Why is the sporting world insisting on returning me to the Summer of 1993? Jim Thome just retired a few days ago and now Alonzo Mourning has been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame yesterday. In 1993, Mourning was part of a young Hornets team that defeated the old guard Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
Alonzo Mourning’s legacy with the Hornets is a mixed bag. It started well enough. Mourning entered the NBA draft in 1992 as the consensus number two prospect out of Georgetown. The only man rated better was Shaquille O’Neal. This did not bother a younger version of me because O’Neal and Mourning played the same position, and getting either was a big win. The Hornets had drafted Larry Johnson the previous year and optimism was high.
Mourning was picked number two by Hornets and became their starting center. He was a shot blocker and an inside scorer. He averaged 21 pts 10 reb and 3 blk in his three years in Charlotte. He also had a confidence that sometimes outstretched his abilities. Mourning liked to take open jumpers from near three point range, but probably shouldn’t have. That led to his magical shot against Boston, which Reece Helms posted on Swarm and Sting here. Yes, that is young Tony Bennett, now UVA coach Tony Bennett in the game.
Charlotte fans assumed that the triumvirate of Johnson-Mourning-Kendall Gill would turn into a young monster that would take over at about the time the Bulls were ready to leave the scene. It never happened. Gill refused to be third banana and was traded the next year. Johnson received a record contract extension, which hampered the team’s efforts to resign Mourning after the 1995 season.
Owner George Shin refused to budge over the cap for Mourning, and Mourning also had a deep respect for Pat Riley, who had taken over the Miami Heat as coach. Mourning had seen what Riley had done for another Georgetown center, Patrick Ewing, and wanted to benefit as well. New Hornets GM Bob Bass made the first of several small market dictated trades when he traded Mourning to the Heat for Glen Rice, Matt Geiger, and Khalid Reeves.
After that a younger me lost respect for Mourning. As far as younger me could tell, he had organized his own exit to a team that had come into existence the same time the Hornets had. That made Miami a rival of sorts and Mourning a traitor. An older me would not have been so harsh. The result was that when Mourning had health problems that required kidney transplants, I was not sympathetic. When Mourning won a title with the Heat in 2006 after a long journey, I was happy. Not for him, but for Dwayne Wade and Shaq. Shaq had beaten Kobe to a title, and I was glad since I was pro-Shaq and anti-Kobe.
However it is time to recognize that young me overreacted and therefore missed out on a Hall of Fame career by a good person. He has created charitable foundations to help children and help spread awareness and help those with the disease glomerulosclerosis. At his induction speech, Mourning thanked his doctors and his cousin Jason Cooper, who donated his kidney to Zo. It was touching that Zo wore a purple tie, giving at least a hint of the former Charlotte Hornet.
Mourning thrived in his NBA career on effort and doggedness. He was never the tallest big man on the court, though you would not have known it. Nor was he the fastest. But Mourning gave the sport everything he had. We can only hope that he continues such efforts in the years to come.
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