Mourning, Alonzo Harding, Jr.

views updated

MOURNING, Alonzo Harding, Jr.

(b. 8 February 1970 in Chesapeake, Virginia), professional basketball player; National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star; member of the 1994 world champion "Dream Team II" and the U.S. basketball team that won the gold medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia.

Mourning was born to Alonzo Mourning, Sr., a machinist in the Portsmouth, Virginia, shipyards, and Julia Mourning. Mourning's parents separated in 1980, and he was later sent to live in a group home in Chesapeake. His parents reunited and had a second child, Tamara, in 1981. They divorced in September 1983. At the age of twelve Mourning moved in with family friend Fannie Threet, a retired teacher. Although Threet and her husband had two children of their own, they continually took in foster children. Mourning lived with up to nine children in the Threets' four-bedroom house in Chesapeake until he left for Georgetown University.

In the seventh grade Mourning was already six feet, three inches tall, and played football and basketball. It was then that he got his nickname "Zo." He was not serious about playing basketball until he saw the 1982 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship game on television. He was impressed by Georgetown University's center Patrick Ewing, who would later become a close friend. In the summer of 1986 Mourning was invited to the prestigious Five Star basketball camp in Pittsburgh. Mourning's performance impressed not only the Five Star coach, Frank Marino, but also college recruiters. In his junior year of high school, Mourning led his team, under the direction of Coach Bill Lassiter, to an unbeaten season and the 1987 Virginia State Class AAA Championship. He was named Virginia High School Player of the Year (1987). Mourning finished his final year as the team's leading scorer and rebounder, and was named the National High School Player of the Year by both Gatorade and USA Today in 1988.

That same year Mourning entered Georgetown University, where Coach John Thompson ran a fine program and stressed education; more than 95 percent of his players earned their degrees. Mourning finished his first season with averages of 13.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.9 blocks per game. His eleven blocks in one game broke the previous school record of ten held by Ewing. In 1989 Mourning was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and also named to the Big East All-Rookie Team and Second Team All-Big East.

The following two seasons were disappointing for Mourning, who played the power forward position, but he was nevertheless awarded Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year (1990) and named First Team All-Big East (1990). Later in the season, Mourning was criticized for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark to Nadav Henefeld, the University of Connecticut's Israeli forward, during a game. During Mourning's college years, a growing number of players dropped out of college early to enter the NBA draft. Mourning would have had a good chance in the draft, but he decided to stay in college to mature both as a basketball player and a person. The decision to stay at Georgetown was especially important to his foster mother, Fannie Threet.

Mourning went back to center in his senior year. He led Georgetown to the Big East Co-Championship with the season averages of 21.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 5 blocks per game. He became the second player after Ewing to have scored more than 2,000 points and grabbed more than 1,000 rebounds in Georgetown school history. He was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Big East Tournament in 1992, and became the first Big East player ever to receive both Eastern Basketball Player of the Year and Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. He was also named First Team All-America by the Associated Press and won the Henry Iba Defensive Player of the Year Award. In the spring of 1992, Mourning received his bachelor's degree in sociology.

In the 1992 NBA draft, as the first-round, second-pick behind Shaquille O'Neal, Mourning was selected by the Charlotte Hornets, an expansion team that had been struggling in its five-year existence as an NBA team. Mourning's arrival in Charlotte made an immediate impact. He and Larry Johnson, the 1991 NBA Rookie of the Year, led the Hornets to their first ever playoff with a 44–38 record. He was named the NBA Rookie of the Month for the last two months of the season and was a unanimous choice for the NBA All-Rookie First Team. People compared Mourning with Shaquille O'Neal, because the two great centers entered the NBA in the same year. In 1994 Mourning was chosen as a member of the U.S. basketball team, the "Dream Team II," that won the World Championship in Canada. During the 1993–1994 season, Mourning missed a number of games because of injuries. He was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 1994, and in the summer of 1994, Mourning joined Dikembe Mutombo and Ewing to conduct basketball clinics for children in South Africa. In the 1994–1995 season, the Hornets compiled their best record, 50–32. Mourning was named to the NBA All-Star team in 1995.

In 1995 Mourning was traded to the Miami Heat, and led the Heat to the 1995–1996 playoffs with a 42–40 record. Mourning's second season with the Heat brought a team record of 61 wins and captured the Atlantic Division title.

On 24 August 1996 Mourning and longtime girlfriend Tracy Wilson had their first child. They married on 30 August 1997.

Mourning had to miss many games in the 1997–1998 season due to a knee injury and a broken cheekbone, but he came back strong in the 1998–1999 season, averaging 20.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per game. He was awarded Defensive Player of the Year and named to the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team. In the 1999–2000 season, Mourning played a career high of 79 games, averaging 21.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks. He earned the Defensive Player of the Year again, and was named to the All-Defensive First Team and the All-NBA Second Team. He was also selected as a member of the U.S. basketball team that would compete in 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. During the Olympics, Mourning flew halfway around the world back to Miami to be at his wife's side when she gave birth to their second child on 22 September 2000. Three days later, Mourning returned to Australia and helped the U.S. team win the gold medal.

On 16 October 2000 Coach Pat Riley announced that Mourning would miss the season to undergo treatment for the kidney disease focal glomerulosclerosis. The disease would be first treated with medication, but could eventually require dialysis or a transplant. Mourning's longtime friend Patrick Ewing, who was also the godfather of Mourning's daughter, announced that he would donate one of his kidneys to Mourning if he ever needed a transplant. Despite his illness, Mourning was selected as a member of the Eastern Conference team for the 2001 NBA All-Star Game. Since his disease was in remission, Mourning returned to the Miami Heat at the end of the regular season, but the Heat was eliminated before the conference semifinals.

Off the court, Mourning served as the NBA's national spokesperson for the prevention of child abuse, and was an active participant in the NBA's Healthy Families America program. He was a regular visitor and spokesperson for Thompson's Children's Home in Charlotte. He founded Zo's Summer Groove, an annual charity event, to benefit the Miami-based Children's Home Society and 100 Black Men of South Florida.

Mourning is regarded as one of the hardest working and toughest players in the NBA. A relatively short center at six feet, ten inches, Mourning is nevertheless intimidating. He always treats the game as serious business, and his relentless work ethic is praised by his coaches and teammates. His intense style brings his opponents to the foul line, but also has made him one of the league's best combined shot-blockers, rebounders, and scorers.

There are several book-length biographies of Mourning, including Neil Cohen, Head to Head Basketball: Patrick Ewing/Alonzo Mourning (1994); Frank Fortunato, Sports Great Alonzo Mourning (1997); Bill Gutman, Alonzo Mourning: Center of Attention (1997); Bert Rosenthal, Alonzo Mourning (1998); and Judith Mandell, Super Sports Star Alonzo Mourning (2001). Biographical essays can be found in Newsmakers 1994; Sports Stars (1994–1998); and Contemporary Black Biography (1998). Lengthy articles include Amy Shipley, "Alonzo Mourning's Hidden Side: Surly Star's Secret Life Is Just for Family," Charlotte Observer (12 Nov. 1996); S. L. Price, "The Man in the Iron Mask," Sports Illustrated (30 Mar. 1998); Ira Winderman, "The Other Side of Zo: The Heat's Star Has a Soft Side, But Rarely Shows It," Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Sun-Sentinel (30 Dec. 1997); D. L. Cummings, "Changed Man," Miami Herald (13 Feb. 2000); and David DuPree, "Keeping It in Perspective," USA Today (17 Oct. 2000).

Di Su