No one who visited Alonzo Mourning after his kidney transplant last Dec. 19 dreamed that he'd play in the NBA again. "I was lying in that bed with IVs and wires stringing all from my body," recalls Mourning. "I felt helpless." Two months later he was allowed to walk on a treadmill, then permitted to lift weights. "I had 20-pound dumbbells and my arms were so weak," he says. "At first it made me sick and dizzy, but I said I'm not going to stop until I get my body back."
At week's end the amazing Mourning was averaging 11.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 26.2 minutes while helping the Nets (2--4) stay afloat in the absence of Jason Kidd, who was recovering from off-season surgery on his left knee. Outfitted during games and practices with a fiberglass shield to deflect a direct hit to his new kidney, and with the odds of transplant rejection shrinking with each month, the 6'10", 261-pound Mourning looks as strong as ever. Last week he played 77 minutes in back-to-back games, then lifted weights on his day off. "I've been nothing but amazed," says coach Lawrence Frank. "Everything he does, he does hard."
So why isn't Mourning's comeback the feel-good story of the NBA season? Because after being paid $4.8 million by New Jersey last season while playing only 215 minutes, he--like Kidd--wants out in the wake of last summer's cost-cutting trades of Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles. New owner Bruce Ratner bought the Nets not to win a championship but rather to serve as the centerpiece of a real estate venture in Brooklyn, where he plans to move the team as early as 2007.
Mourning, 34, traces his anger to last summer, when he heard rumblings from sources close to Ratner urging Zo to retire so that his contract would come off the cap. "To hear that while I'm killing myself to come back and play for this team?" says Mourning. "That was totally disheartening." Mourning wants to move to a title contender ASAP. He recently asked the Nets to buy out $14 million of the $18 million on the remaining three years of his contract. "I don't want to be a part of no rebuilding, I don't want to be a part of no real estate venture, and I don't want to be a part of no relocation," says Mourning, who as a free agent in 2003 turned down contracts comparable to his Nets deal from the Mavericks and the Grizzlies, as well as a one-year offer from the Nuggets worth almost $14 million.
Because Mourning's contract is uninsured, no team is yet willing to give equal value to the Nets, and CEO Rod Thorn has little interest in giving away his No. 2 scorer and rebounder. "If there's something we can do that's in our best interests, then we'll look at it," Thorn says. Here's one scenario: Kidd comes back as anticipated next month, proves himself healthy and is traded, which in turn opens the door for Thorn to buy out Mourning or deal him for an expiring contract as part of the team's new direction.
In the meantime, Mourning will continue fighting through his rustiness (he played only 18 games over the past three years), soak his sore muscles in hot baths of Epsom salts (his doctors have barred him from taking prescription painkillers) and cope with torn tendons in his right pinkie (he'll have to play with it taped for the next six weeks). After everything he's been through, he's in no mood to compromise.