One of the most beloved athletes in South Florida sports history is going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning received word Wednesday that he has been selected as a first-ballot inductee. For a professional athlete, there is no higher honor. Mourning, now an executive in the Heat’s front office, was at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday but did not speak with reporters.
Though Mourning had the patience to wait for the Hall of Fame’s formal announcement before speaking publicly about his induction, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and the team’s players showed no such restraint Thursday. In a poignant moment, LeBron James and the Heat celebrated the news of Mourning’s induction with a symbolic team huddle that included Mourning in the middle.
Mourning, wearing one of his expensive suits, joined the Heat’s current players for their post-practice ritual and the team broke the huddle with “1…2…3…Hall of Fame.” Mourning is the second player with ties to the Heat to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Guard Gary Payton was the first.
“He brought us in at the end and he was in his tailored clothes that just got ruined, which was great,” Spoelstra joked of Mourning. “But it was great to see this generation of the team show the respect for one of the pillars of our franchise, and who would have thought it from the first time when he went out with the kidney disease.”
The Hall of Fame will formally announce this year’s class during Final Four weekend in Dallas. Joining Mourning in the Hall of Fame will be Broward County product Mitch Richmond, according to reports. Richmond played for Boyd Anderson High School. Hall of Fame finalist Tim Hardaway did not receive enough votes, according to Yahoo Sports.
Hardaway and Mourning starred together for the Heat from 1996-2000, an era in the franchise considered transformative. Pat Riley joined the Heat in 1995 and rebuilt the image of the club with Mourning providing muscle and leadership in the paint and Hardaway oozing confidence and talent from the perimeter.
Mourning is not only loved for all the memories he provided Heat fans during his career, including those rough-and-tumble playoff series against the Knicks, but also his devotion to the South Florida community. For 15 years, “Zo’s Summer Groove” was an offseason highlight and one of the driving forces behind Mourning’s philanthropy. Most recently, Mourning appeared in public service announcements for HealthCare.gov and the Affordable Care Act.
“Being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, that’s big time,” Heat forward-center Chris Bosh said. “Luncheons and stuff with the President and playing golf and stuff with every important person in Miami, and now he’s a Hall of Famer. I think it’s just a testament to the hard work that he put into the game for so long, and what he continues to do in the community even today.
“I think he can set a great example for a lot of great basketball players out there that see what you can do after basketball, and even his work during basketball was very, very important.”
Mourning’s successful fight with kidney disease made him an inspiration beyond the world of sports. He played for five seasons after a kidney transplant during the middle of his career, and was a reserve on the Heat’s first championship squad in 2006. He famously provided five blocks, six rebounds and eight points in 14 furious minutes off the bench in the series-clinching Game 6 win against the Dallas Mavericks.
“To see him come back and be able to earn the highest reward is awesome,” Spoelstra said about Mourning, a seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Mourning has been retired since 2009, but his influence remains. Heat center Udonis Haslem, a South Florida legend in his own right, credits Mourning with teaching him a work ethic that has extended his career.
“He has taught me so much about this game and about professionalism and what it takes to be a part of this organization,” Haslem said. “Without a doubt, without him being a mentor of mine, and things I learned from him early on in my career, there’s no way I’d be here today with my accomplishments and doing what I’ve been able to do.”