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Wednesday, March 28, 2001
Mourning gets long ovation

MIAMI – All-Star center Alonzo Mourning returned Tuesday to play with the Miami Heat, coming back from a kidney ailment that had sidelined him this season and once threatened his career.

Dr. Jack Ramsay thinks after seeing Alonzo Mourning on the floor in a limited capacity that it will be a huge boost for the Heat as they push to the playoffs.

  • Dr. Jack's complete analysis
  • Mourning was added to the lineup for the game against the visiting Toronto Raptors and hopes to help the Heat as they head toward the playoffs next month.

    Mourning had nine points and six rebounds in 19 minutes as the Heat lost to the Raptors 101-92.

    The two-time defensive player of the year, Mourning entered the game with 3:43 to play in the first quarter and the Heat trailing 17-14. Mourning jumped off the bench, threw off his warmup jersey and sprinted to the scorer's table to replace Brian Grant, who left with two fouls.

    The near-sellout crowd gave Mourning a long standing ovation. He responded immediately with a defensive stop, forcing Antonio Davis to turn the ball over on the ensuing possession.

    Mourning got the ball on the other end but missed his first shot, which came on his trademark hard drive across the lane.

    Mourning, who started practicing with the team several weeks ago, decided to play after doctors told him his condition might not change for a year. He said he will be monitored closely and his return will be on a game-to-game basis.

    David Falk, his agent, stressed that Mourning is not cured, but his disease is in remission.

    "I am pleased finally to come to this day," Mourning said at a news conference at the Heat's arena. "The most difficult thing in all of this is that the doctors can't give me assurances about my future.

    "Every time I step out on the court I am afraid. I'm human."

    Heat coach Pat Riley said he was surprised Tuesday when told Mourning could return this season but always believed he would come back eventually.

    Riley said Mourning "has raised the level of his competition" in recent days, but he will not play many minutes in his first games.

    "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step," Riley said.

    Coincidentally, Hakeem Olajuwon was added to Houston's lineup for Tuesday night's game against Utah just two weeks after announcing he would be sidelined for up to six months because of a blood clot in his leg.

    The 38-year-old center was cleared to play after further tests revealed his condition had improved.

    Mourning's return bolsters the Heat's playoff chances. The team is 42-28 with 12 games left in the regular season and is in third place in the Atlantic Division, 7 games behind Philadelphia.

    Earlier this month, Riley said he would put the 6-foot-10 Mourning on the Heat's playoff roster in case he could play.

    The 31-year-old Mourning, a six-time All Star, had been sidelined since being diagnosed in October with focal glomerulosclerosis, an illness that leads to kidney failure in about half the cases. If Mourning's kidneys fail, he would need dialysis or a transplant.

    Mourning has been taking up to 11 pills a day to treat his kidneys and control his blood pressure and cholesterol. He also is following a strict low-sodium diet. He last played Oct. 1 in the U.S. Olympic team's gold-medal victory over France.

    San Antonio's Sean Elliott, who had the same kidney disease, was not surprised by Mourning's return.

    "I figured he could do it," Elliott said before the Spurs' home game against the Charlotte Hornets. "I think he just probably had to get through a lot of the year and his body had to kind of adjust to what was going on with it. Once that all happened, I was pretty sure that he'd be able to take the court."

    Mourning finished third in voting for the NBA's most valuable player award last season, averaging 21.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks a game, and was second in the MVP voting in 1998-99. The fans voted him to be the Eastern Conference starting center in last month's All-Star game even though he had said he would not play this season.

    Mourning said his goal was to help the team win a championship.

    "Whatever it takes," he said. "My teammates have done a tremendous job."

    Focal glomerulosclerosis, a relatively rare disease, attacks the tiny filters in the kidney that remove waste from the blood. Symptoms can include swelling in the legs, as in Mourning's case, and high rates of protein in the urine and high cholesterol.

    The Heat acquired Mourning in November 1995 from the Charlotte Hornets, who drafted him No. 2 overall out of Georgetown in 1992.

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