Basketball NBA Joint

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

DALLAS - Pain and passion, the latter sometimes showing up as anger, symbolize much of Alonzo Mourning's career.
Tuesday, the night that ended with the Heat and Mourning called NBA champions, there were times Mourning seemed to be ejecting all that anger and pain. Not just his pain -- Antoine Walker's pain, Gary Payton's pain, all the pain of those on the Heat who have seen the mountaintop, but never have been there.
''Another person I'm so, so happy for is Gary,'' a champagne-drenched Mourning yelled in a locker room rich with the aroma of bubbly celebration. ``It's been a long time coming for him.''
You saw the swap after Mourning rumbled down the middle for a fast-break jam off a Jason Williams feed near the end of the first half. You saw it when Mourning sailed back to swat an Erick Dampier jumper halfway back to Reunion Arena.
After each, Mourning simultaneously screamed, flexed, madly wrenched his whole upper body as if exorcising all the Heat playoff ghosts and pain. You know the list: the last two minutes of the 2005 Eastern Conference final; the 2001 scorching by Charlotte; the fight with former Charlotte teammate Larry Johnson that left Mourning watching the 1998 elimination by the Knicks; the Allan Houston last shot that bounced in; the Clarence Weatherspoon last shot that didn't.
That was just on the court. Off of it, there was the kidney disorder that didn't just cost Mourning the entire 2002-03 season and most of the 2000-01 and 2003-04 seasons -- it threatened Mourning's life.
''I've got my cousin here,'' Mourning said. ``He's the one who donated the kidney to me. Words can't explain how grateful I am to him. I owe my life to him just saving me.
``I remember laying in the hospital and feeling like a newborn baby -- helpless.''
Mourning said he got a text message from Texan and Tour de France king Lance Armstrong after Game 5.
''Before the series even started, he called me and told me even though his heart is in Texas, he wants to see me win,'' Mourning said. ``A lot of you don't realize this, he was a huge, huge inspiration to me in my whole recovery period. I read both of his books after my surgery.
``The way I look at him, I know thousands look at me the same way.''
All that hurt shared by Mourning and Heat coach Pat Riley, who feels deeply bonded to Mourning -- most of it gone because Riley had enough faith in a recovered Mourning to reacquire him during the 2004-05 season. As he has throughout the last two Heat playoff runs, the longest playoff runs in franchise history, Mourning provided the key backup minutes, without which those runs wouldn't have been possible.
Tuesday, it was eight points, six rebounds and five blocked shots in 14 important minutes.
Back in the early 1990s, it was fashionable to see Shaquille O'Neal and Mourning as a modern version of Wilt vs. Russell -- O'Neal was the gargantuan unstoppable force and Mourning was the defensive master. Now, they were hoisting each other to an NBA title.
''Shaq and I have developed a brotherly kind of relationship,'' Mourning said. ``I love him like a brother, man. I told him that I'll always, always have his back.''
When Mourning came into the game for O'Neal with 2:46 left in the first quarter, the Heat was on the verge of getting blasted all the way into Thursday. The 26-12 score accurately represented the teams' respective energy levels.
But all series long, when the Heat went with a defensive lineup anchored by Mourning, it gave Dallas problems. At 26-16, Mourning rejected Josh Howard, rebounded a James Posey three-point brick to keep the ensuing possession alive, then threw down a dunk to get the Heat inside 10 points at 26-18.
Two free throws after getting fouled by Dirk Nowitzki brought the Heat to within three at 30-27. Mourning turned the middle back over to O'Neal with the Heat at 32-28, Dallas. The Heat was on their way to taking the lead.
The question that remains for Mourning is whether he'll come back for one more season or if this will be his perfect sendoff.
''I don't know yet,'' Mourning said. ``I'm going to party for a little while. I'm going to get my mind right. Then, I'll tell you about next season. But I'm going to enjoy this.''

DALLAS - Dwyane Wade stopped in his tracks, grabbed a Wheaties box with him and Shaquille O'Neal on it and said, ``Oh, I like this.''
Udonis Haslem sat, soaked in champagne, crying with a hat covering his eyes.
Alonzo Mourning walked into the locker room preparing for a champagne shower, saying ``Show me the bubbles, baby.''
