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December 06, 2001

Outtakes with Alonzo Mourning

UNCUT OUTTAKES: A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning appears in the Nov. 12 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

Alonzo Mourning
Heat center Alonzo Mourning has career averages of 20.9 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Alonzo Mourning: So what are we talking about?
Dan Patrick: Everything. You'll see.
Alonzo Mourning: OK.

DP: Did you get tired of all the Michael Jordan preseason coverage?
AM: No, I didn't. I thought it was great for the game. Due to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, people have been so emotionally unwound. Michael coming back has brought some positive energy to what I feel is the most popular sport in the world. It's directing attention to the game, bringing people to the game, putting people in the arenas. And when you think of people at the arenas, they laugh, they cry, they cheer, they boo. I'd rather have people in that state of mind than being constantly on edge about anthrax or the terrorist attacks.

DP: If you're Jordan, going out the way he did, would you have come back?
AM: Have you ever had a chance to spend some time with that man?
DP: Yes, and I know he's extremely competitive but ...
AM: Thank you. That's it -- you just answered the question. He's so competitive, down in his bloodstream, and it's not just with basketball. With everything he does. I mean, shoot a game of pool with the man (sighs) -- he's so determined to win. At everything.
DP: Did you beat him at pool?
AM: This was when he was shooting "Space Jam" -- he'll stay there until he wins. It's the way he lives. He lives and breathes competition. After excelling at the game for so long, and knowing that the game comes so easily to him, well, you kind of miss it. I think he must feel he still has something to offer. And I think he does. His presence alone will have a positive impact on a lot of people, from players to fans of the game.

DP: Let's go to the end of the season. How many wins for the Wizards?
AM: It's still a challenge for him, you know, to raise the level of play of the Wizards. To put them in playoff contention. You know how he confronts challenges. So if I'm him, I would say, "Hey, we can get that eighth spot."
DP: Do you think they'll make the playoffs?
AM: If they stay healthy, there's a possibility they can get that eighth spot. And if he plays like he did in that exhibition game against the Nets, 41 points, and just gets a little contribution from some other guys on a consistent basis, then they are there. Who's going to stop that man? Just himself. Hey, even if you barely touch him, he's going to shoot 15 to 20 free throws a game.
DP: Are you saying Michael Jordan gets calls he shouldn't get?
AM: (laughs) Come on, Dan, come on. Look, the man is the greatest player who ever played the game. The slightest contact and he will get the benefit of the doubt.
DP: Explain that. Why do the great players get calls and the bad players don't?
AM: You know what? It's just always been that way -- that's how it is. It's respect from players and refs. They figure the guy, not just Michael, has paid his dues and has been there a while.
DP: I think Greg Ostertag is getting ripped off.
AM: That's a possibility. But the man is getting $5 million a year, so he's not getting ripped off too much.
DP: Yeah, yeah, he's stealing.
AM: You said that, not me! (laughs)
DP: You wanted to say it. I said it for you.

DP: Do you think the title run has to go through Los Angeles this year?
AM: Well, they're defending their title. You'll probably have to deal with them, based on what they have done in the past -- but anything can happen. The Lakers are one injury away from not getting there. You know what I mean?
DP: Shaq or Kobe, you mean?
AM: Yes. If one of their key guys gets hurt, it can affect their play. God willing, I want all the guys in the league to stay healthy this year. I just know that health has always been a big issue with our team. If you're not healthy down the stretch, it can affect the success of your team.

DP: I always felt there was some tension between you and Shaq.
AM: Who said that?
DP: I just felt that was the perception out there. Maybe because you both were in the Eastern Conference when Shaq was in Orlando.
AM: No.
DP: You guys have a great relationship, then?
AM: Well, we don't call each other every day. But in passing, we speak to each other.
DP: Respect more than friendship?
AM: Yes. A lot of people don't know this, but we're fraternity brothers. So, just based on the mindset of our fraternity, then the friendship, the relationship is a priority. It's essential to the soul.
DP: I just think that Shaq thought you were the media darling, looked on as the complete center. And we were always finding things Shaq couldn't do. Maybe that's where it comes from?
AM: Well, regardless of what the media says, I'm trying to get where he's been. I'm trying to get a championship. It's not about what the media says. You can lose perspective if you get caught up in that. And I don't think he has been caught up in it. And I'm sorry if he feels that way. The man's won two championships. I'm just trying to get there. In a lot of ways, from a basketball perspective, he has the upper hand.

