NBA legend Alonzo Mourning sat down for a Q&A to talk World Cup, the Miami Heat and his own legacy, as apart of his ambassadorial role for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation with which he is involved in opening opportunities for a new generation across the world.

Question: Let’s talk about the FIBA World Cup. Do you see the United States as the favourites to win the World Cup this year?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, I think they are going to have a tough match against Spain. Spain has a great, great team and I think that the game is different compared to when the first and the second Dream Teams were established back in ’92 and ’94. I played on the ’94 Dream Team and I think that the international teams are not in awe as they were back then. Now they are a lot more accustomed to the style of play of the Americans and many of the international players are playing in the NBA. So when they play against the USA teams, they are not as intimidating. So I expect Spain to be very aggressive and I expect them to give them probably a very tough challenge, but ultimately I think the US will win.

Question: You’ve played for Team USA in the World Cup in 1994, won the gold medal. How do you feel about playing for the national team?

Alonzo Mourning: It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to represent your country and to ultimately become victorious. When you think about the history of Olympic basketball and international basketball, it gives us an opportunity to set a stage which allows countries from all over the world to come together and unite and support one particular event. That’s very, very powerful. Being a part of that process was very, very inspiring and it was enlightening to me and it really gave me an opportunity to look at the world from a totally different perspective.

Question: Some are saying that without players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the team is not what it was. What do you think of the current US team?

Alonzo Mourning: ’92 is when we started sending the best of our best, and now the momentum has died down. Because with every Olympic competition or international competition that we have now, even if we don’t send the best of our best, we still have an opportunity to be productive and we still have an opportunity to become victorious. You know, the game originated in the United States by James Naismith and now from a global perspective, so many young people play because of our influence. You had guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and the media exposed the play of these players and it sparked the interests of other international players to want to learn the sport; and then learning the sport, many of them have perfected it. Now you have Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka and then you have Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker, and you have all of these international players that are great, great players now because of the influence of players of the past, where they have grown up watching them play, and they have inspired these young players from other countries to learn the sport.

Question: You probably know that we recently announced the Spanish Basketball Team as new Laureus Ambassadors. What do you think about Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol?

Alonzo Mourning: Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol? They are great players. There’s not too much more that you can say about that. They are really, really good players. They have established themselves in this league. They have some of their best basketball ahead of them. They are on great teams in the NBA and I feel like that they have a tremendous opportunity to establish themselves and become possible Hall of Famers in this league. Sarunas Marciulionis was just inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s an international player and he was a great and one of the first international players to play in the NBA and a very well deserved honour. I feel players like Serge Ibaka, like the Gasol brothers have an opportunity, if they continue to accomplish the things that they have accomplished, to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame, which is the ultimate honour for a basketball player in the US.

Question: So do you think the US will be winning the final, and if yes, what kind of score?

Alonzo Mourning: I don’t know what the score is going to be. I think it’s going to be very close. I think they will play Spain in the final and I feel like the US will have the edge in the game. I think across the board, they have more talent than the Spanish team does. But basketball is a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least mistakes is the team that comes out victorious.

Question: Can we look at the new NBA season now. You have been one of the greatest legends of the Miami Heat, how much did you enjoy the ride after all the years with the team?

Alonzo Mourning: It was an incredible ride. I look back on my career and I feel like considering all the obstacles in my life, I was able to accomplish a lot considering some of the things that I had to overcome. With the season coming up, I expect it to be a very entertaining year for us. We made some significant changes in our personnel and it’s a matter of these guys learning how to play together in a short period of time so that we can be victorious in June in the NBA Finals.

Question: Between your 2006 NBA title with Miami and your gold medal from the Olympics in Sydney, which would you say is more important to you?

Alonzo Mourning: I can’t really put one ahead of the other because both of them were significant honours and I’m very, very thankful to represent my country but I also know how hard it was to win a World Championship with the Miami Heat. I know how difficult that moment was. So I can’t say one is better than the other. Considering how difficult it was to win the World Championship, I might give it a slight edge, but outside of that, no, both of them are very, very polished and valuable accomplishments to me and I’m very thankful.

