Alonzo Mourning, seven-time All-Star, 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the face of the Miami Heat franchise for the better half of the 90's and well into this millenium, announced his retirement Thursday, bringing to an end an inspiring 15-year career.
Mourning, who turns 39 in February, hasn't played a game since December of 2007 when he tore up his knee against the Atlanta Hawks. Although he was drafted by Charlotte (the Hornets, not the Bobcats), and at one point played for the Nets, Mourning will be remembered most for his pivotal role in guiding the Heat to six straight playoff births at one point, and being arguably, the biggest fan favorite whenever he stepped foot inside the American Airlines Arena or old Miami Arena.
Mourning's career wasn't all cheers, though. In 2000, Mourning was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a kidney disease that forced him to miss the first five months of the season. Despite being ill, the league's fans still voted Zo to the All-Star Game in 2002.
He missed the 2002-2003 season because of his condition, and retired in November 2003 while with the Nets. His cousin gave him a kidney, and he returned to the Heat in 2005, as a backup to Shaq. That's when all of his years of dedication and rising above adversity paid off and he won his first NBA title.
While Zo was a fan-favorite on the court, off the court he probably did more for the city of Miami than any other athlete the town had seen. He started his own charity, Alonzo Mourning Charities, Inc. in 1997 and started an annual celebrity basketball game and other events with Zo's Summer Groove. In 2007, he started Athletes for Hope with a star-studded cast of its own.
His organizations help under-privileged children and families and opened the Overtown Youth Center in 2003. After his diagnosis, he also began Zo's Fund for Life to raise money for research and education on FSGS.
Last year, Zo passed the torch of Zo's Summer Groove over to Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. How fitting, no?
The face of the Miami Heat franchise for nearly a decade, handing over his annual charitable event to the current face of the franchise, who has his own foundation, Wade's World. The franchise's all-time leading scoring, passing the torch to the one who will, barring injury, overtake that spot in franchise history.
Zo will always be remembered by fans for his intensity on both ends of the floor, his nightly block parties and a bicep flex that could put Hulk Hogan to shame. Yet, while Heat fans will never forget the great player and person that Zo was on and off the court, the franchise must make his number 33 jersey the first Heat number retired.
While Michael Jordan's 23 is already in the rafters in Miami (out of Pat Riley's respect for MJ) and NFL and Miami Dolphin great Dan Marino's 13 accompanies Jordan's up there, Mourning's 33 will soon rest there, watching over the American Airlines Arena, and his presence will always be felt by the Heat franchise and their fans.
It's the very least we could do for a man that did so much for the city of Miami, in sports and humanitarianism. Heat fans likely hope that Zo stays on with the franchise in some capacity, but if not... enjoy your retirement, Zo, you've earned it.