Q+A: Alonzo Mourning
Zo discusses the NBA age limit, struggles of NBA retirees and Trayvon Martin.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
Alonzo Mourning was in Chicago yesterday to help Gatorade announce the brand’s boys basketball player of the year, awarded to Simeon Career Academy junior Jabari Parker. Mourning and Gatorade officials surprised Parker with the news during his Spanish class. Following the announcement, SLAM had an opportunity to interview Mourning about the day’s festivities. Through the occasional blaring bells ringing through Simeon Academy, the former NBA great touched on various topics, including the NBA age limit, the struggles of retired NBA players and attending the Miami Trayvon Martin rally.
SLAM: You won Gatorade boys basketball player of the year in 1988. Did surprising Jabari today bring back any memories for you?
Alonzo Mourning: It was so long ago [Laughs]. The only memory I can think of is LaBradford Smith and J.R. Reid were two individuals I was very much aware of in the high school rankings. They received the award before me and I was the third recipient of the award and I felt like that put me on a different level as a player. It helped springboard me into other accolades and inspired me to work that much harder because of the expectations.
SLAM: Did you get a chance to visit with Jabari and give him any advice?
AM: I had a chance to talk to him a little bit. We had a great conversation. He’s a bright young man, he cares about other people. It’s not all about him. He was praising his teammates. More than anything, I’m impressed with his academic excellence and his community endeavors as well. He has everything in balance in his life and is still inspired to learn. The only advice I can give a kid like that is to continue to work as hard as he can and don’t take what you have been given for granted. Continue to be a full time student even after school is over with. Continuing to learn and becoming a full time student will open up tremendous opportunities down the road.
SLAM: He is definitely a very well rounded young man and his coach at Simeon believes he can be one of the best to ever play the game. That is some high praise.
AM: I agree with that. He does have that potential. The approach he’s taking right now is going to make that transition easy for him. It seems like he has his priorities straight.
SLAM: Why do you think you maintained your relationship with Gatorade many years down the road?
AM: Gatorade is a company that is the best at what they do from a global perspective. Also, they’re not just about selling sports drinks. They are about enhancing the community as well. That is a part of my DNA and all of my philanthropic endeavors throughout my career have been about giving back. Gatorade truly exemplifies that. It was a no brainer being a part of this award—obviously I received it back in 88’ and the qualities of what this award stands for, the three pillars are athletics, academics and community service—that is something that has great chemistry with what I stood for.
SLAM: It’s been nearly five years since you retired from the NBA. What’s this chapter of your life been like thus far?
AM: Well, I’m an ambassador for Gatorade and a spokesman for this award. I work for the Miami Heat as one of the VP’s for the organization: Vice-President of Player Development and Programs. I’m a father—that’s a job in itself. I’m on the board of trustees for Georgetown University. I run a prominent 501c3, to where we are responsible for thousands of lives that are affected by our work in the community. I keep pretty busy [Laughs].
SLAM: Can you describe some of your duties for the Heat?
AM: As VP of Player Development and Programs, I continue to stay connected with the players to try and help them to become better people, not just on the court, but off the court as well. I provide my expertise as a player, encouraging and advising individuals that will help them continue to make good decisions and take the right steps throughout their careers.
SLAM: It sounds like you have made the transition very well. I’ve discussed leaving the game with several players in the past. The thought of giving up something you have trained the majority of your life for in your mid-thirties and transitioning to a new profession can be difficult for some. Did you face any difficulties despite being ready to move on?
AM: I had to make some adjustments from a financial standpoint obviously because you don’t make those huge checks anymore. When I think about it, I think about basketball being the toy department of human affairs. When I look at the life we lived in the NBA as athletes, it’s pretty much a fantasy world—that’s not normal. Once you retire from that, the ball stops bouncing and you have to make adjustments in your life. I think that’s one of the toughest transitions for players. When that ball does stop bouncing, when do you start preparing for that life? You need to start preparing for that life at the beginning of your career. Not enough emphasis is being placed on that and I think the statistics speak for themselves, which is extremely unfortunate to see 75-80 percent of basketball players and players in other sports filing for bankruptcy a couple years after they retire. The transition can be difficult for a lot of people. For me it’s been pretty smooth because of the relationships I’ve been able to establish and the decisions I’ve made as a player. That’s what it pretty much comes down to. I think life is about relationships and your decisions dictate your future.