Question: So clearly with LeBron James leaving the Heat and the shift of Ron Rothstein, do you think there will be a big difference for the fans for the next season?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, obviously when you have the best player in the world, it changes the dynamics of everything. So with him not being here, we had to make some adjustments, and we brought some players in we feel are going to be extremely effective and have an impact immediately on the game. So we’re very pleased with our personnel, the adjustments that we made. We had to go in a different direction. Very, very thankful that we were able to sign Chris Bosh back, as well as D Wade back, part of that big three, and we were able to put a pretty solid core of players around those guys which is going to complement their play pretty well. So I expect us to be contenders again and come out of the East, but obviously so many things have to factor in. We have to be healthy and we have to stay healthy, No. 1. And second, you know, we’ve got to learn how to play together. We’re starting that process now. Guys are in the gym and we are getting ready.

Question: If you had a choice of a Spanish player to replace LeBron James, who would you select?

Alonzo Mourning: I don’t think there’s one player that can replace LeBron James, other than if you want to bring Michael Jordan back. But other than that, I don’t think there’s a Spanish player that can replace LeBron James.

Question: Do you sometimes feel that Miami was treated a bit unfairly by the public after LeBron, Wade and Bosh united?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but we did what we could as an organisation to put the best product on the floor. So unfortunately, we weren’t able to continue the dynasty that we were trying to build with that group of players. But I will tell you that we’re very, very happy with the additions that we’ve made to the team, and we expect this to be a contending team, as well. Even though we don’t have the best player in the world, I will tell you we will be a very competitive and a very disciplined and hard working team this year, which in turn is going to allow us to be very productive. The only thing that would stop us is our health, so we just have to keep guys healthy.

Question: Pat Riley and John Thompson are both known for tough basketball. Is that maybe the main reason that you got along with both of them so well?

Alonzo Mourning: Very much so. I think that both coaches share some similarities when it comes to style of play, toughness, a defensive approach to the game. All of those particular things were something that resonated well with me and one of the reasons why my career blossomed with both coaches.

Question: So together with Riley, you led one of the greatest rivalries that the NBA has seen in the last 20 years, the Heat against the New York Knicks. Why was the rivalry so special?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, it was a very intense rivalry and throughout those years we were able to compete at a very high level and play some very entertaining basketball. Pat Riley built those rivalries with the style of play that he implemented, the toughness and the nastiness and the style of play that he implemented with the Knicks organisation, as well as with the Miami Heat. So you had two teams that had very similar styles which made the games very, very competitive and very close because both teams played the same exact style of play. So every time we played in those games, it seemed like the world stopped and everybody was watching us compete because it was very intense and entertaining.

Question: What do you think of the Spurs? Do you think they are the best team? What is your opinion for next season. Do you think it will be the Spurs and Miami Heat?

Alonzo Mourning: I think it will be Spurs-Heat again. I think that the Spurs have obviously proven themselves as the best team in the world. Until somebody dethrones them, they will continue to be the best team in the world. But right now, we have a team that has the capabilities of doing some special things just based on the pieces that we have and I’m very excited about our chances this year.

Question: Let’s focus on your career. A couple weeks ago, you were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Can you share with us your greatest memories?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, I had a lot of great memories and one that stands out the most is winning the World Championship in 2006 with the Miami Heat. You know, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a tremendous honour. I’m very, very thankful and grateful for that opportunity and it just speaks for all the hard work that goes into becoming an elite, professional athlete. Your reward at the end is being inducted and enshrined into a Hall of Fame, where your name will be there forever. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. Outside of winning a World Championship, that’s the ultimate accomplishment.

Question: The Hall of Fame was actually presented to you by Pat Riley and John Thompson, two of your former coaches. How does a player develop such a close relationship?

Alonzo Mourning: It was very important to me that they were a part of it simply because they played a tremendous role in my overall development as a person, as well as a player. So very, very thankful that I had an opportunity to have them there because I probably wouldn’t have reached that particular moment in my career without their help.

Question: You played against the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and many others. Which do you recall as the best you’ve ever played against or with?

Alonzo Mourning: Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.

Question: Can you tell us why?

Alonzo Mourning: I don’t think I need to tell you why Jordan was the best player that ever played. Olajuwon, because of his quickness as a player. I felt like he was more of a small forward in a centre’s body and because of his quickness, his spin moves, his elusiveness, I think the only way that you could guard him was to keep him there by catching the ball. Once he got it in his hand, it was extremely difficult to stop him. So yeah, I would say it was Hakeem Olajuwon at that position because he was very unpredictable.