DP: How much do you think Shaq weighs?
AM: At least 320, 330. At least, man.
DP: I figure about 350.
AM: You don't find many guys his size who are as agile as he is. Guys that big are usually slow. Slow afoot and slow laterally. But Shaq can move and that's what makes him a problem. The only way to guard him is to double-team him or triple-team him, or you have to be 300 pounds and just as agile as he is. Otherwise, one-on-one he just backs you down and you don't have enough mass to compete with his mass.
DP: Could he score 100 points?
AM: I don't know about that.
DP: If he's going against Greg Ostertag?
AM: They would double and triple him before it got to that point.

DP: You opened a barber shop in Miami. Name three guys who need to stop by for a haircut.
AM: (laughs) Oh, man. Not to degrade any of my colleagues, now ...
DP: Oh, you can degrade them. There are guys out there who may need more than one visit.
AM: Ben Wallace.
DP: You mean Coolidge from "The White Shadow"?
AM: My man, Ben Wallace. The point guard in Dallas, my man ...
DP: Steve Nash?
AM: Yes, Steve Nash. I can't describe his hair. It's all over the place.
DP: Who else?
AM: Probably ... I know several guys who need a cut. You got someone to throw in there?
DP: Brian Grant looks like he has a bunch of French fries on his head.
AM: Those are dreads, man.
DP: I know, but they look like French fries.
AM: Some dreads look like that. But B-Grant, that's my boy. And dreadlocks are definitely in.
DP: Are you going to bring back the afro?
AM: Actually, no. I'm keeping my hair tight and low.

DP: I hear your first concert was Michael Jackson -- any regrets about that?
AM: None at all. Back then, with the Jackson Five still together? Come on! I still follow Mike.
DP: Now?
AM: Sure. I'd pay top dollar to see Mike. He's the King of Pop, man.
DP: Well, it costs top dollar.
AM: There's three Mikes I'd pay to go see: Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson.
DP: I like that.

DP: Wile E. Coyote is your favorite cartoon, right?
AM: Sure.
DP: Who is the Wile E. Coyote of the NBA?
AM: Pretty much me. Wile E., he never gives up, man.
DP: But he never gets the Roadrunner.
AM: And I don't have a championship yet. That's my Roadrunner. I'm still going after it. Still coming, no matter what I am confronted with.

Alonzo Mourning
The Heat are glad to have Alonzo Mourning back.
DP: Favorite line from "Sanford and Son"?
AM: (laughs) This is the big one!
DP: Then you grab your chest. That was close to home for you.
AM: (laughs)
DP: If I don't ask about your health, do you think I assume you're healthy? And if I do ask, do you think I'm hinting that you might not be strong enough to play in the NBA?
AM: Hey, if I wasn't strong enough to play in the NBA, I wouldn't have even attempted to come back.
DP: Do you expect the health questions?
AM: It's natural that people ask. People don't know about my condition. They don't know the history of it. All they know is that I have a kidney disorder. I mean, if I ran into someone that I knew had some kind of internal disorder, my first question would be, "How are you feeling?" Just that alone, though, is uplifting to me -- people care. They give a damn about how I feel.

DP: Worst job you ever had?
AM: I worked at a drapery shop when I was younger. Hanging draperies. I was about 13 years old.
DP: Might you get a reputation for being a little effeminate if you're hanging draperies?
AM: They used me because of my height, Dan. I'm fairly tall.
DP: You weren't looking at becoming an interior decorator, were you?
AM: No, no. I was an assistant, hanging draperies at different houses.

