Mourning Drives the Lane for At-Risk Kids

Ed Gordon talks to NBA comeback king Alonzo Mourning. The Miami Heat basketball star talks about his charity event for at-risk kids.

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Unidentified Man: Out of the wings, Dwayne Wade drives inside, off the glass, missed, put back, slam. Alonzo Mourning with both hands.

ED GORDON, host:

He was a perennial NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, but in recent years, Alonzo Mourning has been the king of the comeback. Zo became the second player in the history of the league to return to the court after a kidney transplant. His passion for the game and desire for a championship ring returned him to the Miami Heat this season, where he also made news off the court. Zo donated his entire Heat salary to help young people in south Florida. His tradition of giving is as long as his tenure in the NBA. Every year he hosts Zo's Summer Groove, a charity event to raise money for the education and development for at-risk children. Joining us now to talk about the event is the man himself, Alonzo Mourning.

Zo, what's happening, man?

Mr. ALONZO MOURNING: Not much, man. How you doing?

GORDON: I'm good, man. OK. Once again, a hot time in good old Miami, F-L-A. Tell us a little bit about what you got planned down there.

Mr. MOURNING: This year Tyson and Pepsi have stepped up to the plate, and they're our title sponsors this year, and we've had a tremendous amount of success, you know, due to the fact that the city has embraced it, and the entertainers and actors have come down and supported the event, and has made the process so much easier to support the organizations that help our young people in south Florida.

GORDON: You've been dedicated to helping young people for as long as I've known you.

Mr. MOURNING: Yeah.

GORDON: I'm curious what it is about you--you know, skeptics might say, `Well, he, you know, walked close to death and now he understands,' but you knew this before you had any issues with your kidney or any health problems.' So talk to me about the makeup of you and why you do this.

Mr. MOURNING: Well, I don't listen to skeptics no more, and this--my faith is extremely strong, you know? And God is the only guiding light that I have in my life, you know. And there's a reason why he's put me in the situations, you know. There's just so many positive things having merged out of me going through transplantation and chronic kidney disorder. I've been able to reach out to so many other people and inspire them through my efforts. I have utilized my strengths and looked back on the journey I've had to go through as a child and utilized that as a strength of mine in knowing that, `Hey, there are a lot of other people, young people out there, who have the ability; they just don't have the resources.' You know? So I try to go out--I've created this foundation to help create a positive atmosphere so people could come out, enjoy themselves with events in giving.

GORDON: And, Zo, we shouldn't minimize the importance of--particularly for African-American youth--the idea of these kids being able to touch, feel, talk to celebrities, people that they see as successful, really can go a long way in assisting them to know that it can happen to them.

Mr. MOURNING: Well, it's a matter of just feeding them the right information, man, you know? Kids are like sponges. It's up to us as adults to be a little bit more responsible instead of pointing the finger at statistics and kids dropping out of school, do something about it.

GORDON: I remember sitting with you in the barbershop--is where we were when you were here in New Jersey playing for the Nets and it was...

Mr. MOURNING: Right.

GORDON: ...right as you started your comeback and I remember talking to you about how positive you seemed to be. Have you always been that way?

Mr. MOURNING: My family was always a giving family. You know, my mom--just reaching out to just people who were in need. Fannie Threet, my foster mom, she fostered about 49 kids in her lifetime. I mean, that was incredible. And she--it was just a matter of giving them a chance. You know? She didn't judge them based on what they did. She always found the good in everybody and everybody has good in them. It's just a matter of just getting it out of them. I mean, I just soaked in all of that information just growing up, you know, and it just helped me throughout my whole process in overcoming this physical obstacle that I had to deal with, with chronic kidney disorder because I knew that if I gave up mentally, then my body would have followed it.

GORDON: So you mention the disease, and I know one of the things that you have become is an ambassador to getting the word out, particularly to African-Americans who ofttimes don't find early on the signs that may move them to get better health care and maybe stop this before it goes too far. Tell us about what you've been doing in that front.

Mr. MOURNING: I have partnered up with Ortho BioTech, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson, to head this campaign called Rebound from Anemia. And anemia is a derivative of chronic kidney disorder. I had to deal with anemia and it was something that kept me from let alone just playing the game of basketball but spending time with my family. I didn't realize--I thought it was something I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life, you know, but my doctor, you know, recommended Procrit as a solution for it, you know, and it was just a matter of me just going to the doctor, which is something that a lot of African-Americans and minorities, period, find it difficult to do. And I think that it's important that we get regular checkups, you know, at least once, twice a year, not waiting too late until the problem escalates.

GORDON: Right. And then you won't worry--he won't worry about the bills at that point. You won't be around to pay them anyway.

Mr. MOURNING: Exactly.

GORDON: Zo, before I let you go, buddy, let me ask you, you came mighty close this year.

Mr. MOURNING: Yeah.

GORDON: And a lot of people surprised at what you gave Miami Heat on the floor.

Mr. MOURNING: Right.

GORDON: I mean, clearly, you could feel the old Zo coming back. I think a couple times, as I watched you block them shots on my Pistons, you're back. You must be looking forward to getting back out there next season after this.

Mr. MOURNING: Well, I haven't made a decision whether or not I'm gonna play or not.

GORDON: Really?

Mr. MOURNING: But at the same time, you know, I love this game, you know, and I want a championship. That's the only thing I want out of this game, man, you know? I have the financial security that I need for the--for my family and the rest of my life. And I just hope that the Heat does all the things they need to do to put the people in the right place and sign people back that will determine whether or not, you know, I come back and play or not. Big fella makes it a whole lot easy for us, you know. Shaq being in the middle, you know? I don't want to be in the position where I have to carry the team at all, you know? I want to come in and contribute and help the team win, you know? But at the same time, I don't think physically I'm able to do that anymore, but I prepared myself this season. I prepared myself, my body, by any means necessary. Every time I stepped on the court, I played each game like it was my last, you know, because at one time I thought it was my last game.

GORDON: Well, Alonzo Mourning, Zo's Summer Groove happening down in Miami.

Mr. MOURNING: July the 14th, 15th and 16th.

GORDON: A lot--it should be a whole lot of fun and, as always, man...

Mr. MOURNING: Yeah.

GORDON: ...good to talk to you, and congratulations on everything, and good luck with the weekend.

Mr. MOURNING: Thank you so much, Ed.

(Credits)

GORDON: To listen to the program, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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