'Zo: It wasn't personal

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

Alonzo Mourning has a message for Raptors fans:

Don't take it personally.

"If they do, I apologize," said the Miami Heat centre, who had a kidney transplant 15 months ago. "That was my main purpose of not stepping foot in Toronto at all, not to raise anybody's hopes or anything like that.

"I'm 35 years old and I've been a part of rebuilding teams. Considering my health situation, I didn't want to waste my time on the court. I wanted a reward at the end of my efforts. I'm not saying Toronto didn't have the talent to get into the playoffs, especially if I would have gone there to contribute. But it's not about getting in the playoffs for me anymore.

"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to do this. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be on this earth. It ain't about money. That's why I gave up the $6 million (US), man. I knew I wasn't going to win in Toronto. If it was about playing time, I would have gone to Toronto or stayed in New Jersey.

"It's about winning.

"I can't say it in any other words."

Mourning was traded to the Raptors as part of the Vince Carter transaction with the New Jersey Nets last Dec. 17.

But Mourning, who had become frustrated by the direction in which the Nets were heading, never reported to the Raptors.

Mourning and the Nets had tried to negotiate a buyout but couldn't come to a financial agreement. On Feb. 11, the Raptors finally agreed to buy out Mourning's pact and, on March 1, he signed on for a reserve role with the Heat -- the team with which he has spent the bulk of his career -- and what he hopes will be a title run.

Yesterday, in his first interview with Toronto reporters since the trade, Mourning strongly backed up Raptors general manager Rob Babcock's version of events in December, January and February.

Namely:

* The Raptors were aware when they made the deal that Mourning probably wouldn't report.

* Mourning was dealing with some shorter-term health issues at the time that needed to be resolved before he even could think about playing again.

* Babcock and other Raptors officials still tried hard to convince Mourning to join the Toronto club.

"I made it clear to (the Raptors), and they were made aware by (Nets general manager) Rod Thorn who said, 'If you guys make this trade, there's a strong, strong possibility Alonzo Mourning won't even report,' " said Mourning, whose Heat will play host to the Raptors tonight.

"It wasn't foreign to them, and they told me that. They knew what they were getting into. They adopted a problem. I didn't cause it at all.

"Oh yeah, I was dealing with some health issues at that time, no doubt. Fortunately enough, I was able to take that time to get those things resolved. But I got those resolved quicker than the (buyout) got done.

"(The Raptors) made a couple of trips down (to Mourning's Miami home), yeah, they did. They tried. They said, 'Look, we want you to be a mentor to our young guys.' But I got kids, man. I'm not trying to father any young guys anymore. I mean, I have kids that I got to raise that I needed to be close to. They're in school (in Miami), they weren't up in New Jersey. It was important for me to be here, close to my family, and close to the foundation I built here."

Mourning had $16 million US remaining on his contract when the Raptors acquired him, and the buyout was for about $10 million. While the common view has been that the Raptors caved in, Mourning's perspective is completely different.

"You know what? They were playing hardball," Mourning said. "But if I were in their position, I would have done the same thing. It's a business. I would have made me wait, too.

"It came down to crunch time, where I got tired of waiting. I told my agent, 'Give them an offer they can't refuse. I want to get out of there, I want to play, I want to go on with my life. I don't want a bunch of owners sitting around a table dictating my future, after all that I've gone through.' "

Mourning, who has averaged 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in nine games with Miami, believes he would be contributing more right now had he and the Raptors agreed to a buyout sooner.

Still, his goal is to be ready for some of those playoff wars for which he became famous in years past.

"I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I think I have worked extremely hard, considering the obstacles I've been confronted with. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm going to work until I get there.

"I am battle-scarred," said Mourning, who is relishing the opportunity to reconnect with Miami fans, some of whom were angered when he left the Heat to chase a ring with the Nets.

"I've been in some wars in the post-season and I feel in any type of seven-game series, when it's crunch time, I know how to handle those situations. I can see this team being in those wars and I'm ready to mix it up, I really am."

Heat centre Shaquille O'Neal welcomes that mentality.

"(Mourning) works hard in practice, he works hard in games, and I would like to be on the floor more with him," Shaq said. "Hopefully that all works out. But against teams that have a big four (power forward) and a big five (centre), he can help us out. We can play together or he can back me up. He's a good guy to have come off the bench."

Rather than coming off the bench for the Heat, many folks north of the border would have preferred to see Mourning starting for the Raptors.

But according to Mourning, it wasn't that he doesn't like Toronto, or even that he doesn't like the Raptors. It's just that the Raptors were not going to win a championship this season and Mourning is not sure how many tries he has left, for basketball or for other things.

"I've been given a second chance to live my life the way I want to live it," Mourning said.

"And I want to live it the way I want to live it."

Raptors fans can decide for themselves if there's anything in Mourning's words to take personally or not.


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