MIAMI -- With tears streaming from his eyes, Alonzo Mourning watched his jersey raised to the rafters by the Miami Heat on Monday night, making him the first player in the organization's 21-year history to receive that honor.
The 43-minute ceremony featured the reading of a letter from President Barack Obama, plus brief speeches from Gov. Charlie Crist, Heat president Pat Riley, Mourning's former Georgetown coach John Thompson and fellow former Hoya Patrick Ewing, a longtime mentor.
"Just eight short years ago, eight short years ago, I didn't envision this moment happening," Mourning said, moments after the gargantuan banner bearing his name and No. 33 was raised. "This is probably one of the greatest moments of my life and I'm honored to be here this evening."
He was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2000, needed a transplant in 2003 and was told he'd never play in the NBA again. He returned, of course, and got the NBA championship he spent a career chasing in 2006, when the Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
"I wanted to let you know how proud we all are of your extraordinary career but also the way you have given back to the community all these years," Obama wrote to Mourning. "You have been, and will continue to be, a great leader. God bless you and your family."
The Heat pulled out all the stops, including having stickers with Mourning's name and number adhered in two spots on the court and showing video montages of his career during some stoppages in play.
Many of his closest friends were in attendance, including Dikembe Mutombo, who played alongside Mourning with the Hoyas, and Jason Cooper, a second cousin who donated Mourning a kidney in 2003.
"I consider him a younger brother that I didn't have," Ewing said. "If I had a brother, I'd want him to be a person like Alonzo Mourning. Just his character, just his work ethic, just his fight in the community, his total way of life. He is a great human being."
Mourning said many of his friends were taking bets on whether he would cry, and vowed to prove them wrong by holding back the tears.
But as the speeches went on, Mourning's eyes began to water, and tears flowed as his lips trembled when the banner was actually being hoisted.
"Y'all can go and collect your money," Mourning said.