MIAMI (AP) – Alonzo Mourning walked into Pat Riley’s office one day this summer for some contract talks, yet his mind quickly drifted elsewhere.

Scattered about were drawings of something Mourning spent a career chasing: the championship ring.

Right away, he knew returning to the Miami Heat was his best move.

The marathon process of defending the NBA title began Tuesday for Mourning and the Heat, who held their first two training-camp practices. All the regulars from last season, except for injured point guard Jason Williams, were there – including Mourning, who long said he’d consider retiring if Miami won a title.

“Knowing him, I think he’ll go out kicking and screaming before he just goes out,” Riley said.

Mourning, who underwent a kidney transplant in December 2003, averaged 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.66 blocks, making 20 starts as Shaquille O’Neal’s backup center.

and ranking third in the NBA in blocks per game.

He came up especially big for Miami in the title-clinching victory at Dallas, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and five blocked shots in only 14 minutes, helping fuel the Heat’s 95-92 win.

Still, Mourning weighed the retirement option, plus considered other higher-paying offers from a few suitors around the league – including title-contender San Antonio – but ultimately decided to stay put.

“You have to, just traditionally speaking, come back and defend it,” Mourning said. “That has been pretty much the norm. So I wanted to be a part of that, coming back and defending the title.”

Apparently, the Heat wanted almost everyone from the champagne-spraying party in Dallas back for the defense; Miami has 13 of its 15 players from last season under contract, and is still talking with forward Shandon Anderson about a return.

Mourning said he wholeheartedly agrees with the decision to keep the title team virtually intact.

“No doubt. It’s the right way to do it and the only way to do it, us coming back together to defend our title,” Mourning said. “Everybody’s just recommitted and we’re looking forward to coming back together and getting ourselves physically and mentally in a mode where we’re able to go out and get started.”

Riley gave the Heat high marks on Day 1, at least in the sense that no one sat out any conditioning drills or make any beelines for the locker room.

“It was fun seeing all the guys, going over old plays, talking about what we want to get done first month, second month, third month,” O’Neal said. “It was fun.”

There was plenty of work, too, of course.

At the end of the double-session, Mourning, O’Neal and Michael Doleac all stayed under one basket, taking passes from assistant coach Bob McAdoo and working on short hook shots and jumpers until each was drenched in sweat.

“When it’s time to turn the lights on and throw the ball in the air,” Mourning said, “I’m going to be ready.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.