MIAMI (AP) -The notion of not seeing Alonzo Mourning play basketball again is a difficult one for the Miami Heat to accept.
Mourning had surgery Thursday to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and a quadriceps tear in the same leg. The injury, which he suffered Wednesday night in Miami's overtime loss at the Atlanta Hawks, will almost certainly keep Mourning sidelined for the remainder of the season.
And since Mourning insists this season is his last, that would mean his career is likely finished as well.
``I lost a brother,'' Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said Thursday night before Miami hosted the New Jersey Nets. ``I lost a partner. I've lost a bodyguard.''
Heat coach Pat Riley said Mourning would be in a hard cast for a month, then a soft cast for another month, followed by a period of rehabilitation that could last six more months.
Riley - who often says he and Mourning are joined at the hip - isn't counting the 15-year veteran out yet.
``My dream: That he will make the remarkable comeback and he will block Tim Duncan's dunk in the seventh game of the finals,'' Riley said. ``If you keep that image in your mind and if it ever came true, then you'll know this is meant to be.''
The 37-year-old Mourning is Miami's franchise leader in several categories, including games played, points scored, rebounds, blocked shots and minutes played.
``Zo defies the odds,'' Riley said. ``We're very concerned about it. This man has a spirit that can never flatline. It just can't. It's always erupting. We're going to miss that, big-time.''
Mourning's injury was tinged by irony: It came on the fourth anniversary of the kidney transplant that saved his life.
He was diagnosed in October 2000 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a disease that keeps kidneys from properly filtering waste from blood and necessitated the transplant.
Most people thought he'd never play again.
Mourning proved them all wrong. But now, even his biggest fans believe this is the end.
``I don't want to speak for him, but I think he is probably done,'' O'Neal said. ``He's definitely a Hall of Famer and he is definitely going to have his jersey retired and I'll be there for that ceremony and I'll give a great speech that day.''
Mourning was hurt when attempting to do what he does best - defend the basket.
He was backtracking and getting ready to contest a layup by Atlanta's Mario West, when his knee buckled as he was about to leap.
He immediately grabbed the knee, pounded the floor in disbelief, and told teammates, ``It's over.''
``He's one of the fiercest competitors,'' said New Jersey forward Richard Jefferson, a former Mourning teammate with the Nets.
Mourning was once the team's biggest star, and although his role has changed over the years, his status as a fan favorite never wavered. Mourning still got perhaps the warmest reception of any Heat player when he entered games at home.
In 838 career regular-season games, Mourning has averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. He is a seven-time All-Star selection and two-time NBA defensive player of the year.
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