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Next week likely to determine Mourning's future plans

6/17/2006 - NBA Alonzo Mourning Miami Heat + more

MIAMI -- Alonzo Mourning's decision to play this season was
based partly on a request from his son Trey, who boldly predicted
2006 would be the year for the Miami Heat finally to win an NBA
championship.

"One more year," Mourning said last summer.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

On the eve of what could be his final home game in a Heat
uniform, Mourning said Saturday he hasn't made any decisions about
his future -- nor had he even realized Sunday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals might be his farewell as an active player in South Florida.

"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," Mourning said. "I
really hadn't even thought about it. I'm glad you brought that to
my attention. It could be the last time I play in this building."

And it's a building with many memories for Mourning -- but they
might all pale in comparison to the scene if Miami can beat the
Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night and take a 3-2 lead in the championship series.

A loss, and an uphill climb awaits -- with two road wins in
Dallas required for the Heat and Mourning to finally get that
championship they've chased for so long. Knowing that, Mourning,
who even in a backup role is still considered a team leader, said
no fire-and-brimstone speeches will be needed come Sunday.

If the Heat win a championship, the scenario of Mourning saying he's accomplished all his basketball goals and retiring certainly seems plausible. If they fall short, the Heat probably would ask Mourning to return -- just as he did this year for a veteran's minimum contract of about $1.1 million.

"If you need to say or do anything to get guys going to play in
the finals, then something is wrong," Mourning said. "That's how
I look at it, that's how we look at it. Once you get to this
particular stage in your career it's not about the speeches, it's
not about playing a song or what environment you're in or what have
you. It's about going out there and giving it all you got every
minute that you're out there."

That's exactly what Mourning has done in this series.

In 48 minutes over the four games, he's shooting 6-for-9 from
the field with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots --
numbers that once represented a typical night when Mourning was at
the peak of his stardom.

His role, of course, isn't the same now. His value remains
unchanged, though.

"Alonzo is one of the most important parts of this team," Heat
center Shaquille O'Neal said earlier in this year's playoffs.
"He's come up big for us many times."

And maybe that's why this might not necessarily be the end for
Mourning.

If the Heat win a championship, the scenario of Mourning saying
he's accomplished all his basketball goals and retiring certainly
seems plausible. If they fall short, the Heat probably would ask
Mourning to return -- just as he did this year for a veteran's
minimum contract of about $1.1 million.

So, essentially, the next few days likely will determine how
Mourning -- who, at 36, played in more games this regular season
(65) than he had since the 2001-02 campaign, before his kidney
disease necessitated a transplant and temporary retirement -- spends
the next year of his life.

"I haven't made any decisions of what the future of my career
entails," Mourning said. "Right now, my main focus is to just try
to contribute to the success of this franchise for us to win a
championship. When that does happen, that's when I'll sit down and
take the summer and decide with my family what'll be best for me."