MIAMI (AP) -The suspense surrounding Alonzo Mourning's playing status for next season is nearing an end.
The seven-time All-Star center said he'll make it known ``very soon'' whether he'll return to the Miami Heat or retire, a decision he's been contemplating for the 2 1/2 months since the team was eliminated in the first round of this year's NBA playoffs.
``I have not quite yet spoken to the people I need to speak to,'' Mourning said Saturday night at the benefit dinner for his annual Zo's Summer Groove charity fundraising weekend. ``I've got a good feeling about the Miami Heat and what direction they're trying to go in.''
The person Mourning is waiting most specifically to speak with is Pat Riley, the Heat coach and president who was scheduled to begin a vacation Saturday. Riley and Mourning have left several phone messages for each other in recent days, and the team has made it clear that it wants the 6-foot-10 former Georgetown star to come back.
If so, it would be Mourning's 15th season, not including a year he missed because of kidney disease and a transplant that followed in December 2003. He has said several times in recent weeks that his decision, in large part, would hinge on Riley's plans for next season; the coach of five NBA champions still hasn't said if he'll be back on the Miami sideline.
``I want to be a part of a team that their main mentality and focus is winning, plain and simple, across the board,'' Mourning said. ``Everybody needs to be hungry going into the situation from day one, and that's from training camp on.''
Mourning has averaged 17.4 points in 813 games over his career and has been selected to play in seven All-Star games. Mourning has been the NBA's defensive player of the year twice, finished second in balloting for the 1999 MVP award and is one of 10 players in NBA history with more than 2,300 blocked shots.
He started 43 games last season for the Heat, who relied on him heavily after Shaquille O'Neal missed about half the season following knee surgery. Mourning isn't the scorer he once was - he averaged 8.6 points this past season - but ranked sixth in the league in blocks per game, and his average of 5.44 blocks per 48 minutes was, by far, the best in the NBA.
``My body is still able to make an impact on this game,'' Mourning said. ``I'm healthy, I feel strong, I feel great, my doctors continue to give me the thumbs-up. But I don't know yet. I really don't.''
Mourning's charity event, now in its 11th year, has raised over $6 million for charities that benefit children across South Florida.
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