When you reminisce on mid-90’s Eastern Conference basketball, you cannot help but to think about Michael Jordan stealing his rivals’ hearts, Allen Iverson crossing him over for his survival, and the grudge between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks.
Historians may remember the New York vs. South Beach battles as Pat Riley-centric, but fans will be the first to acknowledge that Alonzo Mourning trying to overthrow his mentor — Patrick Ewing — helped to fuel the hatred.
It was like he was he was Riley’s warrior, or better yet, the runt of Georgetown’s big man litter who just wanted to prove his worth and carve a spot in the mountain. And you could see that drive on Mourning’s face throughout his 15-year career. It showed as anger, but his fight was more about his intensity to make it, which could be seen when he thought that his kidney disorder had taken everything away.
That was the type of identity that shaped the early version of the Heat (post expansion years). Whether it was watching him swing wildly at a former teammate like Larry Johnson, the image of Jeff Van Gundy dangling from his leg, or the replay of him sparking the Heat’s 2006 NBA Finals win, Mourning is the reason why Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade must come out every night with the passion to run through a wall for the organization.
Which makes it self-explanatory why his No. 33 was the first team jersey ever retired in Heat history.
So, it’s only right that after three championship rings — one as a player and two as an exec — seven All-Star appearances, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, gold medals and countless other accolades, that Mourning will be heading into the 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — first ballot edition.
The only bad thing is that his old running mate (Tim Hardaway) won’t be making it in with him, this time.