BY MATT CAPUTO
Alonzo Mourning has come a long way since his first SLAM cover appearance – issue No. 13 / October 1996. In the accompanying story, he told the writer that he “hadn’t had the opportunity” to get involved in community affairs yet. In his sixteen seasons in the NBA, Mourning has always put in work. He’s the Miami Heat’s all-time leading scorer and he’s won an NBA championship ring, as well as an Olympic Gold Medal. He is a seven-time all-star who made a heroic return to the league after receiving a kidney transplant . While all said accolades are common knowledge – peeps might know significantly less about his philanthropy and advocacy of health and education.
Alonzo Mourning Charities was founded in 1997 to aid in the development of children and families living in at-risk situations. After being diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis, a serious kidney ailment, at the start of the 2000-2001 season, Mourning launched “Zo’s Fund for Life” to raise money to fight and raise awareness about the condition. Though an injury to his knee cost him all but 25 games in 2007-2008, Mourning says he’s getting in shape to play again. Through his various efforts and those of many of his celebrity friends, Mourning hasn’t let his lack of activity on the court get in the way of the good he’s doing off it.
This past weekend Mourning hosted his annual fundraiser “Zo’s Summer Groove” throughout Florida. He teamed-up with his teammate Dwyane Wade to blowout this year’s event and raise funds to fuel the various causes they’re working with. With that, SLAM checked-in with ‘Zo to see how his weekend went.
SLAM: How long have you been doing this event?
ALONZO MOURNING: This was our 12th year doing the “Zo summer weekend”. I see that there is a need for charity work, and there are so many young people in my community that need someone to help them understand the value of education because the school system is not doing that job right now. You think about the kids in these old crowded class rooms and a lot of these kids are coming from impoverished backgrounds, and a lot of these kids have parents who are just as illiterate as they are and we are looking for some other organizations to step up to the plate in assisting the school system to create positive opportunities in these kids’ lives.
SLAM: What are some of the festivities?
ALONZO MOURNING: It is a weekend festivity for charity where we had numerous events formulated for everybody in the family to enjoy. It started with basketball clinics for the kids, we had a clinic in Miramar and Broward, we also had a dinner and a golf tournament. Queen Latifah came to the dinner, and Michael Strahan, Randy Moss, myself, D-wade, Dr.J, and a host of other stars that participated in the event as well. There were over 300 golfers at the event and we used three courses at Dural, it was a lot of fun and a pretty big time event.
The dinner was a beach theme this year so they all came relaxed in linen and tropical outfits and we had one of the biggest signing auctions I have ever seen in my life, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my event. There were all sorts of memorabilia from all different sports and it was really a lot of fun. Queen Latifah performed at the dinner and then there were after parties. There was a youth summit which is my favorite part of the event. We had over 400 young boys and girls from all over Florida, and we had a panelist of individuals from all different walks of life. About 10 men and 10 women that talked about having career success and what it takes to form a successful career. We talked about relationships, peer pressure, drugs and gangs, different topics that provide hope and encouragement and positive direction that will build a positive foundation in their lives. Not just sit up on this panel and we are talking about how successful we are, but we are talking about the things that we had to go through and the mistakes that we made are the same mistakes that they are making right now or will make and in order for us to get to that particular level that we want to go to we have to learn from our mistakes. That was a 9-4 pm type of session, and we brought the male panelists to talk to the young men and then the women panelists to talk to the young women and they about different issues and then they all reconvene to talk about issues that are important in their lives. That was a huge part of the weekend.
Gatorade hosted the G2 Lounge where athletes and celebrities were bowling to raise $50K for my charities and DWade’s “World Foundation.” Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Randy Moss, Queen Latifah, Chris Tucker and several others were in town for that.
Later that evening we had a comedy show with Chris Tucker performing and Bruce Bruce and JB Smooth, we had seven comedians total and then on Sunday we had a block party that was free to the public with a health village that provided free health screening, whether it be checking blood pressure or blood sugar, which is very important, this was giving them an opportunity to get a little small physical as you might say. Best Buy created an electronic village with all sorts of up to date electronics and games where people came and tested it out. We also had bounce houses and different rids and games for the kids, prizes, restaurants on locations, prize giveaways. That went on from 1-6pm, all free to the public, which was followed by the all-star basketball right inside the American airlines arena. The game featured Lebron James, Sam Cassel, Carlos Boozer, Chris Paul, Tim Hardaway, Anfernee Hardaway, Eddie Jones, we had an old school versus the new school game so we had players from the past playing against the younger players in the league.
