Mourning optimistic about playing next year

Friday, May 2, 2003

The Associated Press

MIAMI -- Alonzo Mourning expects doctors to soon clear him to play next season after missing the past year because of kidney disease, his agent said Thursday.

The approval for the Miami Heat star should come in the next few weeks, agent Jeffrey Wechsler said.

"When he gets the OK from the doctors, he'll be clear to play next season," he said.

Mourning told Sporting News Radio on Tuesday that doctors are encouraged by the improvement, saying they have given him the "thumbs-up to possibly go out there and play the game again."

The 33-year-old Mourning was diagnosed in October 2000 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that can eventually require a transplant. He played in just the final 13 games for the Miami Heat in the 2000-01 season, but appeared in 75 games the following season and made the All-Star team for the seventh time.

Last September, shortly before training camp, Mourning was advised by doctors to skip the 2002-03 season because test results indicated his condition had worsened. Nearly eight months later, the outlook is better.

"I'm doing well, considering the time and the ability that I have had to get a better grasp on this whole physical situation," Mourning said Tuesday. "It's enabled me to put myself in a position where I could possibly explore (playing) the game again."

Mourning made $20.6 million last season, the last of a seven-year, $105 million contract with the Heat. Mourning, who has had several discussions with coach Pat Riley in recent weeks, said he will now test the free-agent market.

"I understand this is a business. I'm not taking anything personally," Mourning said. "But Pat Riley has to make business decisions. ... And I, too, have to make the best decision for myself and my family. What I addressed to Pat is that I'm going to explore the market. The market is out there and I'd be foolish to not explore what is out there."

The Heat said Riley was out of town, and the team had no comment on Mourning's status.

Mourning said his preference would be to return to the Heat, with whom he has averaged 19.8 points per game in his seven seasons.

"My heart is in Miami. I want to be there," Mourning said. "I'm a pillar in that community and the basketball organization. When people think of Miami, they think of me and the impact I've had on that organization."

Last month Riley said Mourning could return to the club, but at a reduced salary.

"A lot is going to be predicated on his health, his endurance," Riley said.

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