The epitome of overcoming adversity

By Israel Gutierrez
Updated: January 23, 2009

MIAMI — The scene was set for the traditional tearful goodbye.

Alonzo Mourning, who has stood in front of gathering media members with so many reasons to cry already in his lifetime, said the words that often turn even the most imposing of men into emotional wrecks.

”After 16 years, I truly feel it’s best that I retire from the game of basketball,” Mourning said.

And then a brief pause.

“I told myself

I wasn’t going to get emotional,” he added.

So he didn’t. From that moment, not a single teardrop gathered, not a single crack in his voice, not another long pause to collect himself.

Classic Alonzo Mourning. Set goal. Accomplish goal. No doubt in between.

Mourning’s basketball goals are over now. Officially, this time. Even though we could say we’ve seen this coming after he was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease, or after his comeback and remission from said disease, or after his kidney transplant surgery, or after he finally won an NBA title, or after he devastatingly tore his right patella tendon and slammed the Philips Arena floor in Atlanta repeating, “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over.”


It’s over. And one of the most beloved, accomplished, heroic and devoted athletes this area has ever known exits on two steady legs, with a story that is complete. One of the most remarkable ever told.

”I can think of a million people that would’ve loved to walk the path that I walked,” Mourning said.

I can’t think of one.

Most people would have chosen a childhood more traditional. Most people would have preferred their college years were spent growing up rather than forced to be grown upon arrival. Most people would have chosen a life with less doctors, less surgeries, less life-altering weekly blood tests, less searches for vital organs.

Most people wouldn’t have chosen a devastating, painful, gruesome knee surgery be the last moment they experienced in a career they loved. Most people wouldn’t spend that much time caring for so many underprivileged children, knowing that it’s impossible to save every one of them.

There probably aren’t a million people who would blindly walk through Mourning’s path by choice, not even for all the fame and fortune as a trade-off.

The fact that Mourning believes there are tells you what kind of man he is. The kind that doesn’t see challenges, only goals. He doesn’t feel the pain, only the satisfaction of an act seen through to completion.

It’s why he would vomit throughout the course of a grueling practice, only to keep outworking the rest of his teammates. It’s why he came back after battling his kidney disease, and again after kidney transplant surgery, to be nothing short of brilliant again. It’s why he worked all the way back from an injury he was told he would never fully recover from, just to say he did.

There is a cliché that retiring professional athletes use often about ”going out on your own terms.” The idea is that an injury shouldn’t force you out. That you should choose when it’s time to go. That you’re shortchanged otherwise.

Mourning spoke about that when he first started his recovery. He didn’t want fate to shortchange him, even though he had previously conceded that the 2007-08 season would be his last.

Mourning didn’t give up on that hope. His career did end on his own terms. Physically, he is back to playing form. He could come back if he wants to. On a probable playoff team, no less. He just chooses not to.

These are his terms. They include not hanging on for the sake of some tired sports cliché. They include not being ”selfish” — his word — and playing in one more game just to prove his comeback was completed.

They include being adult enough to recognize that there are so many more years in his life beyond the 16 he devoted to professional sports, and he would prefer they not be spent needing a cane or a wheelchair or one of his children’s support just to walk upright.


”That’s enough,” Mourning said. “I’m able to walk, to run, able to chase after my kids, and one day my grandkids.

“I’ve overcome it. I’m back to full force again. I’m happy.”

Mourning doesn’t have to fear those empty moments when he craves a challenge. He already spends so much time challenging the community to aid underprivileged children.

”Every luncheon I go to, every function I go to, he’s there,” Heat owner Micky Arison said. “Amazing energy.”

Mourning doesn’t have to question the legacy he leaves behind. Even the best player in franchise history acknowledges that Mourning created the mold for the ideal Heat player.

”Anytime a player comes here, Alonzo’s going to be the mirror image of what you want to be,” Dwyane Wade said.

No tearful goodbyes. Only a sigh of relief. Because no adversity broke him. Mourning walks away whole, a happy and stronger man today than he was at anytime during his playing career.

These are Mourning’s terms. It couldn’t end any other way.