Born: February 8, 1970
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1992-’95
Miami Heat (NBA): 1995-’02; 2005-’07
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 2003-’04
Few defenders come as fearsome and intimidating as Alonzo Mourning. It didn’t matter his age, his team, or his condition, if he was on the court, he was bound to swat your shot, patrol the paint, and protect the rim. Unfortunately, staying on the court proved to be the most difficult task of Mourning’s NBA career.
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From 1993 to 1998, Alonzo was a fresh and brash presence in the NBA. And although he’d have a bit of trouble in the latter part of this period staying on the court, he wound up playing 409 of a possible 492 games (83.1%). Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Mourning teamed with Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues for one of the NBA’s most exciting and endearing teams of the 1990s. The stylish haircuts, teal uniforms, and emphatic blocks, dunks, and passes by the three respective men entranced fans.
The Teal Madness got off to a rollicking start in Mourning’s rookie year. The Hornets won a franchise-best 44 games that season and reached the playoffs for the first time. Mourning was instrumental in leading the #5 seed Hornets over the #4 seed Boston Celtics. The Hornets center averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks a game. In Game 4, he scored 33 points and nailed the game-winning, series-clinching shot.
The Hornets were summarily defeated by the New York Knicks in five, hotly-contested games in the second round. Indeed, no team won by more than six points in any game. With such a hot start, it seemed the Hornets were a team destined to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy for the rest of the 1990s. Unfortunately, Mourning and Johnson weren’t entirely on the same page. After Johnson received a huge contract extension. Mourning wanted one of his own. The Hornets balked at his asking price of $13 million annually, then offered him $11 million annually, to which Mourning balked, and so Zo was traded to Miami shortly before the 1995-96 season.
Under the tutelage and guidance of Pat Riley, Mourning blossomed, amazingly, into an even more terrifying defender. With Tim Hardaway helping carry the offensive load and men like P.J. Brown a partner in defensive crime, Zo’s Heat ascended the Eastern Conference.
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The Heat reeled off an impressive 61 wins in the 1996-97 season. Normally, that’d be good enough for a #1 seed, but the Chicago Bulls had dropped 69 wins on the league. Meeting in the Conference Finals, the Bulls easily dismissed the Heat in five games. Despite that clash, Miami’s main rival in this era would turn out to be the New York Knicks. From 1997 to 2000, the clubs met every postseason in some of the most bruising and physical playoff series ever played. Mourning got into a fight with his former teammate Johnson, who was now a Knick. New York coach Jeff Van Gundy famously held onto Zo’s ankles like a rag doll trying to futilely break up hostilities. Each series went to a do-or-die game, which the Knicks won all but once.
The general failure to upend the Knicks doesn’t detract from this period as the peak of Alonzo’s prowess. In 1999 and 2000 he missed only seven games, led the NBA in blocks per game both seasons, was named Defensive Player of the Year both seasons, and in 1999 finished second in MVP voting.
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From that apex, Mourning quickly descended. Kidney disease struck in 2000 knocking him out for all but 13 games in the 2000-01 season. A brief return to form came in 2002, but the disease worsened and he missed all of the 2002-03 season. Mourning signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Nets in the summer of 2003. A successful kidney transplant saved his life, but only allowed him to play about two dozen games with New Jersey. The Nets traded Zo to Toronto in December 2004 as part of a deal to land Vince Carter. The dismayed Mourning never reported to Toronto and eventually was bought out of his contract. That opened up a return to Miami in March 2005, where Mourning would spend the rest of his career. A tear of his patella tendon in December 2007 – exactly four years after his life-saving transplant – finally struck down the mighty Zo and forced his retirement.
By that point Mourning wasn’t quite the offensive force he could once be. From 1993 to 2000, he had averaged 21 points on 52.5% shooting. However, Zo found a measure of redemption in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Mourning only scored eight points in 20 minutes of action a night. His defense, however, never quite dissipated. In that limited action, he turned up the defensive heat and averaged a remarkable 2.5 blocks.
His presence was indispensable to the 2006 Miami Heat. With the lumbering Shaquille O’Neal often in foul trouble and generally incompetent on defense, Mourning was the paint-patrolling safety valve to prevent opponents from overrunning the Heat. The title Miami won that season was well-deserved and earned for Mourning. In Game 6, which Miami won to earn the NBA title, Alonzo put together eight points, six rebounds, and five blocks in just 14 minutes. In his limited playing time that game, the Heat had a +11 scoring edge over the Dallas Mavericks, while Shaq’s 30 minutes of play produced a -7 scoring margin for Miami. Seeings how the final score was 95 to 92 in favor of Miami, it’s a darn good thing Mourning was there to intimidate, block, and swat.
2x Defensive Player of the Year (1999, 2000)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1999, 2000)
All-NBA 1st Team (1999)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2000)
7x All-Star (1994-’97, 2000-’02)
Regular Season Career Averages (838 games):
17.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG
.583 TS%, .527 FG%, .692 FT%
21.2 PER, .166 WS/48
Playoff Career Averages (95 games):
13.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 0.5 SPG
.570 TS%, .512 FG%, .649 FT%
19.2 PER, .139 WS/48