Remembering Anthony Mason

Tim Johnson/Associated Press

By Tacuma R. Roeback

You don’t have to be a superstar to be immortal in the mindsof New York sports fans. Though he never scored more than 16 points per game, Anthony Mason will always be beloved by Knicks fans for his heart, hustle and funky, mural-style haircuts. Mason passed away early Saturday morning at 48 years old. 

He was a hulking power forward chiseled from brick. Yet, he was surprisingly nimble. Mason had the feet and ball-handling ability of a point guard. He possessed the athleticism of an NFL defensive end.

During five glorious seasons with the Knicks in the 1990’s, it was not uncommon for the 6-foot-7, 250 pound Mason to lead the break and distribute the ball. In those pre-LeBron days, it was strange to see a man his size command the basketball like that.

Mason, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley comprised one of the most intimidating front lines in the NBA at the time. If opposing players tried to slash to the paint against those Knicks teams, it was with the understanding that they would end up on their backs. Though the Knicks came out on the losing end of many of its playoff battles with the Chicago Bulls, those games were wars. The Knicks’ physical style earned them the “thug” label.

‘Mase’ was especially derided by critics. But that label could never approximate what the Tennessee State product brought to the basketball court. He was a vital utility player who could give you a bit of everything, from setting up an offense to providing low post scoring and rebounding.

One aspect of Mason’s game that was lauded was his ability to defend multiple positions across the front line. This video of the 1994 NBA Finals (Game 2) highlights Mason’s solid defense against all-world Houston rocket Center Hakeem Olajuwon (you might want to view 1:54 to 2:47).

‘Mase’ is a throwback to the NBA that I fondly remember, where grit and toughness were what earned you your sandwich as a power forward – not pretty three-pointers or the ability to operate in a pick and roll. “Stretch 4’s” or perimeter shooting power forwards were not introduced to the game en masse yet. You had to defend the rim and control the boards.

The ‘Mase’ that I and other Knicks fans will remember most is the highly skilled player who had a withering glare and a passion for the game. Don’t people praise Larry Bird for possessing those same traits?

Anyway, I will always love ‘Mase’. And I will never forget that one time I saw him in person at Club ESSO in Atlanta in 1998. Dude looked huge on television. In person, he was absolutely colossal. 

If you had to walk through a tough neighborhood, you would probably be okay if you took Anthony Mason with you. He provided that same certainty and security for the teams he played for: the Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. 

If you needed a teammate to have your back on both ends of the court, you took Anthony Mason with you. 

And if you did, you were just fine.  

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