Amar'e Stoudemire and Alexis Welch first met in Phoenix at a party thrown by rapper Nelly when they were both 19. It was 2002 and Amar'e, fresh out of high school, had just been selected as a first-round NBA draft pick for the Phoenix Suns.
He and Alexis both found themselves quarantined in a back room since they weren't of legal drinking age. The lanky basketball phenom spotted the doe-eyed track star, walked over to her and introduced himself.
"The night before we met, I'd said a prayer for the type of woman I wanted as my wife," Amar'e recalls. "Alexis and I started talking about her life, her family, what her future plans were—a real conversation." He was surprised by their connection that night and knew immediately that Alexis had a good spirit. Twelve years and four children later, the two finish each other's sentences and laugh easily.
Though Amar'e's basketball superstardom and Alexis's impeccable fashion sensibility have catapulted them to fame, the couple remain grounded in the family they've built. The Stoudemire tribe—Ar'e, 8, Amar'e, Jr., 7, Assata, 6 and Alijah, 1—includes a group of curious, rambunctious, well-mannered rug rats who are extremely close. "We look forward to dinner," says Alexis, 31. "Especially when Amar'e's not on the road. We all like to sit at the table and talk about our day."
The Stoudemires practice Messianic Judaism, eat mostly kosher foods (no pork or shellfish) and make prayer a daily ritual. "The kids fight over who gets to pray before dinner," says Alexis. "They don't get into physical fights," Amar'e, 31, clarifies, "but they always want to be the first one to pray." To temper the competitiveness the brood has no doubt inherited from their father, Amar'e gives each kid a chance to shine. "There's this game we play that I started years ago," he says. The doting dad goes through each of his three older kids' homework assignments before dinnertime. "Once we're at the table, I'll ask them questions about what they've been studying." For correct answers, the children always get high fives and hugs. But, more often than not, Amar'e orchestrates a tie between them.
The setting—patriarch seated at the head of the table with his wife and kids, deliberating the day's happenings (and lessons)—is as traditional as it gets, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Stoudemire family dinners are typically prepared by their personal chef, Maxcel Hardy, and take place in their sprawling apartment in New York City's tony Meatpacking District. The 9,000-square-foot penthouse duplex boasts two wraparound terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows and views of the Hudson River. Outfitted with splashes of burnt orange on its 11-foot-high walls, the warm abode is always thick with the sound of little voices.
And big voices, too. Though the family observes Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, on Fridays at sundown, other nights are open for entertaining. On these evenings, the apartment is usually teeming with Amar'e and Alexis's close friends, like producer Timbaland and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and his longtime girlfriend, Elaina. "We just hang out and have a good time," says Alexis. "After the hustle of the day, getting together with people you can lean on is so important. We cherish it."
This article was featured in the June 2014 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.