MIAMI — Part of the legacy of former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning may be putting a new face on children raised in foster care. In April, he was named among the 2014 class of inductees for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place in Springfield, Mass., in August.
Mourning said he fell in love with the game as an 8-year-old while growing up in Chesapeake, Va. He earned a full basketball scholarship to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he was a standout center. He went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA, most of the time with the Heat, where he is the team’s vice president of player programs and development.
Although Mourning, 44, said he has had a “storybook” life, he has had to overcome many challenges, including a life-saving kidney transplant and a turbulent childhood leading up to his parents’ divorce.
Julia and Alonzo Mourning Sr. separated when he about 11. During counseling, he was conflicted over which parent’s home he would live and he chose to stay in a group home instead. He credits his foster mother, the late Fannie Threet, who died last October at 98, with helping him develop into the person he has become.
“She instilled in me the importance of faith, the value of education and how to be a man,” he said.
That part of Mourning’s childhood was a difficult period, he said, adding that it was because of the obstacles that he has had to overcome that he has had an incredible life.
“I was one of the fortunate ones. I come from a broken home. I didn’t know what direction I was going,” he said. “I could have gone in a whole different direction, which, statistically speaking, a lot of foster kids get into.”
His story, he said, may inspire many children living in foster care and encourage them not to be ashamed of being in that situation.
And Mourning wants people to know that there is more to him than what they have seen on the court.
“Basketball was a dream come true: playing in the NBA, traveling around the world, developing relationships with [amazing] people and making a lot of money. But it’s temporary,” he said. “Basketball is temporary.”
The most challenging time of his career was returning to professional basketball after he had to undergo a kidney transplant due to a rare disease.
“When I came back from my kidney transplant, there were a lot a people that doubted me but I had some deep doubts [too], he said.
After the kidney transplant in 2003, Mourning helped secure Miami’s first NBA World Championship in 2006.
“Going through the whole process, playing stressed out, I broke through that particular obstacle in my life,” he said. “Not only did I play the game at a high level but I contributed to a team to help them win a world championship, which was my first.”
Being a transplant survivor who successfully returned to professional sports helped change the perception of organ recipients, Mourning said.
“Millions of other individuals that were dealing with kidney-related issues and health-related issues, I helped change the overall perspective,” he said. “That probably would be my proudest moment.”