When the news broke last week that Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire, 29, had proposed to his longtime girlfriend Alexis Welch, it was the biggest surprise for the team’s fans since Linsanity.
The $100-million man — who has always kept mum on his love life, but had been linked to singer Ciara — was not, in fact, a swinging bachelor.
Everyone was asking: Who’s the lucky lady?
In a world where the wives and girlfriends of many NBA stars proudly preen for VH1’s cameras or pursue vanity careers in design, the gorgeous Welch, 29, is a self-proclaimed “hands-on mother” who has been living in Miami. She was too shy to say hi to Beyoncé on the Met Costume Institute Gala red carpet last month; and loves the guacamole at Dos Caminos and shopping at Intermix.
And now, after Stoudemire’s surprise proposal, the Kansas City native is gathering their young troops, daughters Ar’e, 6, and Assata, 4, and son Amar’e Jr., 5, and prepping for the move to the Big Apple next month — and all of the madness that will no doubt ensue. (As for the wedding itself, the couple is still figuring out a date for 2013.)
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’m so overjoyed,” Welch tells The Post in her first interview.
“Everyone is calling, wanting to know all of the details. I’m marrying my best friend.”
Indeed, when she talks about Stoudemire, her words are punctuated by such dreamy sighs, one would think she had just started dating him last week. But the pair met in October 2002 at an after-party for a Nelly show in Phoenix.
Stoudemire — fresh out of high school — had been newly drafted by the Phoenix Suns. Welch had been living in the desert city, and attended high school there as a three-sport star in basketball, track and volleyball.
“Since we were both 19, they put us in a private room in the back of the club. He was wearing a Kansas City Chiefs Joe Montana jersey,” says Welch. “I’m originally from there, so we started talking about Montana when he played there.”
The conversation clicked, and it certainly didn’t hurt that he was 6-foot-11.
“I’ve always liked guys who were taller than me when I wear heels,” says Welch, who is 5-foot-10.
Their chemistry was instant — and the Florida-raised superstar fell into a comfortable relationship with the local girl, who came from a close-knit family with two sisters, an entrepreneur father and a mom who works in interior design.
“We were both really young, so we went to a lot of movies. I would make him dinner, and we would just spend time together. We would talk all the time,” says Welch, who recalls Stoudemire raising his eyebrows at his first Thanksgiving meal with her family.
“We’re a cooking family. We had some good old-fashioned mac and cheese and greens. [And] he put sugar on his greens,” she says with a giggle. “It was his Southern roots shining through.”
The pair eventually went on to have three children (their first, Ar’e, was born in 2005) during their relationship.
In 2010, Stoudemire signed a lucrative contract with the Knicks and moved East, where he proceeded to dominate the hardwood — and the front row of fashion shows. This year, however, was marked by personal heartache for Stoudemire, whose brother was killed in a car accident in February — and a shaky season for the Knickerbockers that culminated in the forward punching a fire extinguisher and cutting up his hand.
During the tumultuous time, the pair were spotted together more frequently, and last month, Welch, clad in Michael Kors, accompanied the natty Stoudemire to the Met gala, where she admits her nerves almost got the better of her.
“Thank goodness, Amar’e is used to these events, so he makes me feel more comfortable,” says Welch. She was seated with Cameron Diaz and Stella McCartney, and met Diane von Furstenberg.
“We were standing close to Beyoncé, but I was too nervous to introduce myself. Everyone has a wish list of celebrities [to meet]. She’s on there. But now, her husband is the owner of the Nets, so there’s a little bit of a rivalry going on,” she jokes.
Little did she know that she was about to lose her status as “single lady” with a 8½-carat sparkler and surprise proposal in the City of Lights.
To read more: nypost.com