The son of two teenagers, Mourning, was born in Chesapeake, Virginia. His parents were not up to the task, and he was sent to a foster home. The retired teacher Fannie Threet took over the years next to the little Alonzo unbelievable 48 children, the three own children not counting. Anyone who heard Mourning talking about “Mrs. Threet” knows how much the woman meant to him. She died in 2013 at the age of 98. In the obituary, he was listed as her son and his three children as her grandchildren.
“She was just incredible, she gave me a lot of love,” he recalled. “She was there when I needed someone to talk or lean on, and that’s how I’ve grown.” Through her, he learned to work hard, she revealed to him the values that still determine his life today. However, it has nothing to do with his physical growth, which forced him into basketball. At the age of 18, he went to Georgetown, a big-man smithy that among others produced Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo.
There he became a star, as a freshman no college player blocked more shots than he did. The four years there made him more mature as a player. The legendary coach John Thompson was responsible for his personality development: “If Mrs. Threet has made me a son and brother, then he has made me a man.” On the first day, Thompson showed him a flat basketball on his desk and said: Your life must be more than the air in a basketball or what you can do with it. This lesson remained in the memory of the 18-year-old.
“I fought, I defended, I tackled in every game as if it was my last, and sometimes I used an elbow – and I enjoyed that, by the way.”
In 1992, Mourning joined the NBA. He was drafted second, only Shaquille O’Neal was drafted before him. One must not forget: With 2.08 meters and almost 120 kilos of muscles, he was actually “undersized” in the centers’ category. Shaq, Hakeem, Ewing, Robinson, and and and … “I used to be ten inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than some of the most dominant big men in NBA history.”
Offensively, there were technically better centers – but few who were as pure as “Zo”. He was especially great in the defense: in the first year, he had 21 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. His buzzer-beater in the first playoff round brought the victory against the Boston Celtics. One season later he was an All-Star, and 20/10/3 was already a routine.
He was not a filthy but a tough guy who did not avoid a conflict. When Vince Carter entered the league in the late 1990s, he made it his mission to get every center in the league on a poster. The “Sports Illustrated” asked him about his toughest opponent: “Mourning, you just have to look him in the eye, then you know, the man is not a joke, you have to respect him.” Mourning is a worthy opponent.
In November 1995, the Hornets traded their star to the Miami Heat because they could not agree on a new contract. His new Head Coach was Pat Riley. Mourning was a part of the “Miami Mafia”, as Jalen Rose jokingly described.
Under Riley, Mourning unfolded his full potential. The game was tailored to him. In the 1996/97 season, the team won 61 games with Mourning and Tim Hardaway before losing in the playoffs against MJ and the Bulls – welcome to the club. He was not always spared from injuries, but in the lockout year of 1999 (20.1 points, 11 rebounds, 3.9 blocks) and the following season (21.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) he won a Defensive Player of the Year award.
The numbers showed it: Mourning’s stats are true, year after year they were almost similar. The reason lied in his attitude: Who gives everything every day, can also call up his top performance every day. His teammates reported that he had to vomit frequently in timeouts. In 2000, “Zo” won the gold medal with the USA team in Sydney. It was the highlight of his career. And then suddenly it went downhill.
“I was a little boy from Virginia who did not know how important selflessness really is – until that selflessness finally saved my life.”
After returning from Australia, Mourning was diagnosed with “focal segmental glomerulosclerosis”, a chronic kidney injury. Suddenly, nothing is as it was. After a five-month break, he returned to the Hardwood, the year after he even completed 75 games, but his condition was deteriorating. He did not play the next season, his contract in Miami was not renewed. “I played for eight years and had 20/10/3, these were the numbers for the Hall of Fame, and then suddenly: boom.”
On November 25, 2003, Mourning decided to end his career. Defeated at 33 by his own body. But then an invisible door opened: on the same day, his cousin Jason Cooper visited his grandmother and met Mourning’s father, who told him everything. For decades, Cooper and Mourning had no contact, but the former US Navy could still test for a donor’s kidney. On December 19th, the NBA star got a new kidney. The abdominal muscles are in that case usually injured so the basketball is out of the question.
Pat Riley visited him at the hospital two days after the surgery. “I have got up in pain slowly, I looked at him and said, I’ll be back,” Mourning recalled. Both men were crying.
On March 1, 2005, after playing for the Nets and the Raptors, Mourning signed for the second time in Miami. He came from the bank, but he was still effective, he has not forgotten anything. The rest is history, as the saying goes: in the NBA Finals 2006, the Heat beat the Mavericks. Mourning had five blocks in last game of the Finals. Finally, he got his ring.