Posted Aug 4, 2014 12:20 PM
Heat vice president Alonzo Mourning was in his office on the mezzanine level of AmericanAirlines Arena, a short walk from the practice court, tweaking his acceptance speech for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
It was pretty much done. The theme of what basketball has meant to his full life, the importance of those who made the journey with him, including John Thompson and Pat Riley on stage with him as ceremonial presenters, the championships in Miami as a player and executive -- those were all locked in the script, and yet Mourning continued to look for possible changes to have down exactly what he wanted to say when the time finally came to look out to the audience Aug. 8 in Springfield, Mass.
Those will be in the speech too, by broad reference if not actual mouthful of medical terminology. Of course they will. Alonzo Harding Mourning Jr. of Chesapeake, Va., Georgetown, the owner of two gold medals and a bronze with Team USA, was never a typical player with the Heat, and so his pause on the doorstep of entrance to the Hall will be fittingly, wonderfully uncommon as well.
"Well obviously I've got to include that," Mourning said on the phone from his office. "That was a big part of the journey."
He risked his life to play basketball, a belief that stays with him to this day, six years after retirement and 10 1/2 years after the Dec. 19, 2003, kidney transplant to combat focal glomerulosclerosis. Patrick Ewing, his longtime opponent in the trenches and longer-time friend, considered Mourning's determination to stare down a health crisis and said, "That is amazing. That is very amazing. I'm sure he feels very blessed."
Blessed. Proud. Contemplative.
A big part of the journey? Mourning averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in 15 playing seasons with Charlotte, Miami and New Jersey, had eight consecutive seasons of at least 18 points a game, was an All-Star seven times and Defensive Player of the Year twice. But in a historical perspective, the adversity is what makes the journey, and how it would be hard to find many players who had to climb harder to reach enshrinement. Actually, it would be hard to build a roster of peers who faced more to extend a career, but especially the part about making it all the way to Springfield.
The speech will be ready and in front of him on paper when the time comes in Symphony Hall, but talk about the intangibles that can't be explained. Hearing from the doctor that he is risking death by continuing to play, being forced into retirement by disease, undergoing a complicated procedure, returning to the NBA at a high level again, and then winning a championship on a second time through his adopted hometown.
Fighting off Shaquille O'Neal for a rebound will prove easier than pushing away the emotions, to where it is inevitable, even to Mourning, that memories unlike any other Hall of Famer will be flooding his mind on that walk to the podium.
"Yeah," he said. "No doubt. Yeah. It is. That kind of puts things in perspective. Played eight years straight 20-10 and three blocks. Those are Hall of Fame numbers. Then all of the sudden, bam. Life raises its ugly head. When life raises its head, you've got to deal with it. I stepped on this landmine of life and I had to deal with this health obstacle. In dealing with this health obstacle, it put all of that, put the 20-10 and blocks, to a halt. I had to deal with trying to get healthy. Coming back from that, I said, 'Why not give it a shot again?' not really knowing at that particular moment that it was just about basketball. I started realizing the lives that I would affect if I did come back.
"How I was able to come back from that shows a great deal of intestinal fortitude. It also shows, through that process, it wasn't really about basketball at that particular moment. It was about something that affects millions and millions of other people's lives, and that's kidney disease and how organ donation is something that saves lives and how I could be a spokesperson or somebody that helps create awareness about the importance of organ donation and taking care of yourself as far as doing everything necessary to get regular checkups so that kidney disease does not evolve because of the silent killers hypertension and diabetes and how that evolves. I think that's more important than basketball itself because of effects over 20 million Americans, and that's not even including the other 20 million who are at risk."
It's all part of the speech, at least the general tone if not the statistics. The people who helped get him to Springfield, how basketball affected his life, and how he wants to affect others after being inspired by notes from other patients or their family members through the years. It's all there. That part never gets tweaked.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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