Despite His Many Faults, Mason Was Beloved For Personifying The 1990's Knicks

By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks lost one of their own over the weekend. Anthony Mason passed away after suffering a heart attack on Feb. 11. His passing brought Knicks fans back to the mid-1990s, when the team personified New York City with their grit, effort, and toughness.

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Written eulogies and memories of Mason have flooded the Internet the last couple of days, because he was a man that was far from the perfect player but was someone Knicks fans loved.

Mason, the Queens native, took the tough road to the NBA, playing in the CBA, USBL and overseas after being drafted and let go by the Portland Trail Blazers. New Yorkers love those types of stories, people reflecting the town’s blue collar attitude. The Beastie Boys rapped about him. Fans loved the different messages he had shaved in the side of his head. He was the face of the “take no prisoners” attitude the 90’s Knicks brought to the court. The fight he reportedly had with Xavier McDaniel at a practice when Mason first joined the team is still talked about by people.

Everything said about Mason has been true. He was ridiculously strong. At just 6-foot-7 he was an undersized power forward for that NBA era, but was able to guard players like Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Even with his strength, Mason had skills most other big men didn’t. He could also guard small forwards like Scottie Pippen. He could bring the ball up the court with a handle as good as any guard’s. He had good court vision, and a team could operate an offense through him in the post for stretches. He had more quickness than any player of his size had the right to possess. For a six-year stretch he never averaged fewer than 38 minutes a game, unheard of for a power forward.

Mason also had a huge chip on his shoulder, with more confidence than a player that went through the CBA, USBL and Tennessee State had a right to. Most times it worked to his advantage, but there were many times when it didn’t. Mason thought he was a better player than he was. With only one All-Star game appearance, Mason acted like he played in the game every season, and never liked the fact that the Knicks ran their offense through Patrick Ewing. Mason wanted the ball in his hands all the time. He also had the tendency to over-dribble in the post and hold the ball too long.

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He and Pat Riley clashed multiple times as well, resulting in suspensions. Mason would do something unprofessional or mouth off to Riley in the locker room. With the way Mason played, he was a great teammate, but his mouth and heart would sometimes draw him over to the dark side.

When Don Nelson came over to the Knicks to replace Riley in 1995, Mason got his wish. Nelson ran the offense through Mason, and the Knicks struggled to a 34-25 record before Jeff Van Gundy was handed the reins and Patrick Ewing was reinstalled as the centerpiece of the offense.

That offseason, the Knicks elected to trade Mason for Larry Johnson. For all of his abilities, Mason had worn out his welcome in New York because of his mouth and mercurial attitude. A lot of fans didn’t like the deal because of their connection to Mason, but it was the right trade at the right time. Johnson came in and sacrificed his numbers, became a good defender, and played the role the Knicks needed him to play.

Mason left an indelible mark on the Knicks and on the city. His swagger and toughness hasn’t been forgotten, and Knicks fans still use the 1990’s team he was a part of as a measuring stick for effort and hard work. Mason always showed up. He left it on the floor, good and bad. He bled for the Knicks and their fans. When someone went into the lane and Mason was in the game, he made sure they felt it and would think twice before doing it again.

My memory of Mason would always be of him boxing out, grabbing a rebound, and yo-yoing the ball up the floor as some kind of oversized point guard. Like a bull at Pamplona, no one would get in his way as he glared daggers down the court at his opponents.

Anthony Mason was the 90’s Knicks personified, good and bad. Knicks fans miss that team more than anything, and they will miss Mason as well. RIP, Mase.

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For everything Knicks, Giants, and Yankees, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk