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Mourning calls it a career

Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The disappointment was clear in Alonzo Mourning's voice when he broke the news to Jason Kidd: He was calling it quits because his life-threatening kidney disease had worsened.

Mourning wasn't worried about himself, though. His biggest concern was letting the team down, four months after joining the New Jersey Nets.

''The big person that he is, he was very soft-spoken,'' Kidd said Monday, recalling his telephone conversation with Mourning the night before. ''He felt that he was maybe letting me down in the sense that he came here to try and win a championship and he came here because of me.''

Mourning, 33, will need a transplant soon, and the team said a nationwide search is under way for a prospective donor.

A player who epitomized work ethic, Mourning lasted just 12 games in his return to the NBA after sitting out last season and large portions of two others because of the ailment, focal glomerulosclerosis.

''For him to come out and almost kill himself to just play the game that he loves, it just shows the kind of person 'Zo is,'' Kidd said.

Mourning was not at the team's practice Monday. It was not immediately clear whether the Nets will have to pay the seven-time All-Star the remainder of the four-year, $22 million contract. Nets president Rod Thorn refused to discuss the topic.

Coach Byron Scott said he had stared at Mourning's chiseled body in recent days with a fear he kept to himself.

''I would get updates on his numbers every day and it scared me to death,'' Scott said Monday of recent medical reports. ''When I started cutting him minutes, it was because I was getting a little nervous. I kept hearing about how his numbers were going up. Again, it had nothing to do with his performance. To me it was more of a life and death situation.''

Former San Antonio Spurs player Sean Elliott contracted the same ailment and underwent a kidney transplant in 1999. He returned briefly in 2001, then retired.

The disease attacks the tiny filters in the kidney that remove waste from the blood. That makes the kidney spill protein from blood into the urine. The resulting damage can lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a transplant.

The disease was detected in Mourning in 2000, while he was with the Miami Heat and shortly after the 6-foot-10 center helped the U.S. team win the gold medal at the Olympics.

Dr. Gerald Appel of Columbia University Medical Center, said Monday that Mourning's kidney function has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks.

''It is no longer medically safe for him to play basketball,'' Appel said. ''Although he still feels well, the chemical imbalances in his blood make it dangerous for him to play.''

It was not immediately clear if Mourning might be able to return to the court if he undergoes a successful transplant, team officials said.

''I told him the game of basketball is just a game and I want you able to see your son play the game, or your daughter, your beautiful wife,'' Kidd said of his conversation with Mourning. ''Don't be upset that you feel you let me down because I want to be able to still call my friend.''

Mourning saved his best game with the Nets for last. He had a season-high 15 points in 16 minutes in an 81-80 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. However, he looked exhausted when he left the court in the fourth quarter.

''We don't know why certain things happen, and we can't control them,'' Scott said. ''From our standpoint as a coach, team and organization, we have to learn from this and understand that it goes fast, and it can be taken at any time. He played every game like it was his last game, because he never knew when it was going to happen.''

News of Mourning's retirement came just four days after he and Kenyon Martin nearly came to blows when Martin teased Mourning about his kidney condition at practice last Thursday.

Martin acknowledged Monday he made a big mistake.

''In the heat of the moment you, say things you wished you hadn't,'' Martin said. ''I apologized right afterward. It still doesn't take it back that I said it. I apologized to him, he accepted my apology and we moved on from there.''

Mourning averaged 8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 17.9 minutes for the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, who have struggled this season, posting a 5-7 record. His career averages were 20.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game coming into this season.

He was in his 12th season in the NBA, having previously played for the Charlotte Hornets and Heat. He missed the 1994 and '97 All-Star games because of injury, and the 2001 game because of the kidney ailment.

''It's a sad day in anyone's life when they can no longer do what they love, especially when they have no control over their situation,'' said Heat president Pat Riley, Mourning's former coach.



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