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Alonzo Mourning: The First #HeatLifer

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A look back on the first Heat player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Alonzo Mourning (Gary Payton doesn't count).

Ronald Martinez

Dwyane Wade announced his return to Miami on a discounted two-year deal -- he opted out of a two-year, $41 million deal for another two-year deal worth about $10 million less -- with an Instagram post saying, "My Home,My City,My House..#HeatLifer."

Tomorrow, the original Heat Lifer will participate in the enshrinement ceremony for the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees. I'm talking, of course, about Alonzo Mourning. Before Wade, Mourning stood as the face of the franchise.

Now, Mourning started his NBA career with the Charlotte Hornets. And after returning from his devastating kidney disease, he initially played for the New Jersey Nets. But Mourning was always attached to the Heat franchise. He didn't leave shrouded in secrecy or submerged in bitterness, as past stars have done. And in his memoir, he says that he donated his entire 2005 prorated veteran minimum salary when he signed back with the Heat because "it was my way of apologizing for ever leaving in the first place."

Like all expansion franchises, Miami was irrelevant out of the gate. It didn't finish with a winning record for its first five years and only had one above .500 season before Pat Riley arrived in 1995. Riley traded for that championship cornerstone in November 1995, having to give up Glen Rice to acquire an All-Star center. Zo may have not been truly great in comparison to other NBA centers, but he averaged 23 and 10 his first year in Miami.

His second year with the Heat -- 1996-97, Tim Hardaway's first year with the Heat -- Miami reached the Eastern Conference Finals, the farthest the franchise had gone and would go until 2006. Moreover, the Heat won 61 games, a mark that stands second only to the 2012-13 27-game winning streak year in terms of the team's regular season dominance. With Zo anchoring the team on both ends of the floor, Miami was suddenly relevant. Heat games became an event, with Zo as the lead actor. He scowled, frowned and flexed every night.

Unfortunately, Zo's best years in Miami ended in heartbreak against the New York Knicks. Admittedly, he made some mistakes -- like his scuffle with Larry Johnson in the 1998 NBA playoffs that cost him a suspension for the decisive Game 5 and ended Miami's season. It looked like the Heat would never get past New York after that 61-win team, and Zo's kidney disease diagnosis in 2000 forced the team to rebuild.

But Zo came back to the No. 1 seed Heat during the 2005 playoff run. He quickly established himself as a more-than-capable backup center to Shaquille O'Neal. He stayed with Miami for the next year, after another tough series loss, though this time to the Detroit Pistons. And the Heat players managed to peak at the right time in the 2006 NBA Finals and win their first NBA championship. To this day, Zo's block on Jason Terry stands as one of my favorite moments as Heat fan.

Zo's performance in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals -- eight points, five blocks, six rebounds and a +11 on the floor -- exemplified who he is as a player. The NBA has many good competitors and a few great competitors. Zo undoubtedly stands as one of the game's great competitors. Aside from Wade and maybe Udonis Haslem, Zo was the most important player in the Heat's Finals series win over the Mavericks.

In the words of Pat Riley, Zo has sacrificed more than any other player in franchise history. That's why he'll give what I'm sure will be an amazing speech to the Basketball Hall of Fame this year. Because he deserves it.