Alonzo Mourning stayed home from camp as he awaited diagnosis of a possible kidney ailment
Pat Riley put the Heat through a series of high-intensity drills on Sunday morning. For any other team it would have gone down as a normal preseason workout, but for Miami it held new significance as the team began trying to deal with the absence of its leading player. "It was as upbeat as it could be," says Riley, who had informed his players on Saturday that center Alonzo Mourning was undergoing tests for an apparent kidney disorder. "The guys are aware of Alonzo, they understand and they're hopeful for him. At the same time, they have a job to do. This practice was more of a purge emotionally than anything else."
Mourning's illness had not been diagnosed as SI went to press. In a statement issued on Saturday, he asked that his privacy be respected until a course of treatment is set The team broke camp in Boca Raton on Monday, a day earlier than planned, so Riley could travel to Miami to meet with Mourning.
The one certainty was that Mourning was surprised to learn on Oct. 4 that a routine preseason examination had revealed that something was amiss. He had seemed to be in fine health while winning a gold medal with the Dream Team in Sydney. He appeared to be a little lethargic at the Heat's kickoff press conference, in Boca Raton on Oct 3, but that might have been the result of his two round-trips to Australia (Midway through the Games he rushed home to see the birth of his daughter, Myka Sydney.)
Doctors spent three days investigating a number of possibilities, including a thyroid condition, before narrowing their focus to the kidneys. That news was partly reassuring. Hadn't Sean Elliott recovered from a kidney transplant to return to the San Antonio Spurs last season? "He proved you can do it," Spurs coach and general manager Gregg Popovich said last week of the 32-year-old Elliott, who reported to training camp in excellent shape.
Mourning's teammates wisely refused to speculate about a season without the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year. "We just want him to get healthy," swingman Dan Majerle said. "Everything else is secondary."
The fact is that most of Mourning's teammates hardly know him. Riley rebuilt the team this summer to make a run at the NBA Finals. Of the 19 players in camp only six played with Mourning last season. Newcomers Brian Grant, Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason were looking forward to joining forces with the 6'10" Mourning, who, with Patrick Swing's trade from the Knicks to the SuperSonics, is the only dominant center in the East.
Even if Mourning can't play this year, his team, believe it or not, might be able to advance to the Finals. Without him there is no outstanding club in the East. But let's hope we never find out; let's hope Mourning recovers from this scare and, by playoff time, is back on the court scaring everyone else.
Coughing Up for Shag
Lakers Learn to Love Luxury Tax
Over the next week the Lakers are expected to make good on their promise to reward Shaquille O'Neal with a four-year, $117 million extension. Not only will this keep the league's MVP in a Los Angeles uniform through his 35th birthday, but the Lakers hope it will also put an end to charges that the NBA's signature franchise is running scared from the upcoming luxury tax.