Mourning runs out of NBA comebacks

Updated: January 23, 2009, 3:55 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The last question at Alonzo Mourning's retirement news conference came from the front row.

"So, Alonzo," said his wife, Tracy, "what are you going to do with all of this spare time you have?"

"Sweetheart, I think we've already talked about that," Mourning said with a smile.

"I want it on record," Tracy said.

"Well, I'll wash the dishes and take out the trash and clean the windows," Mourning said. "Whatever you want me to do, dear."

So it's official: Mourning's calling it quits. He'll do chores and play with his two kids and work on his golf game and promote his charitable causes. But after 15 seasons and countless career comebacks, he's done chasing championships.

The seven-time All-Star center said Thursday he won't return from a devastating leg injury Dec. 19, 2007 -- the fourth anniversary of his life-saving kidney transplant. He had been working out at the Miami Heat complex and said he's running and jumping again, but he feared another leg injury if he returned.

Helping to cement the decision was Mourning's trip to Washington this week to attend President Obama's inauguration.

"People would come up to me and they would ask me, `How are you doing? How is your health?" Mourning said. "It kind of struck a chord. I knew that's what it's all about -- my health. ... God willing I'll be able to live another 40 or 50 years, and I want to do it in a comfortable state. Right now I'm there."

Mourning, who turns 39 next month, played at Georgetown and was the second overall pick in the 1992 draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He also played for New Jersey but spent the majority of his career with the Heat, helping them reach the playoffs six consecutive years. He was the backup center to Shaquille O'Neal when Miami won the NBA title in 2006.

If he didn't have a championship ring, Mourning said, he might keep playing.

"When you've got something you love and you're passionate about, it's hard to let that go," Mourning said. "But at 38 I feel I've physically done all I can for this game. It has been an amazing ride."

Mourning was diagnosed in October 2000 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a career-threatening kidney disease. He missed most of the ensuing season but rejoined the Heat in March 2001 and made the All-Star team the following year.

When his condition worsened, he missed the entire 2002-03 season and underwent a transplant in 2003. Again he returned, but for three consecutive summers beginning in 2005, Mourning considered retirement.

He hasn't played since tearing the patella tendon and quadriceps muscle in his right leg 13 months ago. Even before Mourning was helped off the court that night, part of him knew he wouldn't be back.

"I was banging on the floor, and the words I was saying over and over were, `It's over. It's over," he recalled.

The start in Miami came in 1995, when Pat Riley took over as Heat coach and swung the trade that brought Mourning from the Hornets.

"He was the very best thing that ever happened to this franchise," said Riley, sitting between Mourning and owner Micky Arison at the news conference. "He will always be respected by Micky and myself for being the taproot of a culture that we're really proud of. He embodies that."

Riley's voice cracked as he finished his thought.

"We love you, Zo," he said. "You will wear that jersey one more time -- when we rip it off your back and hang it from the rafters."

Mourning visited the Heat locker room before Wednesday's game against Boston and told former teammates Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem he planned to retire.

"We've lost him as a basketball player, but he's still going to be around," Wade said. "He's still what Miami Heat basketball is all about. For any player who comes here, Alonzo is always going to be the mirror image of what you would like to be."

In 15 seasons, Mourning averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds and twice was chosen NBA defensive player of the year. His total of 2,356 blocks ranks 10th in league history, and he's the Heat's career leader in points, rebounds and games.

Mourning said he and his family will remain in Miami, where he has long supported charitable causes and campaigned for better education.

"I feel like my true purpose here is service to others," he said. "It's bigger than basketball."

As the news of Mourning's decision spread around the league, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and assistant coach Patrick Ewing -- a Hall of Fame player and, like Mourning, a former Georgetown star -- reminisced about Mourning's career.

"He was a guy who played as hard as anybody who's ever played in this league," Van Gundy said.

Van Gundy, Wade and others said Mourning's decision is the right one if he's at peace with it. And Mourning said he has no doubt the time is right to retire.

"I'm excited about what the future is going to bring," he said, nodding at the woman in the front row. "I see my wife there, glowing and smiling. We'll see how she looks in two or three weeks when I'm home on a regular basis."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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