DP: What profession would you like to try?
AM: I would love to be a school counselor for kids. Young kids. I think that my overall experiences would help me in trying to help kids. I'd like to change some kids' lives and uplift them if I could.
DP: What was the main lesson you learned from your foster mother?
AM: The importance of giving. Giving. She was the most giving person. And one thing about Fanny Threatt was that she could always look past whatever negative someone might be known for and find some good. No matter what they did. She could find some good in Bin Laden. That's how she is.

DP: Heroes growing up?
AM: I've had a bunch of heroes, man. Obviously, Miss Threatt. My father is a hero of mine.
DP: Public leaders?
AM: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., most definitely. I am also a big Bob Marley fan. He was a prophet. He was a serious prophet. If you listen to what he had to say, his messages were very uplifting. He was a very knowledgeable man. Also, I'm a big Bill Russell fan. When you think of what he went through in his day and time, all the negative distractions that he had, and to think of what he accomplished not for himself but his team, too. All in a town that was totally racist during that time. My hat's off to him. I bet it would have been easy to lose focus, but he just continued to win. And he's the winningest player in the history of the game. I read his book. Amazing what he went through while winning 11 championships -- 11 championships, that's amazing.

DP: What is your second-best sport?
AM: Football. I wanted to play football. I had all the NFL sheets, draperies, trash can. All of it in my room.
DP: What position?
AM: In junior high school, I played defensive end. I was about 6-4. It didn't work out too well for me, man. First of all, they couldn't find any cleats that fit me. And I wore Chuck Taylors on that football field. I was kind of slipping and sliding around out there. Pretty comical but I tried to make do. But peer pressure got me into basketball. I liked basketball back then. It was all about Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. I remember when they played North Carolina in the finals when he was a freshman. And everybody liked Dr. J back then too. And everybody got that red, white and blue basketball for Christmas. The ABA ball. Yeah. It was about those two guys. But peer pressure got me into basketball. I was walking around school taller than the principal, taller than the teachers. People said, "You should play basketball." When I tried out for the team, I didn't start. I was clumsy and awkward. Was teased because of my height and because I couldn't play. But that criticism was the driving force. My determined attitude toward being successful started there.

DP: All-time NBA defensive team.
AM: Bobby Jones, Bill Russell obviously. Bill Russell could play some four. Put Dikembe Mutombo at the five. And Michael Cooper. Probably throw myself in there.
DP: At guard?
AM: Put Bobby Jones at the two.
DP: What about Jordan?
AM: Mike is a great defensive player. Throw him in there. Throw The Glove (Gary Payton) in there, too.

DP: Name some NBA guys who need fashion tips.
AM: There are guys out there, but I don't want to call them out.
DP: But this is a way for them to get help.
AM: I'll let Charles Barkley do that.

DP: Favorite Angela Bassett movie.
AM: Oh, man. You didn't go there, did you? (laughing)
DP: I went there.
AM: My favorite is "What's Love Got to Do with It." That was a great one. She looked great in that movie. She was cut up. I think she worked out to look like Tina, who was amazing in her prime. Her legs and her posture.
DP: She looks good now.
AM: She's amazing.
DP: What about J-Lo?
AM: (laughs) No comment. Who told you ... why did you ask me about Jennifer Lopez?
DP: I just threw it out there.
AM: You heard something from one of my teammates. No comment, man. My wife might read this!
DP: Who has an ass like hers in the NBA?
AM: (laughs) Oh, my goodness! She is, you know, she is ... different, man. She is a different breed. Good gracious, man. Let's stick with Angela Bassett.
DP: You thought I was going man-to-man and I hit you with a zone.
AM: You did, man.