They are all snapshots of a plan executed to perfection.
Heat coach and president Pat Riley altered a team built around Wade and O'Neal for this very moment, for those embraces, for that celebration that he has waited 11 years to experience as the leader of the Miami Heat.
Behind 36 points from Wade, the Finals MVP, and double-doubles from Udonis Haslem and Antoine Walker, the Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 95-92 to win its first NBA title in its first trip to the championship series.
''I said it, and I mean it,'' Riley said after the Heat took the Finals series 4-2. ``I'd give up the six [previous championships] for this one. It's not disrespectful to any of them that I won, but after 18 years, you keep chasing it, you get tired. So that gives me an absolute sense of freedom.''
The formula that brought home the Larry O'Brien trophy may have been altered a bit some since last summer. A little more Wade and a little less O'Neal than Riley would have envisioned. O'Neal scored just nine points in Tuesday's clincher, and he averaged just 13.7 for the series. But it worked nonetheless, and the Heat won't have to go through another offseason wondering ``what if?''
''I didn't have the type of Finals that I'm used to,'' O'Neal said. ``D-Wade told me if they were going to keep doing it, he was going to take over the series. As you can see, he put up MVP-type numbers.''
Wade was named MVP after averaging 34.7 points for the series. And Tuesday, when it looked like the Heat would crumble in Dallas once again, it was Wade who lifted his team.
TO THE RESCUE
After Miami fell behind 26-12, Wade scored seven points in an 11-4 Heat run to end the first quarter. By the 9:06 mark of the second quarter, a Wade jumper had brought the Heat within a point at 32-31.
But the Heat quickly got sloppy, committing five of its 12 first-half turnovers in a five-minute span, and found itself trailing by double figures again, 46-36 with 3:31 left in the half.
That's when the Heat answered once again, this time with a 13-0 run to tie the score and eventually went into halftime with a 49-48 lead. This run, which almost encapsulated the Heat's comeback experience in this series, wasn't just about Wade.
It included a Haslem jumper, a Wade three-point play, an O'Neal follow dunk, a Walker six-foot turnaround shot and an Alonzo Mourning fast-break dunk off a feed from Jason Williams.
''We just kept fighting,'' Walker said. ``We never felt like we played good basketball against them. Even tonight, we turned the basketball over early and we gave them every chance to win. But we just kept fighting. We watched a great young player perform, and you saw so many guys step up and make shots and make plays.''
As the Heat walked off the floor and into the tunnel leading to the locker room, Wade gave each of his teammates a high-five while waiting to be interviewed by ABC. Given the Heat's 25-game playoff win streak when leading at halftime entering the game, perhaps it was just an early celebration by Wade.
''I don't want to say I put this team on my back,'' Wade said. ``We did it together. They gave me the opportunity by putting the ball in my hand. And my will to prove people wrong -- I tried to prove people wrong all the time.''
Wade had 19 points at the half, including 7 of 7 from the foul line. The Mavs as a team went to the line just two times in the first half. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't far behind, putting together his best half of the series, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
O'Neal, meanwhile, was limited to six points on 3-of-7 shooting, though the big man was clearly energized to close out the series, grabbing eight rebounds to make up for his inability to participate in the Heat's halfcourt offense.
O'Neal, though, got some help in the pivot from Mourning, who had six points in his six first-half minutes to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot.
FOUL TROUBLE
With 9:54 standing between the Heat and a title, O'Neal picked up his fifth foul on a DeSagana Diop dunk. It forced the big man to the bench, replaced once again by Mourning. This time Mourning couldn't do much to keep the Mavericks from tying the score at 79-79 with 7:06 left in the game, and suddenly it looked like the Heat's close-out effort could go unrewarded.
But a Haslem jumper started a quick 8-2 spurt, which included a James Posey three-pointer, to give the Heat an 87-81 cushion it would desperately need in the final 3:44.
Haslem finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, fulfilling the prophecy O'Neal had before the game.
''It's crazy,'' said a teary-eyed Haslem. ``I call the big fella a prophet. He told me on the way to the arena I was going to have a big one tonight, and I did. I knew they were going to try to trap Dwyane and it was probably going to be me that they trap off of.
