’t say that my learning ever affected my game too much.

A24 Zine

What it’s like living in Israel? Do you feel the spiritual energy around you in a different way than living somewhere else?
I do, only because I’m a spiritual guy. I’m not sure if a non-spiritual guy would feel that kind of energy.

Yeah, you can tap into it. In terms of your daily practice, what does that entail? Is it daily or weekly to find that balance and tap into that part of yourself?
On a good day, I’ll get three prayers in: morning, afternoon, and night. And within those prayers there’s about 60 blessings throughout the prayer book for the morning blessing. They say in the Israelite culture you should say 100 blessings a day and that’ll keep you in the realm of mindful God. So you say a blessing, thank God before you drink, thank God before you eat. It keeps you away from distractions, keeps the focus on surrounding yourself with like-minded people. It’s a beautiful thing. And all this energy everyone talks about, all the energy that we’re going to be receiving is because we’re doing good deeds. They say what goes around goes around, so I’m out there giving good energy.

Something I always really loved in Judaism was the concept of the yarmulke, and how it's a reminder that something is above us, that God is above us. It’s almost like wearing a perspective.
It’s a tradition that people wear yarmulkes to feel like the divine presence is always over there. For me it’s my tzitzit, my fringes. Some say it’s mandatory, some say it’s not. I feel like when I wear it, anyone who’s not in the realm of holiness or not trying to become more righteous would not approach a guy who looks righteous. The ones who approach are the ones who want to learn. That’s why I wear it.

You’re attracting the energy that you’re putting out. It’s a mutual attraction. When do you wear them, mostly?
I wear them every day.

I was reading something, and I don’t know if I read this properly, but it was something about you not wanting to shave your head for Uncut Gems. Was that tied into your spirituality? Because I thought that was so cool.
I couldn’t shave my head. I was in a Nazarite vow. You can’t shave your head until your hair locks. You can’t drink from the vine, you can’t have any wine or whiskey, no ketchup, no vinegar.

How long did that last?
About a year and a half.

Wow. That sounds really purposeful.
Yeah, it’s not easy. I wanted to grow my locks and it gave me that much more of a reason to not cut them. I can get two birds with one stone there; I can grow my locks and I can serve God.

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