Question: Being an under sized centre, you always had to play all the way?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, I just made the adjustments I need to make. You go through your career and you use the talents that God has given you and you make adjustments along the way to be competitive and make it work for your team. I wasn’t getting any taller, and I knew I had to get stronger and faster. And I knew I was competing against guys three, four, five inches taller than me, so I had to make up the difference some way. So that allowed me to be successful at that position because I perfected so many other things, which made the opportunity for me to be successful a lot greater.

Question: So Ewing, Shaq, yourself, no more pure centres nowadays; why do you think that is?

Alonzo Mourning: Because the game isn’t being taught that way anymore. I mean, the only way for a player to learn the centre position is somebody has to teach them. They are going to have the physical ability, but you know, they have to be taught. I’ve had some great teachers in my high school coach, Bill Lassiter; my college coach, John Thompson, they taught me the centre position. By playing that position, I perfected it and I used my overall physical abilities to help make my team successful from that particular spot on the court. Now guys are stepping away further and further from the basket becoming jump shooters. I’m a strong believer that you don’t win games from the outside; you win them from the inside. To tell you the truth, that’s how we got beat last year against San Antonio. They dominated us in the painted area and also high percentage shots and lay ups, they made their three pointers but they dominated us in the paint.

Question: Do you feel that today it’s too easy for younger players?

Alonzo Mourning: No, I wouldn’t say that. I think that the game is a lot less physical, and I think it’s a lot more catered towards the perimeter player now, guys that play on the perimeter. It caters to the guys that have the ability to put the ball on the floor, to shoot the ball from the perimeter.

Question: There are not too many players who played as long as you. How did you do this?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, first of all, I didn’t want to waste my time out there. If I was going to play the game, I was going to play it hard and I was going to try to do it the right way. And I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. That’s the only way to approach the game. You go out there, you spend the time you need to spend in the gym to get yourself better and you don’t waste time doing it. I think that’s why I got the most out of my game because that was my approach. I went hard every time.

Question: About the obstacles that you faced: you fought your way back after a kidney transplant and came back to win the NBA Championship. How did you make that happen?

Alonzo Mourning: Well, it’s just my will to want to succeed. Just regardless of what the obstacles were, I wanted to be successful. It wasn’t about giving up. It was about trying to find a way to overcome it. So that’s what it came down to.

Question: You’re still very actively supporting the National Kidney Foundation. How important is it for you to help others after you got such a tremendous support for your life? Is it one of the reasons that you matched successfully with the Laureus Foundation?

Alonzo Mourning: Yeah, that’s basically what it comes down to. It’s about going through difficult things and everybody is going to go through some type of challenge or difficulty in their lives. It’s just a matter of how you overcome it.

Question: What advice would you give to a young kid?

Alonzo Mourning: There are no guarantees that you’re going to win, but if you don’t put in the hard work, you don’t stand a chance at winning at all. So you get out of life what you put into it. You’ve got to put all you can into something, whether it be your homework in the classroom, whether it be trying to study for that next test. The more you practise, the more you spend time in the weight room, the more you do anything, as it pertains to your mind and your body, will increase your chances of being successful at it.

Question: How would you like to be remembered?

Alonzo Mourning: Everybody wants to be remembered as somebody that made a difference and I just like to feel like, hey, if I leave this Earth knowing that I made a difference in somebody else’s life, a positive difference, where I change their lives for the better, then I guess I lived a good life.

Question: You were announced as a Laureus Ambassador a few months ago. Can you tell us what Laureus means to you?
Alonzo Mourning: Well, sport has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 35 years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to use the game of basketball to open up countless opportunities for me and my family. I’ve been able to develop some amazing relationships throughout basketball and I still am. I’ve been able to travel the world and see so many parts of the world that has been breathtaking for me. So being selected as a Laureus Ambassador is a tremendous honour considering what it stands for and how it all evolved from the great South African President, Nelson Mandela. To be part of this initiative and understanding the power of sport and how it changes the lives of young people really inspires me. I want to make sure that we continue to expose as many children as we can to our sport.

Question: Do you think it’s important for sportsmen or sportswomen to give back to society?

Alonzo Mourning: Yes, I do. None of us would be in the position we are today without somebody providing some type of support along the way. So I feel like we are very fortunate from that aspect because we are where we are in this life because of somebody else’s contribution.

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