Mourning Becomes Night
Alonzo Mourning ends his NBA career.
Alonzo Mourning is done with the NBA. Though he thought he would play this season at nearly 39 years old, Morning decided to call it quits after 15 years in the League. Despite long battles with cancer and knee and back injuries, he retires as a seven-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a one-time champion with the Miami Heat in 2006.
Mourning plans on staying active in his charity work and other philanthropic efforts. First on his agenda is an initiative to rank the “Top 33” players to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game based on- and off-court actions.
SLAM spoke to Zo the morning after he announced his retirement.
SLAM: When did you decide on retiring for real this time?
Alonzo Mourning: Well, I decided on it, and I was playing tug-a-war in my mind with it the past two or three months. As I was reaching the latter part of my rehab, I knew that I was about to make a decision to get back on this court sometime soon. I was feeling good. I was getting my strength back. One of the things that factored into all this— You know, I just left the inauguration and everybody was so excited about the weekend and people were running up to me. Fans wanted to take pictures and what have you. Many of them, the first thing they would ask me was, ‘How’s your health?’ That kind of struck a cord with me and just let me know, Hey, that’s the most important thing in all this right now. It wasn’t playing the game of basketball; it was preserving my health, and knowing that, God willing, I have a chance to live another 40 or 50 years on this earth and I wanted to b healthy doing it. I wanted to be healthy.
SLAM: Is this really it this time?
AM: Aw man, this is it. I knew that this was the time to truly close the door and start a new chapter in my life. I knew this was time and there are so many other chapters in my life that I’m ready to start right now. I think every player goes through this transition and nobody knows when their career is going to end, but you want to know and you want to feel when you walk away from the game, you want to feel like you done all you can, physically, for the game and for your craft. I feel like you understand the circumstances and all the things that I’ve gone through. I feel like I’ve done that. So, I’m at peace from that standpoint of walking away from the game.
SLAM: There are some guys who have great careers in the NBA and don’t win the championship, was that something that made it OK to retire now?
AM: Yeah. I got that piece of mind knowing that I accomplished that, being a part of an amazing group of guys and the whole process of winning it all. Now it’s time to really just focus on my service to others, and it’s something that I’ve taken a great deal of pride in building my philanthropic efforts. It’s a reason why I’m a part of the [McDonalds All-American Committee], and what the actual game stands for and what the game over the years has done—not only has it impacted and provided entertainment for the community, but, at the same time, it’s paid a significant role in being a part of helping young people. Through the Ronald McDonald house, all the proceeds of the game go toward a Ronald McDonald house charity and helping children and families. So, that was right up my alley and was a no-brainer for me to be a part of the whole process and helping to enhance McDonald’s efforts in making this a very successful game.
SLAM: How is your health right now, and how do you measure it?
AM: My health is great. I’m running again. I’m jumping again. It’s something that my doctors were concerned about. They knew with the knee-injury that I did have Dec. 19 in ’07, they knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t function the way I wanted to on the court, but to be able to run and jump, shoot the ball again, walk normal—obviously, we take that stuff for granted, but to be able to get back to that again and know that I have an opportunity to teach my son basketball moves and play with him outside and run after my grandkids one day, that’s what a whole lot more important to me then trying to make this valiant comeback.
SLAM: Do you think the comeback got in the way of that at all—family stuff?
AM: I think the family stuff got in the way of the comeback. (Laughs).
SLAM: That’s a good answer. Do you plan on remaining in Florida down there?
AM: Yeah, I’m not going anywhere. We got this beautiful home on the water we just built. I don’t see walking away from this; It’s cold everywhere else right now, man. The ocean right now is close to 70 degrees; the sun is shining. So, I don’t see leaving this place anytime soon.
SLAM: Is there a future for you in coaching on the bench or even coaching part-time?
AM: You know what? I’m not ruling out anything, but right now I don’t have the patience for that. I really don’t. I don’t have the patience for my [colleagues inaudible]. When I get a little older, I might consider it. My true passion is winning. The thing about that is, when you’re coaching and everything, you expect that out of every player, and [take] nothing less than that. So, I would get a little impatient and a little discouraged about if I didn’t get that out of my players, especially if someone didn’t want to listen to me. I wouldn’t have the patience for that.
SLAM: Did it bother you at all that you were passed over for MVP in 1999?
AM: Looking back on it now, no. Back then, it bothered me because I thought I deserved it. I worked my butt off that year, and I think that winning the defensive Player of the Year and then, you know being runner-up in the MVP voting it’s like, I just felt like I got slighted. A lot of it had to do—I felt like if the coaches and the players voted that year, I would have won it. But, it was the media. I don’t see how, I never really understood that, how can the media have that much power, and decided who was the best player in basketball when a lot of them, really 99.9 percent of them, never picked up a basketball in their lives.
SLAM: A good number of them—
AM: Yeah (Laughs), so I never really understood that, but it is what it is, and I have no complaints about my career and how it all manifested. I know that I left it all out there; I don’t think anybody can question that. They can’t question the fact that my dedication and me just leaving it, truly just leaving it all out there.
SLAM: Did you hear from any of your teammates?
AM: I did. I heard from quite a few of them. You know, it was just overall friendship and them understanding it was time for me to just walk away the way I did. But, they totally understood where my head was at that particular time, you know, because nothing is more important than your health. It really is, because one day this game is going to end, and if you look at professional athletes across the board whether it be hockey, baseball, football, you name it; I mean, guys—once you step away from the game—if you take out all the money and material things and what have you, you want your health, man. You can’t enjoy the rest of your life without it. So, that was one of the biggest factors in all of this.
