Mourning glory

The spirit of the All-Star Game is lost upon Alonzo Mourning. Arms folded, inimitable scowl in full force, he sat at the end of the East team bench appalled when Kobe Bryant floated through the lane for an uncontested layup. "Throw that s---!" he yelled.

Or maybe it's not. For no one was more disgusted with the Philadelphia fans for booing Kobe and his MVP selection, even though it came at the East squad's expense.

"Booing Kobe is ridiculous, being that man is the best spokesman for the league," Zo fumed afterward. "He doesn't get in trouble and he plays the game well. I told him, 'F--- the fans, and congratulations.' Getting booed putting on a performance like that is disrespectful and a disgrace."

Never has it been so enjoyable to see Zo glower in a game or rage about some injustice afterward, considering he was supposed to be hooked up to a dialysis machine by now and seeking a kidney transplant. That's what doctors told him would happen in 12 to 15 months after tests showed he had the kidney disease focal glomerulosclerosis shortly before the 2000-01 season started. Instead, he contributed 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting, three rebounds and swatted that s--- twice in his seventh All-Star appearance. Whispers that his illness earned him a sympathy vote bothered him, but he excitedly warned everyone in the East locker room, particularly Michael Jordan and Nets coach Byron Scott, that the Heat weren't out of the playoff picture yet.

"I told Mike, 'Hey, I know you hear us coming, you feel us on your heels,' " Zo said. "Byron Scott already told me he doesn't want to see us in the first round. We just need to be healthy."

No one's health is more indispensable than Zo's. The Heat's recent 10-3 run after a 5-23 start put them 5 1/2 games behind the Pacers for the East's eighth and final playoff berth with 35 games to go. The recent run can be attributed mostly to Zo's improved stamina. His relentless effort at both ends always has been his primary strength. His minutes (32 a night) aren't far from his career average (35) but for most of the season he hasn't been nearly as active. That has changed of late.

"I just feel like I'm making progress," he said. "I'm more sore than I've ever been because the kidney problem means I can't take anti-inflammatory medicine, Advil, stuff like that. But I don't have to be playing. I play because I still have a fire burning inside me."

With that, Zo lifted a plastic glass to his lips and took a healthy sip of tap water, savoring it in his mouth for a moment as if it were some fine Cabernet Sauvignon before swallowing. "I wouldn't drink that," said Steve Francis of the same water. Zo is grateful he has the choice.

AND ONES: Kings forward Gerald Wallace's last dunk was supposed to be his most spectacular instead of a simple one-handed jam. Wallace hoped to dunk with his right hand, grab the ball as it came through the net and dunk it again with his left, but nervousness robbed him of his lift. "My boy was shaking," said Chris Webber, who tried to offer moral support after coaxing Wallace to try the dunk right out of the gate. Webber and Hedo Turkoglu both insist he's done the double-dunk in practice ... Best trade rumor out of All-Star weekend came from the NBA assistant GM who saw high school junior LeBron James play in nearby Trenton, N.J., on Sunday, saying there's only five players he wouldn't outright trade for James right now -- Kobe, Shaq, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd ... The reason Steve Francis bricked his second free throw at the end of Sunday's game is that MJ dared him to shoot it "eyes closed." Francis tried and banged it off the backboard and side of the rim.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ric.bucher@espnmag.com.