MIAMI -- Having grown up in Washington, D.C., I've either watched as a fan or covered the duration of Alonzo Mourning's college and professional career, from his first game as a freshman at Georgetown to his final game as a veteran with the Miami Heat.
There was the rippled vein that ran alongside his temple that personified his strength and intensity. And there was the relentless effort and defiance that never allowed him to give out, give in or give up on any challenge despite some harsh circumstances on and off the court.
Mourning received the highest honor of his professional career on Monday, when he was announced as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He is a member of the 2014 class that will be inducted in Springfield, Mass., in August. In a span of 15 seasons, Mourning was a seven-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time NBA defensive player of the year. But Mourning is perhaps best known for overcoming a mid-career kidney transplant and returning to ultimately help the Heat win the franchise's first title in 2006.
In a conference call Monday evening, Mourning addressed several aspects of his HOF career and hinted that his college coach, John Thompson, and his last NBA coach, Pat Riley, would most likely serve as his presenters for the induction ceremony. He also touched on other key topics.
Q: Where were you when you got the call from the Hall and what was your reaction?
Mourning: “I was actually downtown in a lunch meeting at City Hall. I had to pause for a second because, obviously, you work your whole life for a game that you’re very passionate about and that you love. You don’t play the game because you have intentions to go to the Hall of Fame, you play the game because you love it. It opened my life up to so many different opportunities. The end result because of my hard work and love for the game, that’s being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Nolan Richardson said the only other place to go after the Hall of Fame is heaven. So I’m excited about the opportunity to recognize every last individual that has helped contribute to this moment.”
Q: What was the most proud moment of your career?
Mourning: “I can’t single out one particular thing. I think the biggest obstacle that I’ve had to overcome throughout my whole career that really helped me build a lot more confidence in myself, was when I came back from my kidney transplant. There were a lot of people that doubted me, but I had some deep doubts, too. Going through that process and laying stretched out on that operating table, just seeing the images of that, there was some doubt in me that I would be able to come back and compete at a high level again. One thing I’m most proud of is I broke through that obstacle in my life and I got back on my feet. I contributed to a team that won a world championship. When you think of the health scare that I had ... that affects more people in this world than winning a world championship.”
Q: What motivated you to eventually come back from the 2003 kidney surgery?
Mourning: “Just my inner drive you sportswriters and fans have seen out on the court for years. You’ve seen that drive. And it’s very difficult to hold or diminish that drive. The only thing that diminishes that drive is Father Time. Father Time is undefeated. In my mind, I still feel like I can still do it, but my body won’t let me do it because of age. I still have that drive, but now I have to use that drive to continue to contribute to the Heat organization, to my family, to golf now to fill that competitive void.”
Q: Have you reached out to your cousin, Jason Cooper, your kidney donor?
Mourning: “He’ll definitely be there [in Springfield for the induction]. He was one of the first phone calls I made, just to let him know the news I had gotten. He expressed how proud he was and I told him I loved him and thanked him for all he’s done for me, because he played a big part in that.”
Q: Are you comfortable with your intimidating perception on and off the court?
Mourning: “I’m not bothered by that at all, because it’s very difficult for everybody to get to know you. They know you from afar. I’ve also said Alonzo Mourning the basketball player isn’t Alonzo Mourning the person. I’ve never tried to bring those two together. Because once I walked into those lines, there was a switch that flipped. It was all about competitiveness. It was all about winning. It was all about doing everything humanly possible to come out on top. Sometimes people sometimes took that wrong way. But that’s how I approached my job. It was a big reason why I was successful. If I looked back on it all, would I change anything? No, I wouldn’t. It was always a learning process for me, a maturation process from the first time I laced them up in Charlotte to the last time in Miami.”
Q: Were you satisfied with your career after your first eight years before the transplant?
Mourning: “No, I wasn’t satisfied. The reason why I wasn’t satisfied is because when ... Pat Riley traded five guys and some picks to bring me to Miami, I made a commitment to him. I said, look, I’m in this to help Miami win a world championship. When I came up short with kidney [problems], I felt like -- I asked God if he would give me the strength to get back on the court again. That was my goal to put myself in position to get back and help this franchise win. Words are powerful, thoughts are powerful. And I’m a strong believer in that. If you think it and speak it, it will happen. I just formulated in my mind, there was some doubt. But not one part of it wanted to give up. When I reached that point, I knew that, yeah, the first eight years in my career, those are Hall of Fame numbers -- 20 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks a game in Charlotte and Miami. For me to end it in 2000 the way it happened, deep down inside, I felt like I’m going through this for a reason and I’m not going to give up.”
Q: What would you consider your career legacy?
Mourning: “Of the millions of kids that go through foster care on a regular basis, I was one of the fortunate ones. I’m one of the ones they can be inspired by and not be ashamed of that situation. I came from a broken home and didn’t know where my life was going to go. I could have gone in a different direction, from a statistical direction. I lived a storybook life. I’ve had a lot of angels in my life. I wish [my foster mom] was alive today to see me inducted into the Hall of Fame. As far as my legacy is concerned, I just want people to know that there is more to Alonzo Mourning than what they’ve seen on a basketball court. A lot of people base my legacy on what they’ve seen on the court. There’s more to life than that. For what I went through in a 15-16 year career, it was a dream come true. It truly was. But basketball is temporary. God willing, I’ve got another 40, 50 years in this world. Now you can take your experiences -- it’s not about being a better basketball player -- it’s about being a better person, and stimulating success in other people’s lives. That’s a lot of my focus. I feel like my legacy off the court will overshadow the things that I’ve done on the court.”