It was a different NBA in a lot of ways when Alonzo Mourning suited up. It was a more physical game — you could put a hand on a guy out on the perimeter or body him up inside in a way that draws a whistle now.
That physical play led to emotional outbursts — the kind of thing that draws a quick technical now. That physical play led to some fights, too.
The NBA has cracked down on all of it. Mourning gets why, too. It’s marketing. The NBA is a business, firsts and foremost. Don’t ever forget it.
But Zo — speaking to PBT while promoting the Lincoln car brand, a car his grandfather used to drive — admits he misses the old NBA.
“Image is everything,” Mourning told ProBasketballTalk. “The great thing about this league is we have some great leadership in David Stern and he has expanded the brand, especially globally. Part of that is how we the players conduct ourselves on the court.
“But I’m not a fan of the quicker technicals, they seem to get a bit nit-picky about that. I’m old school, it was more physical, it was emotional, but it was an entertaining brand of basketball. People enjoyed it.
“But the game is in a great place, so they must be doing something right…. I don’ think it’s going t change unless a lot of owners and coaches really push for a change.”
Zo is right. So long as the dollars are flowing the rules that keep players in check on complaining are not going anywhere. Fair or not.
And that’s not the only thing that has changed in the game. When Mourning took the court he battled Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and a number of other more traditional big centers. Now even Mourning’s Miami Heat — where he is the Vice President of Player Programs and Development — has gone small, with Chris Bosh at the five.
There’s still a place for the traditional big man in the game but what you see now is a reaction to the players that are coming into the league.
“There is still a place for a center in the game,” Mourning said. “If a great center came out right now he would go No. 1 because there are not many out there. They are dinosaurs….
“When you think about it you play from the inside out. The game has changed because the players are more versatile, you have guys like Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowizki and the list goes on and on, they would have been forced to play in the post (in decades past days). The game changed because the players changed. But you still play the game from the inside out. The teams that have won are teams that dominated the paint area in terms of scoring, rebounding, defense and not letting the other teams get their points there. You still have to play inside out.”
Zo adds the Heat did that when they won a title last year, just not in a conventional way — they put LeBron in the post, they had Dwyane Wade slashing into the paint, but they still got their points there. They still won their title inside, not at the arc (the open threes only happen because the defense has to collapse and protect the paint.
Mourning was the No. 2 overall pick out of Georgetown and played 15 NBA seasons. He was a seven-time All-Star, a two-time defensive player of the year and won a ring with the Heat in 2006. But in a lot of ways his career was divided in two parts — before and after he had kidney replacement surgery.
He says he had to adjust and adapt, which is why he started working with Lincoln, a brand trying to reinvent itself. He is driving a 2013 Lincoln MKZ — which he notes has enough headroom for him, no easy feat — and sees the car as the brand turning the corner.
One other thing that seemed to turn the corner in recent games is the Miami Heat defense. Zo still has some street cred with the players and when asked will offer advice and tips to players. And he says that while the Heat have the best record in the East they are just finding their stride.
“It’s early, it’s less than 20 games played, you don’t win championships until June,” Mourning said. “There’s a lot of posturing going on right now, but (the Heat) already have an identity. They are fast paced, they attack the basket and they have a lot of shooters…
“We’re already tough to beat. Once all that clicks, once our defense clicks, we’ll be even tougher to beat.”
Toughness. That is something Mourning knows when he sees it.