On August 7, Alonzo Mourning was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The center, who spent parts of 11 seasons in South Beach, was only the second Miami Heat player ever enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts, though that will soon change.
In 2006, Mourning lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy just two-and-a-half years after he received a kidney transplant from a cousin he hadn’t seen for a quarter-century.
It’s a remarkable story. If there were a film made about Zo’s life, this would almost certainly be the climax. The teary-eyed moment of triumph over adversity.
As sports writers have meditated on Mourning in the days surrounding his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it’s a moment that they’ve rightly devoted special attention to. It’s how we’ll remember him.
It’s not what I’ll remember, though. What I’ll remember is what happened before the transplant.
Mourning was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis before the 2000-01 season. According to The Associated Press' report at that time (via ESPN.com), the degenerative kidney condition was associated with end-stage renal failure that came within five to 20 years of the disease’s onset.
In the face of this grim prognosis, which came on the heels of arguably his best year as a pro, Zo missed all but 13 games the following season. But he then came back and played 75 games in 2001-02. He averaged 15.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks that year, with a kidney that was in the process of ceasing to work.
According to an interview Mourning gave with his former Georgetown coach, John Thompson, he didn't temporarily retire until doctors told him his potassium levels were so elevated he was at risk of a heart attack. At which point he got a kidney transplant, took a break and then proceeded to play in parts of five more seasons, first with the New Jersey Nets before finishing with the Heat.
He was never the same after the disease worsened (Mourning averaged at least 19 points and nine rebounds in every professional season before the diagnosis and didn't reach those marks again after), but he was still a fierce, effective player. During the Miami Heat's 2005-06 title run, he led the NBA in postseason true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage.
"When you talk about Alonzo...what it comes down to is he's the absolute, ultimate warrior," Heat president Pat Riley said of his former player, according to ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace. "Nobody I've been around has more blood and sweat equity in this game than this man, Alonzo. He gave everything he had to the game, but, as a competitor, never gave an inch."
Bringing the Heat to Springfield
Mourning was a singular figure in Heat history, but he’ll soon have plenty of company in Springfield, Massachusetts. With the number of Miami greats set to gain eligibility in the coming years, the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame might have to devote a wing to South Beach.
At present, Zo and Gary Payton are the only Miami players who have ever been inducted—and Payton spent just two seasons with Miami in 2005-06 and 2006-07. (Pat Riley was inducted as a coach and executive, but after winning four titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and taking the New York Knicks to the 1993-94 Finals, it's not entirely clear who the itinerant Riley belongs to. ) But that’s going to change soon, as the members of Miami’s mini-dynasty from 2010-2014 trickle out of the league and into history.
There are a handful of current and former Heat players who are stone locks to make the Hall at some point. Shaquille O’Neal, who won a title with Mourning in 2005-06, becomes eligible in 2017 and will absolutely be a first-ballot selection. Likewise, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be obvious picks for the voters.
These are no-brainers. LeBron, Wade and Shaq have had such rich, consistently excellent careers, the Hall of Fame will feel almost like insufficient acknowledgement of their greatness when the honor comes. To crib a Bill Simmons’ argument, these guys deserve their own lofty perch on the "pyramid." Though it's worth mentioning that, of these three, only Wade will enter the Hall as a fully-fledged member of the Heat.
Ray Allen, though not on the level of the above-mentioned Miami players, is also a surefire Hall of Famer. Allen has made more three-point shots than anyone in league history, ranks 24th all time in win shares, per Basketball-Reference.com, has won two championships and has appeared in 10 All-Star Games and one great Spike Lee movie. He only spent two seasons in Miami, but the most iconic moment of his career—his incredible three-point shot to tie Game six of the 2013 Finals—came in Miami. He’ll get in, he’ll be deserving and the Heat act of his career will be prominent in the memory of many of his fans.
This is where the exercise gets interesting. Chris Bosh seems a long way away from immortality, but he may be able to build a credible case with a strong statistical finish to his career. The Boshtrich has strong individual accolades—nine All-Star appearances, two NBA titles, two more Finals appearances, a fun nickname—and, if coupled with better numbers, has a fine chance of making it.
Though Bosh hasn’t necessarily been otherworldly by measure of the boxscore these last few seasons, he’s already racked up 96 win shares on .161 win shares per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com. For point of reference, that is more win shares than Alonzo Mourning posted in his career and a higher WS/48 mark than Gary Payton managed over the course of his.
There are extenuating circumstances here, sure. Payton played for so long that his dismal late-30s production pulled down his career averages, while Mourning missed a lot of chances to accumulate win shares while coping with kidney disease. And both of these players were better defensively than Bosh.
But bear this in mind: Bosh has averaged 8.55 win shares a season during his four years in South Beach. If he can maintain the same average in the next five seasons of his new deal—which, given his age and the increased responsibilities he’ll assume, seems reasonable—he’ll be at 138.75 for his career.
This would be good for 27th place all time, just ahead of Jason Kidd. Coupled with the rings and the All-Star games, that’s a distinctly HOF-y resume. I doubt I'll ever tell my grandchildren about Bosh, but I think he makes it. And he makes it, for all intents and purposes, as a member of the Heat.
Onto the bench. Erik Spoelstra has shown himself to be a bright, inventive coach, but it’s difficult to project how his career will end up. Two titles and four Finals appearances is impressive, but he’s not there yet.
And given that coaching success is so contingent on factors outside of the coach-in-question’s control—for instance, the players who end up on the roster—it’s impossible to say whether he’ll get another opportunity to coach a juggernaut and further pad his ring totals and burnish his reputation. This is in no way an indictment of Spoelstra, but I don’t think the Hall is in his future.
That brings us to the final potential Heat HOFer from this era: Shawn Marion.
Marion’s inclusion in the argument will surely be controversial here because 1.) He only played 58 games as a member of the Heat and 2.) Most people don’t think Marion is anywhere near a Hall of Fame-level player. The first point is fair, but the second is off-base.
Marion has been a capital "G" great player throughout his very long career. For instance, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Marion is 36th all time in win shares. One slot below Scottie Pippen and two ahead of Elvin Hayes. He’s an excellent rebounder, an efficient scorer (despite a shot that looks like it was designed to make high school coaches dyspeptic) and a lockdown defender.
But, despite his gaudy numbers, there’s a resistance to Marion’s candidacy. According to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton (subscription required), Marion has 142.9 wins above replacement player for his career. No one who’s finished above 150 has ever failed to make the Hall.
And yet Pelton himself is bearish on the veteran’s chances. After acknowledging that Basketball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame probability calculator gave Marion just a 26.5 percent shot of making it to Springfield, he wrote:
Marion's four All-Star appearances are on the low side for a Hall of Famer. That he was seen as the third option on Phoenix Suns teams that weren't good enough to reach the NBA Finals doesn't help his case, either. He's probably going to have to keep playing long enough to reach 20,000 career points to have a real shot at the Hall.
That's fair enough. My instinct is that blunt measures of player value like total points scored will, over time, have less and less sway over public thought as the analytics movement deepens its influence and sharpens its insights, but I doubt this transformation will happen quickly enough to save Marion from the "Hall of Very Good."
Of course, even if he did make it in, Marion wouldn't really be a representative of the Miami Heat. Which makes him distinct from the rest of the players on this list. Though many only had short stints in Miami—Shaq, LeBron and Ray Allen combined to play just nine and a half seasons of Heat basketball—a piece of each of them belongs to the young franchise.
Which makes perfect sense. Miami is a city of transplants. Why would its NBA stars be any different?