The hardest thing about Mourning's struggle is the fatigue. It's not inherently dramatic, watching a large man slump down and place both hands on his knees, and he tries not to let the strain show. But there are many days and nights, during games or while doing nothing, when he feels drained. His doctors don't know why. "Is it caused by the disease or the medication?" asks Appel. "To a certain extent we're dealing with a class of one here. We simply don't have another 6'10", 260-pound world-class athlete expending this kind of energy and battling this."
The courageousness of Mourning's fight aside, the stone-cold reality is that he's not the same player he once was. Numbers (this season's averages of 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds through Sunday were down from previous career marks of 20.9 and 10.0) tell only part of the story. Most NBA scouts give some variation on these themes: Mourning can be his old self only in spurts; he no longer "explodes to the ball" when he goes to block a shot; he rarely beats his man down the court. Mourning doesn't need to hear all this—and be prepared for a storm to darken his face if it's suggested—because he has never claimed that he is 100% back. "The last time I was at my strongest was Game 7 against the Knicks," he said, speaking of the Heat's 83-82 loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 21, 2000. "It used to be that I could play four games in five nights and go 40 minutes in every one without even thinking. Now it's dropped to 32 to 35 minutes a game. But can I still be as effective in those reduced minutes as I once was? Yes, I can."
As Mourning sat glumly at his locker last Saturday, he was asked about the Heat's fading playoff prospects. His eyes darkened at the word fade. "Do you think this team is ready to quit?" he said. "Do you think I'm going to quit? You know where I'd be if I quit? Probably on dialysis or something." Well, no one in his right mind ever suggested that Mourning was going to quit. But that doesn't answer the harder question: Can he ever get back to being that feisty warrior whom the Indiana Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal calls "the old-school Alonzo Mourning"? He pondered that for a long moment.
"I'll tell you this," he said. "If there's any way it can be done, I'm going to do it." There is no reason to doubt that.