Standing a mere 6'10", the “undersized” Alonzo Mourning nevertheless won against some of the game’s greatest centers—like Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson, both of whom are 7'1"—during his 15-year NBA career.
How? He knew he had to work harder, and he did.
That same tenacity that made him a seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year also helped him return to the court and win a championship after a kidney transplant. Now the Miami Heat’s vice president of player development, Mourning still has plenty to say about life on the hardwood.
How would you compare today’s NBA with when you were playing?
The game is a lot less physical now and is being played from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. Big men are more versatile, more out on the perimeter. I wasn’t dribbling it out of the post or taking my men to the hole. The revolutionizing of the game is good for basketball because it’s made it more exciting.
Anything you don't like?
Stopping the game to look at replays of flagrant fouls—especially those that, back in the day, would have been called common fouls.
How do you feel about players taking the night off?
I don’t like it. I didn’t need rest. If you’re not hurt, you compete. Look at Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal—they were tough as nails, and they laced them up every night.
How did you feel watching Oscar Robertson’s triple-doubles record fall this season?
I was excited to watch a record no one thought would get broken, be broken. Russell Westbrook is changing the game. He’s teaching players what it takes to be a perfectionist at this game.
"I don't like [players taking the night off]. If you're not hurt, you compete."
What injuries did you sustain as a player?
Five knee surgeries, a broken finger, and broken bones in my face. In all, nine basketball-related operations.
You also had a kidney transplant, yet came back just nine months later and won a championship. How is that possible?
I looked at every day as a day of progress toward a goal. It takes time for everything in life. It may not happen right away, but if you truly want it bad enough and commit to it, it’ll happen. I put the work in and was willing to wait, and it finally did happen.
How did you recover so fast?
When my kidney disease was diagnosed in 2000, the doctors didn’t want me working out, but they allowed me to do yoga. That’s when I learned the importance of flexibility. After the transplant, my doctor said, “The reason you recovered so fast and were back in the gym in six weeks is that you kept your body in great shape going into the transplant.”
How do you train now?
During my playing days, I had to stay fit and strong because I was a short center. My strategy was [to build] speed and strength. Now I don’t like heavy weight, for tone more than bulk. I include cardio and stretching, too—flexibility is the fountain of youth. I also love to spin.
What’s your role as VP of player development?
I try to be a constant voice and help these kids become better people, on and off the court. You’ve got a small window to play the game. Sports are temporary. The only sport that’s not that temporary is golf. You can play that game until they throw the dirt on you.
Have you ever seen Pat Riley without his hair slicked back?
Oh, man, yeah, after big wins. He’s all about winning and seeing his players successful, so we used to mess around with it in the locker room. We messed up his hair quite a few times. [Laughs]