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.''

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