Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Mourning more than ‘specimen’

Real-life situations involving human beings not objects strip fun from sports games

October 18, 2000

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— Reporters rarely look good in these situations. In our efforts to cover every detail of a story, we sometimes lose contact with the thing that connects us to the rest of the world our humanity.

Sometimes in our effort to write people's stories, we forget we are writing about people.

The question shouted out from the group of reporters who had gathered at Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena was legitimate. The wording, however, left something to be desired.

"Doctor, given that Alonzo is such a good specimen athletically, does that help his chances at all?"

The "specimen" in question would be Miami Heat All-Star center Alonzo Mourning, and Monday, it was announced he would miss the 2000-01 NBA season to undergo treatment for a kidney ailment that could require a transplant.

Without question, this is a basketball story - and considering the revamped Heat were a preseason favorite for the NBA title, it's a huge one.

But as watching Mourning's reaction to the question a head-shaking smirk and monotoned repetition of "good specimen" basketball became the least important part of this story.

"I feel great right now," said Mourning, who, by speaking, clearly established he was no laboratory rat. "We've pretty much got a hold on it, the whole situation right now.

"The main objective is to get me healthy so I can live my life normally, so I can see my babies grow up, and so I can enjoy my family."

As a general rule, we don't like when the real world intrudes into the fantasy world of sports. We're not all that sure how to deal with it. Sports are supposed to fun. When the worst consequence for not winning a NBA title is going home to multimillion-dollar contract, it's hard to get too caught up in weeping athletes.

But focal glomerulosclerosis, which is the form of kidney disease Mourning is suffering from, is real life. Such a serious situation saps the fun from our games. Mourning has a disease that has damaged the filters of his kidneys, which leads protein leaking into his urine.

According to Dr. Gerald Appel, of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, 20 percent of people have some form of focal glomerulosclerosis. Doctors said it might be more prevalent among young black men.

Appel said up to 50 percent of patients with focal glomerulosclerosis can be cured with immune suppressant drug treatment - which is what Mourning will undergo for the next six months on a treatment trial.

Will he be out one season? Two seasons? A career? Athletes carry a certain, albeit false, aura of invincibility about them, even though we are constantly reminded otherwise. Standing 6-10, weighing 258 pounds and with a body chiseled from the mold of Adonis, Mourning, 30, is more than a "good specimen athletically," he is nearly perfect.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament, a broken wrist or a ruptured Achilles' tendon those are the things that take athletes down, not a kidney disease.

As basketball fans, we tend to be selfish: After an initial moment of shock, our second notion is, what does Mourning's absence mean to our team? Even NBA.com's story mentioned that with Mourning, the Heat were favored to win the Eastern Conference, but without the All-Star center, the outlook "would change drastically." Forget that. Care about the person, folks.

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