SLAM: How exactly did you get involved doing the stuff you’re doing now with the McDonald’s game?
AM: Well, I got involved because I played in the game over 20 years ago, and I knew that overall, based on the children that I’ve had an impact on, knowing that this particular game truly ties into—all the proceeds benefit Ronald McDonald house charity chapters to help children and families in need. I knew that that is something I want to be a part of. This advisory council that McDonald’s has put together, will enable us to communicate with the future stars of the game, and we will be able to plant seeds in their minds and help them understand the importance of giving, and getting involved with their community as well. So, when you think about being an ambassador for this particular company—not only is this company world-renowned, very well-respected company across the globe—being a part of that group of individuals that grew as [professionals in them] and understand the importance of giving, it was a no-brainer for me to be a part of that process.
SLAM: How much did you play a part in actually picking and ranking?
AM: Well, I played a huge part in that; I picked the list. So, man, I sat down, I thought about it, I looked at the list, I said, ‘Hey, I wanted to choose some individuals that I felt not only embody the professionalism and the impact of the craft, or being successful in the statistics and making an impact that way. But, truly [stats] are in the balance which is, being of service to others.’
SLAM: Were there guys who came to your mind automatically?
AM: Okay. To put him at the top of the list, I think a person’s number probably had more to do with his or her impact off the court then they had on the court. Erving Magic Johnson was a champion at his sport in every level—high school, college, and the NBA—but he is a champion in the business community; he is a champion in the philanthropic community; he’s a champion across the board. When you think of Magic Johnson Enterprises, and what he accomplished, he is what every athlete wants to be when it comes to life after basketball. They want to be a business leader, you know? A lot of them don’t know how to do, and Magic has pretty much developed a formula of success from that standpoint. I have to say, he has all these Starbucks, Magic Johnson theatres, Fridays, the list goes on and on, and he does so much to be a voice for HIV/AIDS across the globe, and he’s done so much to provide educational opportunities to young kids through his foundation that he has had for years and years. So, I think he pretty much embodies all of that. What everything athlete should be as they transition from their sport.
SLAM: Anybody else that comes to your mind from that list?
AM: I’m a little biased, not to toot my own horn, but I got to throw myself in there because I realize the importance of service to others and I know that I wouldn’t be here without the contributions of others, and I want to make and hope that my overall effort’s contagious. I encourage others to give as well. Throw Shaq in there as the person that I played with that I was actually on a team with. Outside of all his individual accomplishments on the court, he is a guy that understands the importance of giving. He frequently donates his time and money to charities and causes, to Boys and Girls clubs and fundraising and doing the holidays and giving out gifts to kids, I think he has his “Shaqaclaus”—a little event that he does, that gives toys and everything to kids. So, Shaq understands the importance of giving; he’s also supported me in many of my philanthropic endeavors. And I have had the opportunity to do a couple of golf tournaments with him; we’ve raised significant funds for kids in the Newark area, which is where he’s from. So, we’ve had a great relationship. We really have.
SLAM: That sounds a lot like what Obama is talking about now—responsibility to the community.
AM: Very much so. And it’s the right thing to say, it’s the right thing to do right now considering the turmoil that our world is in. It’s the right thing to do, and we can’t just put this all on one man. You right, Obama put it—it’s simple—we all need to roll up our sleeves and become active participants in fixing America, in fixing our whole world.
SLAM: Are you inspired by him a lot?
AM: Oh, very much so. My wife and I worked his campaign down here last year. We played a big role in trying to connect with the young vote, here in Florida. And, I think it made a world of difference in the election. To establish that younger vote, you know, and kids realizing that their futures will be determined by our leadership. So, that’s why many of them went out and voted this year.
SLAM: What was the greatest experience you had putting on some type of event where people in need benefited?
AM: The greatest experience in giving that I’ve had? I don’t think there’s one that truly stands out. There was a woman, she was a grandmother, she had seven grandkids, and her daughter was a drug-abuser, and she pretty much abandoned her seven grandkids. Anyway, during the hurricane that we had down here that disgraced a lot of individuals, and I was coming here from a preseason game—and we were out of our home then because at the time we had no electricity, we were out of power for a couple of weeks. So, a lot of the players stayed at different hotels and what have you, so when I was coming in late we were staying in the Ritz Carlton and, you know how they have the newspapers right there at the door, as you walked to the hotel when you come in late?
AM: They had a pile of those papers and we had gotten in around—we were on a road trip—and we just gotten in around almost 5 a.m. So, I looked down at the Sunday paper and right on the cover there was Miss Rose and her seven grandkids sitting on this bleacher in a shelter because they had lost everything. So I picked the paper up and walked upstairs. I was up to about 6 a.m. before I went to sleep, winding down. Everybody is around, my family, in the hotel room sleeping and I said, ‘I can’t just look at this and not do anything about it.’ So immediately, the next day in practice, I solicited about $150,000 from my teammates, and I went to Mick [Garrison] and had him match it dollar-for-dollar. We raised a little over $300,000, and we bought Miss Rose a home. Yeah, we bought her a home and that’s what it’s all about—
SLAM: That is what it’s about.
AM: Using your overall abilities, influences, resources, to not only help yourself, but to help others. And, that’s one of the things that what we do at AM Charities. That’s what it’s all about, to make things like that happen for other people.