``Nobody ever gave me nothing, man. Never. Coming out of college, they never gave me nothing. They never gave me nothing when I came in the league. They never gave me a chance against Dirk. They never gave this team a chance. And we just continued to fight. I'm just so happy.''
And after Jason Terry missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with the clock running down, Wade threw the ball in the air to start the celebration.
''It's unbelievable,'' Heat owner Micky Arison said. 'When Dwyane threw the ball up in the air, I was going, `Why did he do that?' I couldn't believe that it was over. Then I realized we won.
``The exhilaration of this is something I've never felt in my life.''

Just moments before 7 a.m., and approximately seven hours after winning its first championship in franchise history, the Heat returned triumphantly to Miami International Airport Wednesday morning.
As the team's white jet -- adorned with a black underside, red stripes ending in yellow flames and call letters N727NK -- landed, nearly 250 fans mobbed the fence alongside the Miami Air hangar for a glimpse at their freshly anointed champions. The jet approached the hangar and went under four streams of water projected by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue vehicles.
The jet came to a halt a few dozen feet outside the hangar and a stairwell emerged from the rear. One by one, members of the Heat organization deplaned, with center Shaquille O'Neal embracing the golden trophy.
''It's a wonderful experience,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``We are so delighted and happy, not just for all of us in the Miami Heat family, but for the city of Miami. We've been here for a long time. We watched the Marlins win two world championships, and we are glad to bring the world title here to Miami.''
Heat center Alonzo Mourning, who overcame a kidney transplant to continue his career, echoed Riley's sentiments.
''Man, this is an incredible feeling, being able to accomplish this for the city of Miami,'' Mourning said. ``The city, the fans, you guys were so patient over the years. You guys deserve this more than anything because this is for you guys. You are part of this championship. Without you guys supporting us, giving us the energy that we need to go out there and compete each and every season, without that love and that passion and filling those stands, we wouldn't be here.''
Assistant coach Ron Rothstein, who was the team's inaugural head coach, said: ``It doesn't get any sweeter than this. It's unbelievable. I'm just so happy for the Arisons and the Rileys. They put so much into this. Their hearts have been broken a few times. But, they never wavered. It's a real credit to them.''
The celebration lasted throughout the flight home, as the team and its guests on the jet consumed 22 bottles of Cristal champagne.
''I think I might have gotten about 5-10 minutes of sleep on the plane,'' Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo said. ``When the pilot told us to look out the window, the fire trucks [were spraying water] and we saw these fans out here, it was great for us.''
The fans began to arrive at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. Fort Lauderdale resident Everol Blake, 22, said just watching the games in his office building was a chore.
''We had no reception,'' said Blake, who arrived just after 3 a.m. ``We had to get a paper clip, a dipping spoon, some paper and some string. We hooked it all up to the antenna of the TV. We tied the string around a pole to keep it level, and we sat in the break room to watch the Finals, game-by-game. It wasn't great reception, but we got to see our players. I felt happy. I couldn't be complete if I couldn't watch the game.''
Despite getting off from work late, Blake and a few friends headed straight for the airport. He said he had to be there.
''It's our first championship,'' Blake said. ``. . . I'm glad Zo [and] Gary Payton [got their first titles]. Shaq got another one. He promised us one. [Dwyane] Wade got a championship before [James] LeBron, [Anthony] Carmelo, Chris Bosh and Darko [Milicic] -- all the people that went before him.''
Miami resident Carlos Salhuana, 19, has been a fan since 1997 and said this year's team was ``awesome.''
''They just developed into a completely different team over the years,'' he said.
The championship was a dream just over a week ago. Miami trailed Dallas by two games and faced a 13-point lead in the closing minutes of Game 3 before rallying for the victory.
''When they were down 13 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game 3, I said it's not looking good,'' Miami resident Francisco Saravia, 34, said. ``But you take it one quarter at a time, one possession at a time, one game at a time, and you win four in a row.''
Riley said the reaction from the fans on hand was ``great.''
''We've always known we've had diehard fans,'' Riley said. ``They've had a lot of patience. We are so glad that we can deliver a championship to them. The parade is on Friday.''