25 Aralık 2007

Dan Le Batard: More time for Zo to focus on charity now

O ne of the most poignant scenes in South Florida's sports history was buried underneath an avalanche of Bill Parcells news. Athletes rarely get to leave their way, so Alonzo Mourning's exit was both wrong and right.

On the road in a terrible basketball town, off the bench belonging to a last-place team, a giant crumbled to the floor, and his immediate prognosis didn't require doctors or X-rays. Udonis Haslem came over to help him up, and Mourning uttered a few sad syllables that sounded like punctuation.

''It's over,'' he told Haslem.

He would limp toward the exit, refusing to be wheeled out on a gurney. Miami's greatest warrior might walk off broken, but he would walk off. Left everything he had out there, per usual. It is fitting that his kidney and his knee would have to give out before his heart ever did.

Mourning always pushed his muscled body well beyond the limits of what was reasonable, but it is the cold truth of time and sports that the body eventually and always pushes back. That is not a fight the athlete ever wins, but Mourning fought it with more will and stamina than just about anyone who has ever graced this section of the newspaper.

A lot of tough-guy leaders speak eloquently about overcoming, demanding it of others only while searching for a back door the way Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban did. But Mourning always was the personification of what must be overcome sometimes to arrive atop something as cruel and cutthroat and competitive as sports. You will have a hard time finding anyone -- any time, any place, any sport -- who has overcome more.


It isn't just coming from a broken background. It is that he essentially was an orphan. It isn't just that his body betrayed him. It is that he had to become a champion on a borrowed kidney. An unhealthy body isn't supposed to look like his did at his age, but it was a monument to work, and you have to wonder how much more Shaquille O'Neal might have done if he desired the way Mourning always did.

Yes, he was given gifts. You don't will yourself to 6-10. But he always gave more than he received. And all he grew into was the most giving athlete South Florida has ever known, caring in more ways than one.

There are impoverished parts of Overtown, tucked around two basketball cathedrals built for the cruise magnate, that only Mourning seems to care about. He remembers what it was like to crave guidance and love as a lost child, so now his work with at-risk kids is overwhelming.

This isn't about handing out a few turkeys while the cameras are around. It is about using the platform and power sports gave him in a way Michael Jordan never did.


Mentoring programs. Foster care. Adoption. Emergency shelters. After-school programs. Mourning gives his money and time and name to them all. He brings celebrities and sponsors and wealth to the abused, neglected and abandoned. He asks his powerful friends for help, time and money so that he can rescue those who don't have any power at all.

At the end of his career, he turned himself into something of an artist, perfecting the timing and grace of the blocked shot. Younger and quicker and more athletic men made their way toward his basket only to have their desire rejected by someone who always had more. He couldn't play as many minutes because of that kidney, but he blocked more shots in those minutes than anyone in the league.


One snapshot for his entire Miami career? Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2006. Mourning dunked with menace over the Dallas Mavericks' DJ Mbenga to cap a 13-0 run that gave Miami its first lead, blocked five shots and even guarded Dirk Nowitzki. O'Neal wasn't the force in that game that Mourning was. After one Miami turnover, Mourning retreated to block yet another shot and spasmed on the floor in frustration at his teammates because he had been there for all the Game 7 heartbreak against New York and Detroit and didn't want anyone else throwing it away when he was finally this close.

That would have been Mourning's exit if life was fair and athletes were satiable.

Instead, we get a broken Mourning limping off the floor in a meaningless game in Atlanta.

It's over?

No, it's not over.

Mourning has more time than ever to give now.

And you get the feeling that his real good work is just beginning.

kaynak : NBA