SLAM: Did you prepare early in your career by focusing on different endeavors during the off-season?
AM: I had a great team of individuals around me. Again, it’s about who you surround yourself with to help you make the right decisions as your career begins to decline on the basketball court. It’s important that you have those individuals to give you advice when necessary so you can hit the ground running when you do retire.
SLAM: How’s your health, and what do you these days to stay fit? You were always in tremendous shape as a ball player.
AM: I maintain it through diet and exercise. I take a holistic approach to my body: natural medicine and herbs. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods or fried foods at all. It basically comes down to nutrients your body needs. As you get older your body becomes Vitamin D deficient and you lose some of the quality nutrients that your body needs to continue to progress. I take advice from nutritionists and individuals that allow me to educate myself on natural supplements to help me strengthen my immune system. On top of that, it comes down to being an active participant in this whole process. Becoming fit. I still do yoga, I spin, I bike a lot. Continuing the cardio and strength training, I still lift—not as much as I used to but I still lift to maintain. I love yoga. I think flexibility is the fountain of youth. There are so many different things you can do to adjust as you get older. You just need to be open to educate yourself. You can’t continue to do the things you were doing when you were younger because it will catch up to you.
SLAM: You and your son attended the Miami rally for Trayvon Martin. Why was it important for you to be there?
AM: I have a 15-year-old son. He is 6-8 and a half and he wears a size 16 shoe. If you saw him from a distance, he looks like a grown man. And he loves wearing hoodies. I can’t tell you how many hoodie sweatshirts he has in his closet. So when I saw the situation evolve with the Martin family, I thought about my son. It could have been him. And I’m very blessed to have the lifestyle I have and creating a great atmosphere for my family. But when you think about that situation and the injustice. You think about an innocent young man on his way home who posed no threat to anyone—it’s an unfortunate loss. But at the same time, this was an opportunity for individuals to voice their opinion about violence around the country. Not just with young black men—I’m talking about all different races. Teenage violence, violence in the schools, things of that nature. It’s important for us to continue to magnify the importance of brining attention to stopping situations like that from evolving. I’m a strong believer that in order to see change, you have to become that change you want to see. That’s something that I want changed in my community. I’m sure I speak for millions of parents out there: they want to see that change in their community. We’re tired of seeing young people die to the hands of violence. Not enough is being done about it. This gave me an opportunity and a platform to speak my mind in support of this particular initiative. Because I feel like it is very important for us to stop this ongoing trend of violence in the lives of our young people across the country.
SLAM: There has been some discussion of late about the NBA age rule between David Stern and the head of the NCAA. You were 22-years-old when you entered the League after Georgetown. How much did college prepare you for what you were faced with in the NBA?
AM: I tell you, college was the best four years of my life. You think about not just what you learn in the classroom, but the social environment and how that helps you develop—just being around people. That exposure through development. I feel like a lot of young kids are missing out on that part of life. I’m an advocate of kids being in school much longer because there is an education component not just inside the classroom, but outside the classroom and that is very beneficial for the next level. Avoiding that can have some adverse effects on these kids careers. A lot of these kids might be ready for the League talent wise, but mentally they might not be ready for the next step. You are talking about grown men with families that these 18-19-year-old kids are around on a regular basis. A young kid playing around these grown men and you gravitate towards their habits because you are around them on a regular basis. These aren’t healthy habits. A lot of these kids get gobbled up by the NBA because they try to grow up too fast. One thing that I can assure you: Once you enter into that professional field, your responsibilities increase tremendously. With the responsibilities increasing, it means high expectations for a young kid to get it done. You’re the first, second, fifth pick in the lottery and 18-years-old. Those are high expectations. It can be a crushing blow to some kids not ready mentally. When I came out of college after my senior year and graduating from Georgetown University—I was ready. When I came in I hit the ground running and that is why I had a successful career from the start, averaging twenty-something points, ten rebounds and three or four blocks my rookie season. A lot of that was due to the seasoning I got from all four years of college. The same thing with Tim Duncan and the same thing with Patrick Ewing. It was the same for all of those individuals.