Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Hall of Fame center and former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning dishes on all things New York Knicks, especially his relationship with Patrick Ewing.

Josh Benjamin

Every true blue New York Knicks fan knows former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning. He’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time NBA All-Star. Much like his good friend Patrick Ewing, he starred at Georgetown University en route to his No. 2 overall status behind Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992 NBA Draft.

Fifteen NBA seasons and a championship ring later …

Mourning is, of course, no stranger to Madison Square Garden and returned there this week for the 2K Classic. His Hoyas, now coached by Ewing, took on the Texas Longhorns in a short tournament to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project.

At halftime, thanks to GuardianLife, Mourning took on CUNY basketball player and wheelchair hoopster extraordinaire Chris Saint-Remy in a game of HORSE. It was an incredibly moving moment, knowing Mourning’s well-documented battles with kidney disease as a player.

I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Mourning ahead of the game, and he had a lot to say about basketball past and present.


Josh Benjamin: Alright, so we are here with Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning. Alonzo, I saw you’ve still got that soft shooting touch? What was it like being out on the court with Chris [Saint-Remy] just now?

Alonzo Mourning: You know what? I can still shoot. I mean I’ve been doing it for over 30 years. So at least— it’s like riding a bike. Once you put a ball in my hand, I can get it up to the rim. Whether it goes in or not, you know, that remains to be seen!

JB: Do you miss being on the court at all?

AM: You know what? I miss the camaraderie. Yeah, I miss the camaraderie. And I miss the big checks these guys get!

JB: Let’s talk about your relationship with Patrick Ewing. You both come from a long line of Georgetown centers. You had the Knicks-Heat rivalry. He’s now the coach of Georgetown. Would you say that Patrick shaped you as a player or an individual at all?

AM: He had an amazing influence on me. As a kid growing up, I watched him play. And in watching him play was part of my motivation to play the game because of his level of intensity on the court and things of that nature. But the long and short of it is it basically came down to how he defended. And what motivated me was his intensity and his tenacity. I became a tremendous admirer of that and kind of patterned my game after his.

JB: How do you think he’s doing as the coach of Georgetown?

AM: I think he’s doing a phenomenal job. I think that it takes time to establish the culture that you want. I think in a short period of time, he’s done a great job. I think this is the year that he goes to the NCAA [Tournament]. I think he has the team to do it. They just have to take advantage of those guards that they have and those guys have to learn to be playmakers and get guys open. And making plays, you know?

I think the long and short of it is it’s just going to come down to how to defend. I think he’s got some great recruits.

JB: Both you and Ewing played for a Hall of Fame coach in John Thompson. You played for Pat Riley. Do you think Ewing has the potential to be an NBA coach in the future after years as an assistant?

AM: Oh for sure. Yeah. That’s how you transition. You start as an assistant and you work your way up. Some coaches have been fortunate enough to get head coaching jobs right away like Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher, but that’s how you start.

JB: You played in an era of tough East Coast defense. Steph Curry has since made basketball more about offense. Do you feel that more three-point shooting is taking away from defense being taught in the NBA?

AM: No. You just have to make some adjustments from a defensive perspective. You’ve got to defend the three-point line. You have to defend it. As far as the changes are concerned, I think the game has become a lot more exciting. I think it’s forcing these young players to understand they’ve got to develop their skill levels from the outside in.

But also, you’re seeing guys like Luka Doncic. You’re seeing these foreign players really developing their games from the perimeter. Now, when they get to the NBA, our style of play kind of fits their game. So, I think it’s been amazing for the game. I think our fan base has grown tremendously because of the excitement of the game.

Teams like Houston and Golden State have made it fashionable to shoot the three on the regular. And a lot of young kids are fascinated by it.

JB: Let’s talk about the Heat-Knicks rivalry. It was a tough defensive series back and forth. It was almost like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and also up there with Lakers-Celtics. The Knicks and Heat have been rebuilding, but Miami now has Jimmy Butler, who is similar to your old teammate, Jamal Mashburn. Tyler Herro has shades of Dan Majerle. Bam Adebayo is a tough defensive center like you were. The Knicks aren’t on the same level, but are still looking to establish themselves as a tough defensive team. Can the Knicks-Heat rivalry come back?

AM: Any rivalry has the potential. We’ll see. I think the Knicks have a certain level of talent. Right now, they’re working on playing well together, which is not easy at all. Especially when you’re just a new collection of players, it’s not easy learning how to play with one another. Right now, they’re going through that process.

JB: Give the young Knicks and Heat players one piece of advice.

AM: Continue to play the game. I think a lot of the priority, especially with young players, much of the priority should go into developing. I don’t think younger players spend enough time developing their game and understanding the importance of professionalism. It all goes hand in hand.

And I think when you put enough priority into that part of the game, you see your talents blossom from there. So spending the time necessary to taking care of your bodies and also putting the reps in on the court. I think that the more often you do that, I’ve seen it first hand. You see the talent level of these players blossoms even more.

 

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