Yesterday, I began my look back at the career of Alonzo Mourning as a member of the Miami Heat. The #5 most memorable moment in Zo’s Heat tenure was (of course) the day he was officially traded from the Charlotte Hornets to the Miami Heat in 1995.
With the Hall-of-Fame induction one day closer, I now continue the countdown with another Zo moment that Heat fans will never forget…
#4 – The 1997 NBA Playoffs
The Miami Heat entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1988. The franchise would go on to struggle mightily for the next seven years before Pat Riley took over the team and brought in Alonzo Mourning.
Prior to Mourning’s arrival in Miami, the Heat had failed to win any playoff series. With Mourning now on board, the Heat became a real contender around the league for the first time.
Mourning was able to lead the Heat to the playoffs in his first year with the team in 1995-1996, but the team did not fare well as they were swept by the eventual NBA Champion Chicago Bulls. The Heat significantly improved following season (1996-1997) thanks in large part to Mourning – that year they won a then franchise record 61 games (the record had previously been 42 wins).
The first playoff series win for the Miami Heat franchise came during the 1997 NBA Playoffs when the Heat defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. Mourning was the best player on the floor in the decisive Game 5, posting 22 points and 12 rebounds.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals were the first of many epic battles between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. It was looking as though the Knicks would be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals once they went up 3-1 but Alonzo Mourning had other ideas.
With their backs against the wall, the Heat won the next three games to advance and became only the sixth team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-1. Mourning completely dominated both Game 6 (28 points, 9 rebounds) and Game 7 (22 points, 12 rebounds) to lead the Heat to their first Conference Finals trip in franchise history.
Ultimately, Miami would lose to the Chicago Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat had the unfortunate luck of running into a Michael Jordan led dynasty in back-to-back years.
Despite coming up short, Alonzo Mourning had done something that no one else was able to do before him – he made the franchise a winner. The Heat were no longer a failing expansion team, they were now a legitimate NBA franchise thanks mainly to Mourning.
The 1997 NBA Playoffs will always hold a spot in Heat history. It was this at moment when Alonzo Mourning put the organization on the map and in the process, began his transformation from a good to a great NBA player.
Check back tomorrow (Thursday) when I unveil the third-most notable moment in Mourning’s career as we get another day closer to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday night.