Alonzo Mourning retired from the NBA today after 15 seasons.
He is arguably one of the top 10-15 centers of all time, and why wouldn't he be, with his impressive resume?
-An All-American during his junior year at Georgetown.
-Two-time Defensive Player of the Year
-Two-time All-Defensive First Team
-Won the Gold Medal in the 2000 Olympics with Team USA
-Helped the Miami Heat win the NBA Championship in 2006
-Career averages of 17.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 2.8 BPG, with his best years coming in the late '90s with the Heat
He overcame a life-threatening kidney disease with a life-saving transplant received from his cousin, Jason Cooper.
He was a tough player who played with unmatched intensity and passion. He left everything on the court, every single time I've ever seen him play.
And the funny part is, I say all of that as a lifelong Knicks fan who absolutely hated 'Zo, Riley and company during that great Knicks vs. Heat rivalry in the '90s.
After nearly a decade of horrible trades, ridiculous long-term contracts, sexual harassment accusations, chants of "Fire (Insert Name)!" at the Garden and mostly uninspired, selfish basketball, I would gladly welcome back the days where the Heat and the Knicks would literally brawl on the court.
While the Knicks are much improved now under the Walsh/D'Antoni regime, I'm nostalgic for the old days.
Call me crazy, but I remember Game 5 of the second round series in the 1997 playoffs where P.J. Brown tossed Charlie Ward into the ground, igniting a huge brawl which led to the suspension of all the Knicks' top players, including Ewing, L.J., Starks, and Houston.
The Knicks were therefore eliminated and I will always believe that Riley secretly ordered that brawl to lure in the Knicks players. Maybe Riley knew that he couldn't win that series against a Knicks team at full strength.
Either way, I miss it and, other than Riley, Mourning received the most venom from Knicks fans. We weren't shy about our hatred for 'Zo. In fact, we made it known with every opportunity we got.
I will never forget the playoff series that these two heated rivals played in the next season when Mourning got into a confrontation with Larry Johnson. The two didn't actually land any punches, but the image of Coach Jeff Van Gundy wrapped on 'Zo's leg while hanging on for dear life is something that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
The Knicks and the Heat went on to battle in some of the most physical and intense basketball games over the next couple of years. And, as I've repeated, 'Zo was a huge part of it all.
The matchups between 'Zo and his fellow Georgetown alum, Patrick Ewing, were memorable. These two were bitter rivals on the court but they somehow managed to remain best friends off the court. They brought out the best in each other and their matchups only added to that great rivalry.
I firmly believe that the most intense hatred for a particular player from an opposing fan base stems from a deep (and perhaps secret) respect that this particular player commands. I look at it this way—if this guy played for your team, you would love him unequivocally.
Sometimes players look at it from this perspective: "Hate playing against but would love to play with." 'Zo is definitely one of those guys. He was truly a warrior that just happened to play for the other team.
I was rooting hard for him when he was dealing with that kidney disease and I was extremely happy when he finally received the needed kidney.
I admired the courage and strength that he displayed while he was battling this disease. It was the same courage and strength that he showed on the basketball court. Except this time, I didn't dare root against him.
Mourning's many charitable works deserve a ton of praise. They are a testament to the type of man he is off the court.
When Mourning finally won a championship during his second stint with the Heat as Shaq's backup center, I was secretly happy for him. He wasn't just on the team, either; he played an important role with his defense and energy off the bench.
So today, we are saying goodbye to a great competitor and a champion in so many ways. He is going out on his own terms and, most importantly, with his health intact.
Thank you for all the memories, Alonzo, even though I would've never imagined uttering these words back in the glory days.