(Reuters) – Anthony Mason, a former player with the National Basketball Association‘s New York Knicks, has died at the age of 48, the team said on Saturday.
The 13-year NBA veteran had severe heart problems, his son, Anthony Mason Jr., said in a statement quoted on the Knicks’ web site.
First I want to thank all those who offered prayers and well-wishes for my Father, our family really appreciates it. Overnight, New York City and the world lost a legend, a friend, a brother … but more than anything our father, Anthony Mason. As you all would expect our father – Big Mase – put up an incredible fight, dealing with a severe heart issue. I’m wishing this was something else I was writing, but Pops we’ve got to let you know we love you and know you’ll always be with us.
Mason was a 6-foot, 7-inch (two-meter) forward from Tennessee State University, who played with the Knicks from 1991 to 1996. A fan favorite, he was a key player in the 1993-1994 Eastern Conference Champion team.
“As a competitor, there was none fiercer than Anthony Mason,” said Knicks President Phil Jackson in the team statement. A former Chicago Bulls coach, Jackson said he remembered how Mason, wearing number 14, always stood out in the great Chicago-New York battles of the 1990s.
“On behalf of the entire Knickerbocker community, our condolences go out to his family. Rest in peace, Mase,” Jackson said.
Mason was a scrappy forward who battled much bigger men in his position, and a hard-nosed defender known for his sometimes flamboyant haircuts (In fact, Mason was name checked in a Beastie Boys song with the line, “I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason.”)
Mason is beloved in his native New York City for his six seasons with the Knicks, a team he helped to reach the NBA finals in 1994 with teammates Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Charles Oakley, under coach Pat Riley. Mason won the NBA’s “Sixth Man Award” for the 1994-95 season as a Knick.
Mason’s road to the NBA was an unconventional one. He was raised in Springfield Gardens Queens, and graduated from the HBCU Tennessee State, after which he was drafted 53rd overall to the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988, according to Bleacher Report. Mason was cut from the Trail Blazers shortly thereafter and went to play overseas with the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and stateside with the United States Basketball League (USBL). He made it back to the NBA and signed with the Knicks in the summer of 1991.
In his thirteen years with the league, Mason also played with the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat (under Riley again). In 2001, Mason was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.and retired with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2002-2003 season.
New York sports writer Peter Vecsey is credited with breaking the terrible news of Mason’s heart attack on Feb. 12, saying that Mason suffered from congestive heart failure and underwent four surgeries.
He is survived by his mother, Mary, and his two sons who also played basketball – Anthony Mason Jr., who played college with St. John’s and tried out for the Miami Heat, and Antoine Mason, who is currently trying to make it to the NBA. His boys were reportedly by his side when he passed.