Alonzo Mourning humbled by Hall call

Among all of his accolades, Mourning says his top achievement was returning from a kidney ailment. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Some people wait a lifetime to get into the Hall of Fame. Alonzo Mourning is so busy in his post-NBA career that it seems like a challenge to squeeze in his own induction. Just in the past few weeks, Mourning has had plenty of tasks to juggle.

As a proud father, he recently settled his eldest son, Trey, in for his freshman year at Georgetown, where the young power-forward prospect will continue the family legacy of Hoyas big men.

As a community activist and champion for children's services, Mourning secured a $1 million grant from a healthcare conglomerate last month and has been implementing plans to use the funds for his Overtown Youth Center in Miami, among other programs.

And as one of the long-standing faces of the Miami Heat franchise even well into retirement, Mourning has been at the forefront of the team's push to restore confidence to a fan base that was devastated by LeBron James' abrupt free-agency departure to return to Cleveland last month.

Considering all that's been on his itinerary of late, Mourning probably didn't have to work this hard during his decorated playing career that spanned parts of 15 NBA seasons. But when one of the most dominant centers in NBA history enters Springfield for enshrinement ceremonies Friday, he'll do so essentially on the shoulders of three men who collectively changed, saved and redefined his life.


Dobbs Nobody I've been around has more blood and sweat equity in this game than this man, Alonzo.

"-- Pat Riley

There's legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson, a lifelong mentor Mourning credits for teaching him how to be a responsible man.

There's Jason Cooper, the cousin who donated the kidney for the transplant that Mourning insists saved both his career and long-term health.

And there's Heat president Pat Riley, who gifted Mourning with lessons on professionalism, perseverance and patience on the way to ultimately becoming an NBA champion.

When Mourning gets his turn at the podium to deliver his acceptance speech, expect to hear and learn far more about the impact Thompson, Cooper and Riley had on Mourning's life and career than anything he has to say regarding the individual impact he's had on the game.

"I'm not going into the Hall of Fame alone," Mourning maintained in several interviews leading to Friday's induction. "I'm really taking in so many people that helped contribute to my well-being, not just as a professional athlete but as a person. I'm very thankful for the opportunities, and how each of those individuals gave me a piece of themselves throughout my life."

Mourning, who enters the Hall on his first ballot, anchors a 10-member class that also includes former players Mitch Richmond, Bob Leonard, Nat Clifton, Sarunas Marciulionis and Guy Rodgers; coaches Nolan Richardson and Gary Williams; former NBA commissioner David Stern and Immaculata University's women's championship teams from the early 1970s.

Mourning's basketball résumé speaks for itself. He was a seven-time All-Star, two-time defensive player of the year, Olympic Gold medalist and a member of the Heat's 2006 championship team. He played during an era that featured some of the all-time greatest centers in Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Shaquille O'Neal.

Although he was not as flashy and powerful as some or as offensively gifted as others, Mourning approached the game with such a high level of intensity that, according to teammates, it frequently left him vomiting in timeouts during games to ease his tension and anxiety. He deserves his spot in the Hall alongside the premier big men he battled with in the low post throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

"When you talk about Alonzo ... what it comes down to is he's the absolute, ultimate warrior," Riley once said. "Nobody I've been around has more blood and sweat equity in this game than this man, Alonzo. He gave everything he had to the game, but, as a competitor, never gave an inch."

Even with all of his accolades, Mourning has long considered his greatest accomplishment to be his return from a kidney transplant in 2003 after a decade in the league.

Former Heat teammate Tim Hardaway was with Mourning as members of the 2000 Olympic team in Australia when there were initial concerns about Mourning's health.

"We pushed his skin in [on his leg] and it wouldn't come out right away. It just stayed in, and came out very, very slow," Hardaway recalled this week in an interview with ESPN.com. "The doctors said, 'Maybe the tape's too tight. Let's not get excited until we get back to the States.'"

After returning from the Olympics, more tests were run that ultimately confirmed the kidney ailment.

"Pat [Riley] called us in and told us what was going on," Hardaway said. "I was like, 'Wow.' Just as a person, that was devastating. It was tough to swallow because he was in such great shape, a fine specimen. All year long when I saw him, it was just tough to see him like that.

"But he worked through it. He would not let that stop him. That was a tribute to the hard work and the determination."

Perhaps Mourning had done enough in his career at that point to make a strong case for the Hall of Fame. But there's no doubt that the conviction and courage he showed in recovering from the eventual transplant surgery and returning to the Heat to finally win a championship made his induction a formality.

"When you think about my career as a whole, I've lived a storybook life," Mourning said. "When you think about all of the obstacles I had to overcome ...

"There are a lot of great ones that didn't have a chance to get there, let alone win it. To get back on that court after that transplant, to get back there and win it, is the ultimate accomplishment throughout my career outside of getting to the Hall of Fame."


I was a young kid from Virginia who didn't understand how important selflessness truly was until it saved my life.

"-- Alonzo Mourning

While getting to the Hall was one obstacle for Mourning, making sure he sets aside the time to enjoy the culmination of that journey is another one altogether. But if any week can force Mourning to slow down and embrace each phase of his life seemingly flashing before his eyes, it's this one.

He's gone from setting picks for point guards to setting up fundraisers at his home for President Obama.

He's transitioned from raising division, conference, Olympic and NBA championship banners at AmericanAirlines Arena to raising nearly $10 million in Miami for youth charities.

He's sending his son to the same university where Mourning, a product of the foster care system, once learned from one of the only real father figures he ever had. Life has indeed come full circle.

"We're all products of how other people have touched us, how they taught us, pushed us, loved us in so many different ways," Mourning said. "I'm humbled I'm experiencing this moment."

Throughout his career, Mourning was known to flash his bulging biceps far more often than a smile. He routinely shed defenders with those massive shoulders, but rarely shed emotional tears. Those are the byproducts of leading the league in blocked shots and toughness.

So on Friday, you'll have to excuse Mourning if he gets a bit choked up while thanking Thompson.

"He taught me more about life than he did about basketball," Mourning says of Thompson. "He treated me more like a son than he did a basketball [player]. He truly gave a part of himself to make sure I turned out all right."

Mourning will then turn to Riley, his other Hall of Fame presenter, with emotional words. "No coach has been better at channeling my will to win, at bringing out every ounce of everything I had in me as a competitor," Mourning says of Riley. "He literally drove me to this point. That's all part of my DNA now, because of Pat Riley."

It was Cooper, though, who taught him perhaps the most meaningful lesson along the way.

"I was a young kid from Virginia who didn't understand how important selflessness truly was until it saved my life," Mourning said of Cooper, who was the first person Mourning called after learning he would be inducted into the Hall. "He played a big part in that."

Blocked shots and rebounds defined a career for Mourning that has busily blossomed well beyond basketball. But his path to Springfield was paved with life-altering assists.

They came from those who helped Mourning make this Hall pass a slam dunk.