PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti - First and foremost, I'd like to thank the Heat and Project Medishare for allowing a select group of newspaper and television reporters to take part in a remarkable day of service, sacrifice and stunning scenes from Haiti.
There's no way to compare catastrophic tragedy and measure the impact of natural disasters. But what I witnessed in Port Au Prince on Saturday - six months after the massive earthquake that devastated Haiti - reminded me a lot of the heartache, suffering and sadness that followed Hurricane Katrina.
I've now had a ground zero experience with both, and it is something I won't forget for the rest of my life.
There was a lot of good Saturday that emerged amid the rubble of a nation still staggering from the earthquake. There was hope amid the hopelessness. The Heat donated $25,000 through its charitable fund to Project Medishare's effort to build/renovate a hospital that would move patients from tents to a structured facility.
Among the highlights from the trip ...
--Before the flight to Port Au Prince departed from Miami, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra addressed his role within the organization for the first time since team president Pat Riley left the door open for a possible return to coaching last month.
Spoelstra said he was given assurances from both Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison that he would be back next season as the Heat's coach.
"I didn't take the way everybody else took it," Spoelstra said of Riley's suggestion that he might be open to returning to the bench if a prominent free agent made it a condition of signing with the Heat. "I can see how it's portrayed out there in the media. But I didn't really take it personally. Nothing's changed."
Spoelstra said part of working for "a Hall of Fame presence" in Riley is having to deal with the conjecture.
"He and Micky have given me assurances, but it's not needed," Spoelstra said. "And I've told them that."
--Project Medishare co-founder Dr. Barth Green posted up with Alonzo Mourning in the G concourse as medical supplies and staffers were being gathered for the trip Saturday. With Mourning by his side, Green discussed how the non-profit organization would use donations such as the $25,000 the Heat generated from funds raised during the team's annual family festival.
"This week, we're moving to a hospital we spent the last several weeks fixing up," Green said. "We've got state-of-the-art operating rooms. We're moving all of the supplies and will have the only ICU facility in the region. We're increasing the capacity and will be operating a 90-bed critical care hospital."
Green went on to lay out the broader plan for Project Medishare, which is to ultimately train Haitian medical staffers to run the hospitals and clinics once the buildings are restructured.
--Once Vision flight 401 touched ground at Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport, new Heat Community and Corporate Liaison Tim Hardaway was in a full sweat preparing for a day of hospital visits and touring of the region's hardest-hit areas.
"This is something that's not only needed for the people of Haiti, but also for people who might take for granted some of the things they have in life," Hardaway said. "The Heat organization and a lot of people in South Florida have a close connection with the people over here. Hopefully we can help affect peoples lives down here in a positive way, even if it's just for a day."
--In addition to Spoelstra, Mourning and Hardaway, Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay made the trip. Gay, a close friend of Dwyane Wade, contributed to the $1 million Wade and Mourning raised through pledges earlier this year for Haiti relief.
Gay said he wanted to do more than support the cause financially. "I wanted to come down here and see what it was all going to," Gay said. "Some of the things I'll do today, I'll keep with me the rest of my life."
On another note, Gay will be a restricted free agent on July 1. He got a close-up look at how the Heat operates on a community level and even took a couple of the tampering jokes in stride. One of the funnier moments from the trip came when Gay had to quickly duck out before a publicity photo was snapped in which Mourning, Spoelstra and Hardaway presented the Heat's $25,000 check to Project Medishare.
--On a final note from the day-long mission, Mourning left lasting impressions on just about every child he touched and every adult patient who clamored to touch him. As great a basketball player as Mourning was during what should be a Hall-of-Fame career, he's already eclipsed the marks he made on the court with his philanthropic deeds off the hardwood. He's putting muscle behind his money.
The demands on this man's time have to be overwhelming, but he still shows up whenever he's called to Haiti. This was his fourth trip to the country - and he was one of the first public figures on the ground days after the earthquake hit on Jan. 12.
"There's always more you can do," Mourning said as the delegation boarded the flight back to Miami after six hours of the ground in Haiti. "For me, for all of you, for a lot of people involved with this, the work is far from finished."