SLAM: Sounds like a good time.
ALONZO MOURNING: It was a lot of fun, there was entertainment at the game besides basketball, every quarter had a lot of stuff for the fans going on with a lot of interaction, lot of tee-shirt tossing. It was just a really fun-filled event and the key to all of it is that we have created a positive atmosphere of weekend events that have encouraged individuals from all different walks of life and their families to enjoy an event that will help us continue to raise funds towards to battling this terrible epidemic that we have here and getting these kids to graduate high school. We have 54% of the young men and women not graduating high in our public school system in Miami-dade and that’s a very disgusting statistic considering how rich in resources the area is and the state of Florida. I’m saying to myself ‘wow we can’t leave it to our politicians, we as a whole have to come together as responsible adults and try to support these type of initiatives and organizations that provide the youth center that we have.
We have a youth center with an after school program that was built by a local philanthropist, martin margolis, who put in $2.5 million and he asked the Alonzo Mourning charities to make sure that the center is financially viable for years to come and to also make sure that make sure that every square foot of the facility is used for the children and family of the community.
I took it as an honorable opportunity to take that task and run with it and it was a very kind gesture from him and a blessing too. I knew that I couldn’t let him down so what I’ve been doing is creating these events. I partnered up with d-wade this year who has been tremendously helpful in bringing both of our resources to the table which will enable us to do more for kids and in our community. We felt the chemistry as soon as we started and I can tell that it’s going to be a win-win situation for everyone.
SLAM: Seems like you’re focused on a lot more than basketball these days.
ALONZO MOURNING: My dream is to implement these types of programs across south Florida and beyond. We have adapted a model from Portland, OR called SEI (Self-enhancement INC), which is a 26-year-old organization. They have 100% of their kids graduating high school, 85% go off to college and graduate as well. It was an amazing model to adopt and implement for the over-town youth center and we have seen a tremendous amount of success from it right here. The effects of the program with the kids have been amazing. I’m excited about the endless possibilities that we can have if we continue to get the support from other corporations and private entities to help us continue our efforts in the community.
SLAM: In 2004, you made a contribution to the Democratic Party, are you supporting Barack Obama?
ALONZO MOURNING: I do support Obama. We just did a fundraiser back in November for Barack. We had a tremendous amount of success. It was really a historical moment for both the kids and the town as well. Some of our leadership high-scholars got the chance to introduce him, and it really was a great moment. It definitely put a stamp on some of the positive things that he said.
SLAM: How’s your knee and your health in general? How far are you from playing shape?
ALONZO MOURNING: My knee is doing well. I’d say it’s about a 6 out of 10 right now. I still have a lot more work to do – it’s a process. The doctor said it would take about a year to get this thing to where I want it to be, and I’m six months into it right now. I just have to take my time, do what I need to do to get it as strong as possible so I can get to 100% so I can contribute to a young ball club and provide veteran leadership so I’m excited.
My health right now is great. My kidney functions are great, my doctor gave me the thumbs up and I’m not having any issues right now.
SLAM: Dwyane Wade took some heat for playing in the Olympics while coming off an injury. Having won a gold medal yourself, can you comment on the issue?
ALONZO MOURNING: I think regardless of what people say the Olympics’ are a great opportunity. D-wade has to do what’s best for him. I had an opportunity to win a gold medal and adding that to your resume is great moving along in your career. I told him that a medal is all he is really missing right now. If he feels that he is healthy, and he has worked his but off to get back strong again. He’s not going to be logging 40 minutes a game, he’s going to be part of a great group of individuals that’s going to help win this gold medal and I want to see him be a part of that. He’s only 26, and I think he still has the ability to be able to play year-round. I think he’s going to be all right.
SLAM: With all of your charity work – do you feel like the public’s perception of you has changed over the years?
ALONZO MOURNING: I can’t control peoples’ perception of me. All I can do is be a good person, make the right decisions and do the right thing. Christ walked the face of this earth one time and not everyone liked him and he did nothing but positive things. He taught people, he fed people, he healed the sick, he did good things. I know that I’m a good person at heart, I know with all my efforts I’m doing god’s work and I’m using that as a crutch to move forward in my life.