Georgetown Welcomes Home Alonzo Mourning with ESPN's Homecoming Show
July 24, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The point of ESPN's "Homecoming" television series is to bring an athlete back to an area that he calls home. And more than 600 fans packed Gaston Hall at Georgetown University on Thursday night to welcome former All-American center Alonzo Mourning back home.
Host Rick Reilly and ESPN spent the week in the Nation's Capital with Mourning, his wife Tracy and their family, as they ventured to spots at Georgetown and Howard University, where Tracy graduated, to film portions of the show. ESPN will air the one-hour show on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m.
The ESPN crew and several production trucks arrived at Georgetown on Tuesday and spent most of the day on and around Washington filming segments with Mourning and his family.
While at Georgetown, Mourning and Reilly timed each other running up and down the famed Exorcist Steps. Mourning recalled his experiences running the famed steps before Reilly pulled out a stopwatch to time each of them. The crew then visited McDonough Arena, where Mourning spoke to the current Georgetown basketball team. After the team workout, Mourning and Reilly adjourned to the McDonough Arena kitchen. There the duo drank what Reilly dubbed the "Alonzo Mourning Kidney Flusher," a combination of three celery stalks, three carrots, two beets and two apples put into a juice maker. It was a mixture that Mourning started drinking after his battle through kidney disease.
The highlight of the week, however, was the taping of the Homecoming show. More than 600 fans lined up outside Healy Hall for the opportunity to watch the recording. Doors to Gaston Hall opened at 6 p.m. as the taping was slated to begin at 8 p.m.
A ton of former Georgetown basketball standouts, led by former Hoya Head Coach John Thompson, Jr., were on hand to celebrate Mourning's homecoming. Among the players back were some of Mourning's former teammates - Jaren Jackson, Ron Thompson and Mark Tillmon, as well as assistant coach Ed Spriggs. Another former Georgetown center, who Mourning idolized growing up, sat in the first row of the audience, Patrick Ewing. Also in attendance was former United States Colin Powell, whose daughter Anne was the executive producer for the show.
The actual recording of the show was slated to begin at 8 p.m., but ESPN held off on the start until all of the guests were settled in their seats. Reilly began by the show by asking Mourning why he chose Georgetown as the location for his Homecoming. "I have a lot of roots here," Mourning said. "Four of the best years of my life were spent here."
The first portion of the show focused on Mourning's youth in Chesapeake, Va. and he spoke to him about his moving into a foster home, where he was under the guidance of Fannie Threet, a local school teacher who cared for 50 children. "She taught me about the quality of life, the importance of education and the importance of faith," Mourning said. "She was a very special person." Reilly introduced one of Mourning's foster brothers, Bud Threet, who recalled their days growing up. "He was somewhat reserved, but he opened up as time went on," Threet said. "That's my brother, it's all love."
The next introductions were two of Mourning's coaches, first his high school coach at Indian River High School, Bill Lassiter, and his AAU coach, Boo Williams. That led to the introduction of John Thompson, Mourning's coach at Georgetown and of the most influential people in his life. Thompson spoke of Mourning's intensity on the floor as a player and about coaching him: "He had a stubbornness about him," Thompson said. "Stubbornness isn't bad as long as you know who's in charge." Mourning followed that by saying, "Fear helped a lot too."
Mourning pointed out each of his teammates who were in attendance and had each of them stand up. "It wasn't just about me," he said. "This Homecoming is about all of the people here. This is about everyone who helped me in the process."
Following the segment about his collegiate career, Reilly talked to Mourning about the start of his professional career and being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1992 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Reilly brought up the strong start to his professional career and focused again on Mourning's famed intensity. "I was very intense by nature," Mourning said. "When I was on the court, that's how I carried myself. Everyone had their own way of approaching game and that was fine."
Talk shifted about his signing as a free agent with the Miami Heat in 1995. Reilly asked Mourning about famed NBA head coach Pat Riley. As Mourning described him as a control freak, Riley had appeared on camera via satellite from Miami. Riley was asked why he wanted Mourning with the Heat: "Why did I want him? Because I liked to win. `Zo is the kind of guy that makes a franchise."
Mourning, always a team player, recalled a playoff series with the New York Knicks. It was an intense series, as each game was between those teams, but Riley was devastated by the loss. Sitting in the coach's room, Riley heard Mourning come in and say, "You haven't finished your job. There are 12 guys in that locker room who need to hear from you."
After talking about this playing career and showing highlights of his career, including a spot on his blocked shots, Reilly spoke to him about when he found out about his kidney disease and the process he went through to continue playing. It was just after Mourning had helped lead the United States to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He was sidelined during the 2002-03 season in an attempt to heal his kidneys and announced his retirement in the fall of 2003, receiving a kidney transplant - from his second cousin, Jason Cooper - soon after.
It was a routine physical that led to the discovery and Mourning had three questions for his doctor, Dr. Stuart Appel - first, was he going to die; second, is there a cure; and third, could he play basketball again. "I took a leap of faith and followed the advice of my doctor," Mourning said. "I followed my heart and kept my mind strong."
Mourning said that he took a "no quit, never give up determined approach" to his disease. "That's the power of education," he went on, "preparing yourself for the unexpected."
Before Cooper was found as a match (Cooper was a surprise guest at the taping of the show), Reilly pointed out that a member of the audience - Ewing - had gone through the process to see if he could be a match. "He and I had developed a strong friendship," Ewing said. "Coming back here in the summers in working out and seeing each other during the year, we became very close. I look at him as the younger brother I never had. I told him if I was a match, I would do it for him."
One of the final segments of the show focused on Mourning winning the NBA Championship with the Heat during the 2006 season. He recalled a situation in the sixth game of the championship series when Mourning entered the game with the Heat trailing by 14 points. Mourning entered the game and his intense play helped turn the game around and give Miami the title. "All of the pain, all of the losses, all of the discomfort and all of the people who supported me, it let me know that all the work I had put in paid off," Mourning said.
Reilly went back to the visit he had with the current Georgetown team the day before and brought up a question from one of the players about his favorite moment. "It was when I graduated," Mourning said. "To be the first person in my family to graduate from college and to be there with the people who supported me, that was the best moment."
Following some discussion about his final days with the Heat - including an introduction of former teammate Udonis Haslem, who flew in to attend the taping - and a short "quiz" about himself, Mourning closed by saying that there was still more he wanted to accomplish. "There's more that I want to do," he said. "I want to provide opportunities for kids, I want to expand their chances for education. I want to stimulate some kind of a movement."
Judging from the reception he received at Gaston Hall Thursday night, Mourning has done just that.