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December 06, 2001

Comeback continues for 'Zo
By Dan Patrick

The book arrived about a year ago. A friend had sent it to Alonzo Mourning because the Miami Heat center was looking for good reading material while he battled a serious kidney disorder. Playing in the NBA was not the goal anymore. Mourning had his laser-like focus on one thing: beating the odds and having a full, normal life.

Alonzo Mourning
Alonzo Mourning is facing a difficult challenge this preseason, trying to build endurance after battling kidney disease.
We now know that Mourning won his battle. But last fall, his NBA career appeared to be over. His doctors prepared him for the highly probable prospect that he would be on a kidney dialysis machine within 10 months. That didn't happen, though. He returned last season just before the playoffs. And now Mourning is set to begin his 10th season in the NBA.

But the question still lingers: "How are you feeling, Alonzo?" Inquiring about the health of a professional athlete is normal. They make their living with their bodies, so this question is always relevant. But with Mourning it's different. He was in real danger a year ago. The question is fraught with drama, because you're not asking about tendinitis or an ankle sprain -- you're asking about the condition of a vital organ.

Then again, if you don't ask, you're sending a message to Alonzo that you take his return to the NBA at face value. He must be OK if he's putting on the uniform again. In this case, it might be sensitive to not ask about his health. Just say, "Welcome back, Alonzo," and leave it at that. Don't make him relive it with an offhand question.

But what is he coming back to? The Heat are clearly rebuilding. Tim Hardaway is gone. Rod Strickland is the new point guard while Anthony Carter recovers from an abdominal strain. Eddie Jones has been hurting lately, too. How much more is left for Pat Riley in Miami? In any case, it appears that Alonzo Mourning will be playing for a playoff team, but not a title contender.

Mourning says that only his friends and family helped him more in his comeback than reading about Lance Armstrong's battle with cancer.
I have the feeling he'll handle it. If you've faced down a dialysis machine, you can handle a first- or second-round playoff exit.

Not that Mourning will attack the season with any less vigor. He wants a ring more than any athlete I've known.

But I think he has been through enough to know that there's great value, and even a victory of sorts, in giving it your best shot. Which he has always done.

That book? "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" (by Lance Armstrong). Mourning told me recently that only his friends and family helped him more in his comeback than reading about Armstrong's battle with cancer. He was inspired to read about an athlete who had beaten an even tougher diagnosis than his own.

In a time when we need heroes more than ever -- or at least want to believe in heroic feats -- look no further than Alonzo Mourning and his hero, Lance Armstrong. Both men are examples of the best we can hope for in our athletes.

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Alonzo Mourning credits a great part of his recovery from his illness to Lance Armstrong.
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