It was a bipartisan affair on Monday night when Alonzo Mourning’s No. 33 jersey became the first one in the history of the Miami Heat to be retired. Florida’s Republican governor, Charlie Crist, was one of the speakers and US President Barack Obama sent a handwritten note on White House stationery that was read aloud.
The jersey-raising ceremony took place at halftime of the Heat’s loss to the Orlando Magic and reduced Mourning, considered a callus of a competitor on the court, to tears.
“I couldn’t hold it back,” Mourning said, referring to the tears that streamed down his face. “When you’re in love with something — I was so passionate about the game — it’s so difficult to part ways.”
Mourning, 39, announced his retirement in January last year, a month after sustaining a tear in his right quadriceps and patellar tendon in his right knee while trying to block a shot.
His career lasted 15 seasons and continued even after he learned he had a kidney disease in 2000. He played for another season and then sat out the 2002-2003 campaign after having a kidney transplant. He returned to play another four-plus seasons and win an NBA championship with the Heat in 2006.
Asked if the retirement ceremony provided closure to his career, Mourning said: “Yeah. No Brett Favre. None of that. This is it,” he said, emphasizing the “it.”
“I’m really excited about what other things life has to offer,” he said.
Not one to sit idle, Mourning said he had taken up golf. As was the case in basketball, he is pouring all of his energies into the game.
“My next challenge is to qualify for the senior tour in 10 years,” Mourning said.
Among the people who showed up at American Airlines Arena to honor Mourning were his coach at Georgetown, John Thompson, the former Hoya, Dikembe Mutombo, who got the day off from the Houston Rockets, and the former Heat guard Tim Hardaway, who, in one final assist, handed Mourning a towel when he started crying.
But it was the person who sent his regards by mail, Obama, whose words most deeply affected Mourning.
“That was huge,” Mourning said. “It really was. For him to even take the time out at this particular time with all the things that are going on in this world, that was a great honor.”
Thompson, the Hall of Fame coach, was asked if Mourning, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All Star, deserves the ultimate honor: a place in the basketball Hall of Fame.
“If he’s not a future Hall of Famer, I’m giving my ring back,” he said.