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Mourning Endures As Warrior

(Getty Images)

"I don't have to be the all-star, I'm over that,'' Mourning said in 2003. "Still, you go through withdrawals, like, 'I used to be able to get that shot,' and 'What's this guy doing blocking my shot?' ''

On the Mount Rushmore of rugged players with an indefatigable spirit -- Charles Oakley, Rick Mahorn, Jim Loscutoff, Jerry Sloan, Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson immediately come to mind -- Mourning has to be at the top. It says everything about his career that he went down while trying to prevent a score. The man refused a ride on the stretcher afterward, limping badly back to the bench with the help of teammates, one of whom, Udonis Haslem, stood over him after he went down.

"We tried to help him up and he just said, 'It's over, it's over,' " Haslem said.

"That's not the way I envisioned myself walking off the court for the last time in my career," he said afterward. "I've been through so much in my life. If I had to crawl off the court, I would have. Nobody was going to push me off on a stretcher off the court. That wasn't going to happen."

He went out standing up; remember that, too.

"Next to the word 'warrior' in Webster's dictionary you should put Alonzo's picture," Thompson said. "Based on how he played, overcoming what he's overcome. There is no better definition of a player as a warrior than Alonzo. He gave everything -- everything he possibly had."

Michael Wilbon had the good fortune of being there the night Mourning came out for his first Hoyas game. To everyone's astonishment, the gangly freshman entered the layup line wearing No. 33 -- only the number belonging to Patrick Ewing. (The idea that Mourning not only wore No. 33 but actually upheld the honor of the greatest player in school history says everything.)

Wilbon asked Thompson how that was possible and, furthermore, wouldn't Ewing's number be retired? "We don't retire numbers," Thompson said. "We retire memories."

Barring another miraculous return -- he underwent knee surgery yesterday, don't tempt him -- the days of Mourning, the player, have very likely come to an end.

"Each of you here know I've been through a whole lot worse than this,'' Mourning said after the injury. "It's disappointing to even think that my career would end this way, but there are so many other things that life has to offer for me. I have a great family and I have so many other opportunities out there."

In the mind's eye, seeing 'Zo pin a ball against the glass backboard is almost fresh. Same with that now almost comical clip of Jeff Van Gundy holding onto his leg like a bull terrier after Mourning squared off with Larry Johnson, which 'Zo laughs about now.

But what endures the most if the memory of an expectant father crisscrossing continents on 19-hour flights, leaving Sydney and the Olympics, trying to get back to his wife, Tracy, in Miami, to help her with the birth of his daughter. He came back to Sydney and won a gold medal. A few days before the kidney disorder that was supposed to end his career was diagnosed, Mourning chalked up his fatigue to jet lag.

Say what you want about denial, but that's perseverance. That's Alonzo Mourning.

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