All Hail Zo: Alonzo Mourning Gets His Just Due

With this latest Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class being inducted this weekend, I realize I’m at the age where the players that introduced me to the sport are finally getting their just due. While I’m still a few years away from seeing the athletes that directly influence how I enjoy the game hear their names called (Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, hopefully), there is something to be said about the firsts.

As that coming-of-age moment dawned on me, I realized this also marks a birthright moment for the Charlotte Hornets as a franchise. The induction of Alonzo Mourning into the Hall of Fame makes him the first drafted Hornet to receive that honor. That milestone may not seem like a big deal, but to a hoop enthusiast it's something worth noting.

Basketball is a colorful game in spirit and personality, and in the case of Alonzo Mourning you saw that in every way possible. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley may have been my first real introductions to learning about the NBA, but Mourning was the one who had me obsessed with it.

The athletes who play the game have a heavy influence on modern culture, and it’s always been like that — at least in my circle of life. Whether it’s the shoes they wore on the court or the brands they endorsed, it goes without saying people are going to take an interest. The legend that we know as Zo was one of many who was able to set that trend. He’s the reason I wore a Charlotte Hornets starter jacket like a badge of honor through first grade. He was the cause for me wanting a pair of Nike Air Team Supermaxes that I never got. In retrospect, I’m actually glad my mother didn’t buy them, because those were some ugly shoes.

Now with all due respect to the Miami Heat and the great things he accomplished there, Hall of Fame inductions are a time of remembrance. His epic showdowns against the New York Knicks are the stuff of legends. He won a ring there and also had one of the most significant developments in his life there as he battled against kidney disease. He’ll forever be immortalized by Heat fans, and rightfully so, but I prefer to remember him for his beginnings.

Those early years to me were the ones that truly defined him. From his Georgetown beginnings to his pairing with Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, Zo has always had the distinction of representing everything that was considered cool about basketball. The very appeal of Georgetown as a cultural icon in the early '90s came from Zo's stint as a player there, keeping in the tradition set forth by Patrick Ewing and John Thompson.

There are definitely more talented "Big 3's" in NBA history but very few as polarizing as the group that represented the Hornets' most significant years. If coolness could be quantified as a stat, this trio would rank somewhere at the top next to the Golden State Warriors' Run TMC (whose own Mitch Richmond is also being inducted).

In fact, I'd pay for an oral history of that '93 playoff series against the Boston Celtics that culminated in a game-winning shot by Zo himself to give the Hornets their first series win as a franchise.

It's actually bittersweet that Mourning had to play in the era that he did. He'll never be considered the dominant force that Shaq was. His low-post game wasn't as beautiful as Hakeem's "Dream Shake." He'll even get overshadowed by his old Georgetown predecessor Patrick Ewing because Ewing was a monster in his own right.

What can and should be said about Zo is that he was a player that was every bit as passionate as he was competitive — a tough defender that would embarrass any of these so-called modern-day rim protectors in comparison. His Hall of Fame nod is a chance to appreciate that aspect of his legacy.

From his earliest days as a trendsetter to his final days as a mentor on the Heat, Zo's presence was felt. He wasn't the best, or the most dynamic, but there is always something to be said about those who find ways to influence the game, and Alonzo Mourning most definitely did that.

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