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Mourning can reflect on glory
Alonzo Mourning's career ultimately will finish in Springfield, Mass., home to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
It started right here in Hampton Roads, at Chesapeake's Indian River High and on Boo Williams' Amateur Athletic Union team.
"He's a Hall of Famer," Williams said of Mourning, who announced his retirement from the NBA on Thursday. "So many guys today take plays off. He never did. There's no player I coached or was around who competed like he did."
Mourning's career, in which he was a seven-time NBA All-Star and part of the 2000 Olympic gold-medal winning team, was distinguished by his on-court performance and off-court dignity.
"After 16 years, I truly feel that it is best that I retire from the game of basketball," Mourning said in front of a sign that read, "Warriors Do Not Live in the Past, the Past is Dead, Life is Now, and the Future is Waiting."
He then gathered himself and added, "At 38 years old, I feel like I've physically done all I can for this game. As God only knows, it's been an amazing ride.
"It's not a sad day. But it's a day to celebrate. I could think of a million people right now that would love to walk the path that I walked."
In 1988, Mourning and Bryant Stith, the University of Virginia's career scoring leader, led Williams' team to its first AAU national championship. In high school, Mourning led Indian River to 51 straight victories and the state Group AAA title in his junior year (1987). As a senior, he averaged 25 points, 15 rebounds and 12 blocks per game.
"Can you imagine if he had played high school ball now?" Williams said. "He'd have never gone to Georgetown. He'd have gone straight to the pros."
Williams has sent countless talented athletes come through his AAU program. Mourning is atop the list, ahead of former Bethel star Allen Iverson.
"Alonzo could dominate the game and not score points," Williams said. "The difference between him and (legendary Boston Celtics center Bill) Russell was that he didn't have the supporting cast. Everybody talks about Russell. Look at who Russell played with. I don't think that Alonzo played with a lot of Hall of Famers."
Just weeks shy of his 39th birthday, and after more than a year of rehabilitation from a devastating knee injury, Mourning made his announcement in the same room where he had announced a previous retirement due to kidney illness and later announced a return to the Miami Heat following a kidney transplant.
A South Florida icon respected as much for his charitable foundation as his ferocious dunks and blocked shots, Mourning in recent months had spoken of a life larger than basketball, a life rich with the upbringing of his two children and civic endeavors. He reiterated those themes during his farewell.
"My health is more important than anything," he said. "God willing, I'll be able to live another 40 or 50 years. And I want to do it in a comfortable state. Right now I'm there."
The next stop for Mourning likely will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, after a required waiting period that, in the interim, will feature the retirement of his No. 33 jersey.
A two-time NBA defensive player of the year, Mourning accomplished his ultimate professional goal as a member of the Heat's 2006 NBA championship team. He said if the current Heat had been a title contender, he might have been tempted to try another comeback.