In his 16-year NBA career, Alonzo Mourning won a championship, made the All-Star team seven times, and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors twice. Despite all that, Mourning still can relive the most embarrassing moment of his playing career. It was more than 20 years ago, when he was playing for Georgetown University. After practice in November of 1989, legendary coach John Thompson posed a question to his team: What event went on in the world today?
Like the rest of his teammates – athletes, but also students at one of the country’s best universities – Mourning was dumfounded. He had no idea that a global superpower was crumbling, that an oppressed people were uprising and that finally, on that day, anti-Soviet protesters took a sledgehammer to the Berlin Wall.
“Coach Thompson looked at us with disgust and said ‘you ought to be ashamed of yourselves,’” Mourning vividly remembers.
Speaking after a Dove Men+Care-sponsored event at SXSW, Mourning recalled this was the defining experience of time at Georgetown. Moments like these shape the college game, where a young man is distanced from his outsized presence as a high school phenomenon but not yet swept up by the plush lifestyle of the professional game. A player can be chastised for missing a newspaper headline – and he’ll appreciate the lesson.
Perhaps at no other time in sports is the opportunity to play and learn treated more preciously than during the drama of March Madness. It is a concentrated and accelerated maturation process for men who are at heart still mostly boys. Mourning spent four years at Georgetown, is currently on the university’s Board of Directors and is grieving vicariously through his son Trey, a freshman player at the school, which got bounced from the tournament last weekend by Utah.
We spoke to Mourning about the dominance of Kentucky, why NCAA players deserve a stipend and the importance of prioritizing education over draft status.
The second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is here. What are your initial thoughts?
This is some of the most exciting basketball you want to see. You have really young kids that have gotten to this point, and they’re competing at a very high level, so you see some of the best and most desperate basketball. And because of improvements in technology, social networking, and broadcasting, March Madness is even more exciting to watch. You can watch several different games at a time. It’s pretty amazing.
What team do you feel certain will win it all?
I mean, it looks like Kentucky. But anything can happen. I thought one year we had a chance to win it, but we ended up losing to Duke in the Elite Eight. And then they ended up losing to Seton Hall, who we beat three times. Seton Hall.
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