DP: First dunk attempt?
AM: I was 14 and it was at the Indian River Recreation Center. We were playing a pickup game. You know how when you get to that age and you are trying to dunk, you try to get your fingers at least over the rim. And you try to palm it enough that you can get it over the rim. You try so much that the inside of your middle finger gets this callous. Then it rips and it bleeds because you're trying so hard to get up there. Finally, I did it and I did it by mistake. I was on a break and I tried to dunk and I barely got it over the rim and dunked. I just kind of stopped in awe. Like, "did I just do that?" Since then I figure, hey, I'm making progress. I remember when I couldn't do something that I can do now. It's progress .... hey, you know another hero of mine? I just started getting into this man this last year. That's Lance Armstrong. I read his book when I was out (not playing early last season). Other than my family, he was the biggest inspiration to me for my comeback to the game.
DP: Does he know that?
AM: I don't think so. But his book inspired me so much when I was out. I thought about all he had to go through. Starting with testicular cancer and on to brain cancer. He was on his deathbed and his doctors didn't expect him to make it. Though it was not as severe, it was kind of the same scenario with me. Doctors didn't expect me back on the court. They thought I'd be on dialysis about now. Lance Armstrong just defied all odds. His motivation was to not only prove wrong those who thought he couldn't do it, all the sponsors that gave up on him. And he got to a point where he ran out of money for his doctor bills. But he used that bike as his strength. I use basketball as my strength. Obviously, we both have a strong faith in God. Your spirit has to be strong, too. He kept his mind strong. He didn't go crazy. He kept his mind and his heart strong and eventually his body caught up. That was my focus too.
DP: It also must have reminded you that you can't feel sorry for yourself.
AM: Oh yes. And he didn't either. At all.
DP: Even now he doesn't.
AM: He is an amazing individual.

DP: Is there room for humor in the NBA? When is the last time Pat Riley made you laugh?
AM: Actually, a lot of people don't know him. He is one of the most intense people you will ever be around. But he has his moments. Kind of like Jekyll and Hyde. And a lot of it depends on how you're doing on the court. If you're winning, everything is milk and cookies. But if you're losing, he'll change. He is the most intense and worst loser you'd ever want to be around. But he can make you laugh.
DP: I can't imagine Pat Riley telling a joke.
AM: That's what I'm saying. You have to be around him. He is always intense with you, but in his classroom when he's teaching us, you see so many different sides of him.
DP: OK. Who's funnier, Riley or John Thompson?
AM: I've seen them both have comical sides. They are both intense coaches. They have the same demeanor, believe it or not. The only difference is one is white and one is black. I'm serious. Both of them. It was a Godsend for me to have both of them as a coach. They're the same. I'm used to Pat because Big John was the same way. Anything Pat throws at me I can take. A lot of guys can't handle it. My thing is this: I haven't won a damn thing. The man has won five NBA championships. So until I win one, I might hold back on my second-guess or doubt about what he's trying to get through to me. Until then, I'm going to listen to what the hell he has to say to me. And do what he wants me to do. And go from there.

DP: What uniform could you not put on?
AM: The Memphis uniform.
DP: I didn't like the old Charlotte uniform. Didn't like the teal.
AM: Oh, really. Was it too feminine for you?
DP: Too soft. Sure didn't scare me. I'd come down the lane on you wearing that. What about the Hawks?
AM: I like that uniform. Pretty good uniform. I just couldn't wear that Grizzlies uniform.
DP: Knicks?
AM: Oh, yeah, I could wear the Knicks uniform. Now I 'm not saying I want to end up there. But that attitude that Riles left there is still there. So I could see myself in that jersey, in that system.

DP: Where were you Sept. 11?
AM: The day before, I had just flown back from Gary Payton's charity game. That morning I was getting my son ready for school. I hear the breaking news on the radio. That a plane ran into the World Trade Center. At first I thought it hit the antenna on top. We go downstairs and we're having breakfast. My cook is down there watching the TV, and we saw the smoke coming off the first tower. My wife takes my son to school. I went upstairs to watch Peter Jennings on ABC. So I saw the second plane curl in and hit the tower. It just did not look real to me. I thought it was a movie. I was in shock and disbelief. I never thought I would see anything like that. Then I started to think about the people in the building. Then I was thinking about the people on the ground nearby. It really rattled me, obviously. I just didn't think the world would get to this point. These people have just taken the kindness of the United States as a weakness.

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