Aug. 8, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. - To say Alonzo Mourning will always remember his experience at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games is a bit cliché, like saying a person will always remember the birth of their child. But for Mourning, his experience during the summer of 2000 mixed those two moments for one extremely unforgettable week.
Mourning missed Team USA's semifinals game against Lithuania as he hopped on a plane from Sydney to South Florida to witness the birth of his daughter, Myka Sydney. The middle name is not a coincidence. Mourning then got on another plane back to Sydney, Australia to help Team USA capture gold against France.
"I just see it as a blessing," Mourning said. "I got to the hospital with about twenty minutes to spare to witness the birth of my daughter. Then to be able to go back and win a gold medal with my parents in attendance, it was a blessing."
Growing up as a child in Chesapeake, Va., the Olympics was not a particular goal to which Mourning aspired. It was not even until after his high school career when trying out for the USA National Team destined for Seoul, Korea that the thought entered his mind.
"I didn't really start to develop a strong interest in competing in the Olympics until college. I tried out for the Olympics in 1988 and was the last player cut. I played pretty well throughout the trials, but Coach Thompson honestly put a lot more emphasis on education and he wanted me to get back to school so I could be ready to start my freshman year on time. If I would've been on the team I would've missed a big portion of orientation. But that experience alone sparked my interest in international basketball."
In the last Olympics prior to Team USA using NBA players, the Georgetown-bound Mourning spent his summer trying out with some of the best collegiate players in the country in an attempt to make the 1988 U.S. Men's national team. It also gave Mourning a chance to familiarize himself with his new home on the Hilltop.
"Back then," Mourning recalled. "Coach Thompson was the coach, so part of the Olympic Training camps was on campus. We practiced in McDonough Gym and lived up in Village A, so all those players like David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, Dan Majerle and Danny Manning were all living in Village A."
While Mourning ended up being the final player cut from the squad, his strong play during the training camps put him on the international basketball map for years to come. During his collegiate career, he gained the international experience playing in tournaments alongside future NBA players like Duke's Christian Laettner, Syracuse's Billy Owens, Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson and Arkansas's Todd Day.
Following his brilliant career at GU, Mourning was selected to Dream Team II, and played in the 1994 Basketball World Championships in Toronto, Canada. While Dream Team II was less-heralded than its predecessors, it did feature Hall of Famers like Joe Dumars, Reggie Miller and Dominique Wilkins, as well as Future Hall of Famers like Shaquille O'Neal.
"Playing with that team just enabled me to understand the overall experience of playing international basketball with that high a caliber of player," Mourning said. "A lot of people don't realize that World Championships are like the Olympics for a lot of other countries, so winning the World Champions is like winning the Olympics, it's just that we emphasize the Olympics more in this country."
Dream Team II walked to a gold medal, winning by large margins similar to the original Dream Team, which created some friendly disagreements between Mourning and close friend and Hoya great Patrick Ewing.
"It doesn't come up much anymore, but I think we were a little better," Mourning with a laugh as he referred to his Dream Team II. "But I would pay money to see that game. I know I'd be a part of it, but that would've been a great game to see."
Mourning did not play with the national team in 1996, but rejoined the team in 2000, helping earn Olympic Gold for the United States.
"To be there with the best athletes in the world on that stage was an amazing feeling," Mourning said. "It's just an honor to be able to represent your country. I remember going places after and having people walk up and just say, thank you for representing us so well. It was just an amazing feeling."
Mourning's 2000 Sydney team has proved to be the last U.S. men's team to experience the feeling of winning gold in international competition, but he does not believe the trend will continue with this year's collection of talent on the Olympic team.
"Going through that adversity for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony they were part of that humbling experience," Mourning. "That was an embarrassing moment for them because they knew they were better than the opposition, they just didn't play as a team. I think playing as a team is more a point of emphasis. Everybody understands their role and responsibilities, it's not about who is going to start and star, it's about winning the ball game. I think the mentality has totally changed."