Magic Rain on Zo's Retirement Parade
Last night was special for the Miami Heat. For the first time in franchise history, the team retired the number of a player. During an extended half-time, a few dozen chairs and a podium were set up in the middle of the court and the world played "This is Your Life" with Alonzo Mourning.
A spectacular list of speakers (from Patrick Ewing to Charlie Crist) gave their thoughts on what Zo has meant to South Florida, both on the court and as a symbol of perseverance in the community--more on the ceremony in a moment.
There was also a little basketball game to tend to. The Orlando Magic were in town with the second best record in the East and a recent history of dominating the Heat. (Orlando's won 12 of the last 13 matchups.) And the last time these two teams faced off, Dwyane Wade scored 50--and the Heat lost by 23.
This time, though, they had the power of the biggest basketball jersey ever created, hanging from the ceiling above the court.
The half-time ceremony was touching though. I'm not even kidding when I say it started with a letter from Barack Obama, thanking Mourning for his service to the community. Then Governor Charlie Crist (who the crowd hilariously boo-ed) thanked Zo for everything he's done for the state of Florida. Legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson spoke about the effect Mourning had on him, as a father, a coach, and a person. Then former Georgetown teammate-turned Eastern conference rival Patrick Ewing said playing against Mourning made him "not just a better player, but a better man." Pat Riley told Mourning he loved him, and said if he could start a franchise today Mourning "would be my number one pick, without a doubt."
Mourning then spoke to the crowd, and to the family, friends, and former teammates, coaches, and executives around him. He said he'd heard someone taking bets on whether he'd cry, and he began crying. He said he and his family are "permanent residents of South Florida."
Then they raised the giant jersey as a Nickleback ballad played over the PA. And the game continued.
Unlike that last blowout in Orlando, this game was close the whole way. The Magic led most of the game, but the Heat were ahead inside of two minutes in the game. It seemed like every time Orlando scored, Dwyane Wade would take it upon himself to respond...by himself.
Heat lose 101-95.
Wade was his usual [insert cliched adjective for a one-man show here] self, scoring 42 and coming up with four steals. But the next highest scorer for Miami was Mario Chalmers, with 13 points. At one point in the third quarter, Wade had nearly half the Heat's points. One man really can't do it all. Even though it seems like he comes close a lot.
And the Magic player most responsible for holding Miami in check - a man many people have compared to Mourning - muscled his way into the record books in true Zo fashion. Magic center (and D-Wade's Olympic teammate) Dwight Howard had 18 rebounds, making him the youngest player to reach 5,000 career rebounds. At 23-years-old, he passed Wilt Chamberlain.
So it was fitting that on a night when the franchise honored the first real superstar to play basketball in Miami - a man who could never bring home a championship by himself - the next genuine South Florida basketball legend is unable to beat one of the best team's in the league alone.
The game made Sports Center's highlight of the night: