HOW MANY TIMES have we said goodbye to Alonzo Mourning? And yet a non-life-threatening injury could be the one that ends his 15-year career. On Dec. 19, the fourth anniversary of his kidney transplant, the Heat's 37-year-old center suffered tears of the patella and quadriceps tendons in his right leg while defending a drive by the Hawks' Mario West. Pat Riley has cautioned against writing him off again, and Mourning hasn't officially announced his retirement. But Mourning said even before the injury that this would be his farewell season. "I've been through a whole lot worse than this," Mourning, who will need at least eight months of rest and rehab after undergoing surgery last Thursday, said the night he was hurt. "It's disappointing to even think my career would end this way."
If this is indeed the end of his career, Mourning will retire with the NBA championship ring he won with Miami in 2005--06, a 2000 Olympic gold medal, a pair of NBA defensive player of the year awards and seven All-Star selections. His Hall of Fame application will be bolstered by the courageous return he made after being diagnosed in 2000 with the disease focal glomeruloscleroris, which scars and impairs the kidneys. After receiving a kidney transplant from 31-year-old cousin Jason Cooper, a bank security director in New York City, Mourning missed 10 months and went from barely being able to bench-press 20-pound dumbbells when he began his rehab to averaging 2.7 blocks in 20.0 minutes in the Heat's championship year.
His menacing demeanor on the court belied the compassion he showed raising more than $6 million for his charities and serving as a dynamic example for organ donations and transplants—all of this done while playing (or recovering and preparing to play) in the NBA. The fighting spirit he brought to the game, and will continue to bring to his community work, was on display against the Hawks: Mourning refused to be carried off on the stretcher brought to help him and hobbled to the locker room. "That's not the way I envisioned myself walking off the court for the last time," he said. "Nobody was going to push me off on a stretcher."