Doctor: Mourning's labs 'went haywire'

Updated: November 25, 2003, 8:54 PM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Alonzo Mourning's kidney disease caused his body chemistry to go so "haywire" that he was in danger of having a heart attack if he continued to play basketball.

Mourning was packing for a West Coast trip when he got that news from his doctor, who said it was time for the New Jersey Nets center to leave the game.

"There's a disappointment there because I still feel there's an emptiness in my career that just wasn't filled," Mourning told John Thompson, his former Georgetown coach.

"It's unfortunate, but trust me things could be a whole lot worse," Mourning said in the interview on TNT, where Thompson is an NBA analyst. "I want to live 50 more years. I'm 33 years old ... and I want to live to at least be 80 and see my kids grow up and see my grandkids. That's important to me."

The life-threatening kidney disease that has limited Mourning's play in two of the last three seasons had gotten worse since his return this season, the team announced Monday.

He now needs a transplant -- soon. A nationwide search is under way for a prospective donor.

Mourning's doctor said the basketball player's kidney function deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks. Dr. Gerald Appel, a kidney specialist at Columbia University Medical Center, told Mourning that his "labs have gone haywire" and that he would have to stop playing.

"'No, doc, no.' I said, 'Why?' said Mourning, who sat out last season because of the illness and then signed a four-year, $22 million contract with the Nets in July.

"He said, 'Well your potassium has gotten to a level where if you play, then you put yourself into a position for heart palpitations and cardiac arrest,"' Mourning told Thompson.

The Kidney and Urology Foundation of America said more than 57,000 people are awaiting transplants. Seventeen people die every day while waiting to receive an organ, and 24 percent of those waiting for a kidney transplant die before they get one.

"The story of Alonzo Mourning's return to the NBA this year is one of success, not failure," Dr. Ira Greifer, the foundation president, said in a statement Monday. "We are encouraged by his own strength in battling kidney disease, and his determination to lead the life he desires."

Mourning's illness, called focal glomerulosclerosis, is a degenerative disease usually associated with diabetes or hardening of arteries within the kidneys.

The disease mainly affects adolescents, but also occurs in young and middle-aged adults. Treatment is not very effective, and most people develop end-stage kidney failure within five to 20 years of diagnosis.

Former San Antonio Spurs player Sean Elliott contracted the same ailment and underwent a kidney transplant in 1999. He returned briefly in 2001, then retired.

It was not immediately clear whether the Nets will have to pay Mourning the entire value of his contract. Nets president Rod Thorn refused to discuss Mourning's salary Monday.

During his four months with the Nets, Mourning epitomized a strong work ethic.

"For him to come out and almost kill himself to just play the game that he loves, it just shows the kind of person 'Zo is," Nets All-Star point guard Jason Kidd said.

Mourning played just 12 games in this comeback, saving his best for last. He had a season-high 15 points in 16 minutes in an 81-80 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. However, he looked exhausted when he left the court for a breather in the fourth quarter.

The announcement of his retirement came just four days after Mourning and teammate Kenyon Martin nearly came to blows when Martin teased Mourning about his kidney condition at practice Thursday.

Martin admitted Monday he made a big mistake.

"In the heat of the moment, you say things you wished you hadn't, no matter if it's basketball, or at work," Martin said. "I apologized right afterward. It still doesn't take it back that I said it."

Mourning averaged 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 17.9 minutes for the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, who have struggled this season, posting a 5-7 record. His career averages were 20.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game coming into this season.

He was in his 12th season in the NBA, having previously played for the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat. Mourning also was a member of the 2000 gold medal-winning Team USA Olympic squad.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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