Grown-up Mourning faces toughest test of his career

This is a frequent-flyers dream.
And any husband and parent’s nightmare.
It’s Alonzo Mourning’s flight path with the U.S. Olympic Team since August 23rd: Miami to New York, to Hawaii, to Japan, to Australia, back to Miami for less than a week, back to Australia, and back to Miami.
Nothing beats crossing the Pacific Ocean four times in six weeks.
Except maybe winning a gold medal.
Or maybe witnessing the birth of your second child.
Or both.
Those are what greeted Mourning, the Miami Heat’s franchise center who returned to America to start training camp for the upcoming No Baskets Allowed (NBA) season. One in which the re-tooled Heat were heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make a run at a championship.
Then he was a no-show for opening practices, or the first exhibition games. Weeks of rampant speculation and rumors finally ended yesterday.
The best player in the Eastern Conference, the most competitive man in basketball this side of Gary Payton, can’t compete this season.
This season, if he’s lucky.
Most of the basketball world and Mourning family huffed, puffed, hoped, prayed, tried, cried, convinced — it was simply summer’s flying and frolicking fatigue.
As it turns out, it’s nothing really, just glomerulosclerosis. You know, your basic kidney disorder.
“I feel great right now. We’ve pretty much got a hold on it, the whole situation right now,” Mourning said at his first public disclosement of the ailment. “The main objective is to get me healthy so I can live my life normally, so I can see my babies grow up, and so I can enjoy my family. And, at the same time, possibly do the things I know and love – and that’s the game of basketball.”
Funny, last year’s third most valuable player didn’t mention basketball until it was an afterthought.
So this is what the man is reduced to. The man all-too infamously known for his playoff boxing match with the New York’s Larry Johnson while Knicks coach Jeff VanGundy wrapped himself around ‘Zo’s leg like a turnoquet. He has grown and matured since that melee, finding other ways to channel his energy tank and fuel his drive to be the best six-foot-10 center to beat opponents three to six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
But this is the real melee.
Since the doctors caught it early, treatment is a legitimate possibility for ‘Zo.’ Guarantees of his return to basketball, however, are far across the ocean, too far for the eye to see.
Here we go again. Idolized and seemingly immortal athletes are reduced to hospitals and treatments, where the only certainty is that there are no certainties. ‘Zo,’ meet Derrick Thomas and Kirby Puckett.
It’s only part of competitive sports where all participants – Hall of Famers or third-string trainers – are vulnerable to being forced from the game against their will. Whether by a torn ACL, a broken leg, too many concussions, or simply the time where it’s best to move on and the skills or desires aren’t the way they were.
What is never taught in sports 1001, college 1001 or life 1001, is how to deal with people being forced from their game or life with no reasons attached. No time to ask why, and no time say goodbye to the world that was gracious enough to welcome them.
‘Zo’ still has time, hopefully plenty of it, and maybe another chance to re-enter professional basketball for the 2001-2002 season and continue his terrific career and family life.
“Right now, his kidney function is good,” said Dr. Gerald Appel, who works with Mourning. “He is not in a situation where we’re talking about dialysis or a transplant. Many of the patients, when we turn off the protein entirely with these medications, they come off the medications and lead an absolutely normal life and they can do whatever they want.
“If they’re a school teacher, they go back to that. If they’re a lawyer or a doctor, they go back to that. And if they’re a basketball player, they go back to that.”
If not, if Mourning is not able to reject the worst of all opponents, then we will have been jolted yet again, and reminded there are no guarantees.
In the meantime, Mourning will undergo six months of treatment, including medication to help stop his kidneys from leaking proteins away and to control his blood pressure. It’s the potential side effects that won’t let him back on the floor. “He wants to play, but he can’t,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “He’s not that stupid.”
No, he’s not. He’s also not stupid enough to let something much larger than five All-Star games or the longest NBA career could ever provide slip away: The fourth and newest member of the Mourning fraternity.
“I’m a blessed individual — I have a lot to be thankful for,” Mourning said. “There are a whole lot of people worse off than me.”

Mark Heller is the associate sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]