Mourning Back After Kidney Transplant

Thursday, October 28th 2004, 8:09 pm
By: News On 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Alonzo Mourning's first game back after a kidney transplant less than a year ago was a lot like the other 600-plus games in his NBA career.

``The only thing I can tell you is I felt his presence,'' Philadelphia 76ers center Samual Dalembert said. ``I got a couple of blows to my mouth. It's going to be hard for me to eat tonight.''

Showing remarkable endurance and strength in his first NBA game since getting a new kidney on Dec. 19, Mourning had 12 points and five rebounds in leading the New Jersey Nets in a 96-94 preseason victory over the 76ers on Thursday night.

Mourning ran the court well, shot well, rebounded and was a physical presence in the paint, giving the Nets a boost less than a week before their season opener against Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat.

And Mourning appeared to be having fun, joking with Sixers guard Allen Iverson after being called for an offensive foul.

``I have been playing this game for over 20 years,'' a matter-of-fact Mourning said after the game. ``It's just like riding a bike, you never forget. If you haven't ridden one in three years, they throw one in front of you, you know what to do with it.''

The 34-year-old Mourning showed what he meant just seconds after peeling off his sweat pants and reporting into the game with 6:15 left in the first quarter.

Mourning ran a pick-and-roll with Richard Jefferson, and it left him wide open near the foul line. Jefferson gave him the ball and Mourning swished a jumper.

The fans in sparsely filled Continental Airlines Arena, who had given Mourning a standing ovation when he entered the game, cheered even more.

Mourning was supposed to play eight to 10 minutes, but he remarkably almost doubled that. Coach Lawrence Frank even asked him at one point in the second quarter if he was OK. Mourning smiled and said, ``Yes.''

Mourning, who played in each quarter, fouled out on a charging call with 7:50 left in the game. The 12-year-veteran was 3-of-5 from the field and 6-of-10 from the line.

``I wasn't thinking of an individual type of satisfaction,'' Mourning said. ``I do know a year ago playing preseason games was physically more of a struggle, and you don't realize that until now. Back then, I had learned to deal with fatigue.''

Mourning, who got a new kidney from a cousin in December, said it is working perfectly and he is feeling much better.

``As far as my overall conditioning, it does need to be a little better,'' Mourning said. ``At the same time, I think my recovery is doing a lot better because I have a new organ that is doing its job. That makes a world of difference.''

Mourning said the only thing that will prevent him from playing is if his doctors tell him to stop or his body rejects his new kidney.

``All I can do is take this one day at a time,'' Mourning said. ``I can't predict what's going to happen.''

Mourning is attempting to be the second pro athlete to return from a kidney transplant. The first was former San Antonio Spurs swingman Sean Elliott, who played 71 games over two seasons after undergoing a transplant in 1999.

Mourning did not engage in contact practices until last week.

Frank was awed by Mourning's effort.

``For the first game after not having played, after coming off a kidney transplant, phenomenal!'' Frank said. ``I got a cold and I don't think I could come back the next day. This guy had a kidney transplant and you could see him busting his butt, and the energy he gave.''

Iverson, another former Georgetown player, laughed about his bumping with Mourning.

``He said I was acting,'' Iverson said, ``and I was.''

The still muscular Mourning is wearing a fiberglass pad to protect his kidney area, a necessity since he plays on the inside against some of the biggest athletes in sports.

Mourning was diagnosed in 2000 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. He only played in 13 games that season and missed the entire 2002-03 season.

The Nets signed him last year, but his illness forced him to end his season after 12 games.

The Nets open the season against Miami on Nov. 3.