SPRINGFIELD GARDENS, QUEENS – He left a mark in fan’s memories the same way he bruised the opposition attempting to travel inside the paint in hopes of filling the hole on a basketball court. Anthony Mason played larger than his 6’7″, 250-pound frame and got the most out of his ability based more upon determination than an over all athletic skill. As in his cameo in the Beastie Boys “Root Down,” there were very few in the NBA who knew how to “root down” like Mason.
It takes an indelible spirit and some set of onions to be the defensive stalwart that #14 was especially since he was on the short side for a forward. The barrel-chested Knick’s width included trademark left and right elbows as he ferociously snarled and gripped rebounds. Mason was often the first guy off the bench as his 1995 Sixth Man Award acknowledges as well as a few fines for coming to a teammate’s aid during on-court altercations.
Far from being a basketball fan, I enjoyed those early-to-mid ’90’s Knicks teams who resonated with its inhabitants epitomizing what New York was all about.”Mase” was one of us, hailing from the mean streets of Springfield Gardens, Queens over there by JFK airport. Non-New Yorkers and non-Knicks fans may have called Oakley, Anthony, Starks & Co. a bunch of thugs but led by Mason, they were only protecting the house on 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue like any city person watches over their neighborhood. You weren’t taking their lunch money and the term “no easy baskets” was a given.
Somewhat surprising is the amount of time Mason spent in New York as a Knick; his five years (92-96) seemed more like ten, as a result of his dutiful service. Then again, betting the Knicks in playoff nail-biters during that time probably has more to do with it. Despite a rugged style, the always-steady performer missed very few games and was good for eight rebounds and ten points per game during his tenure. His durability hit its apex during 1996, when he led the NBA in minutes played, a number that stands as a Knicks team record.
The Knicks couldn’t get over the hump(s) that was the Chicago Bulls or Hakeem Olajuwon (Starks 2-for-18 in Game 7) in order to become NBA champs. In 1993, Charles Smith missed multiple put-backs under the basket and is reviled for his efforts because at 6-10 and gifted, he was considered soft by many. Had Mason suffered the same fate on the other hand, he would have become one of this city’s most sympathetic sports figures because everybody knew he left everything he had out on the floor and, more importantly, cared like die-hard fans do.
Yesterday, congestive heart failure killed Anthony Mason, who was revered for being the heart and soul of some of the more memorable Knicks teams ever assembled.
That’s it for now, tune in tomorrow for the heart and soul of Buffalo Fans, DJ Eberle.