Anthony Mason- Remembering A Big Man With A Big Heart

Editor’s note: Rob Parker, The Shadow League’s columnist, covered Anthony Mason when he was a basketball beat writer in the late 80s and early 90s for the Daily News in New York.

Mason, the 13-year NBA veteran, died on Saturday at 48 years old from congestive heart failure.

The first time Parker met Mason, known as Mase, he was with  the New Jersey Nets for a small stint in 1989. The thing that stood out the most for Parker was a personal conversation the two had.

Mason, who played in Turkey before getting a shot with the Nets, told Parker: “I can play, I’m telling you I can play,” a 23-year-old Mason said with passion. “I just need an opportunity.”

Mason was right, and he got his chance with the Knicks and blossomed into a really good player. He helped the Knicks get to the NBA Finals in 1994.

Parker, from Jamaica, Queens, definitely felt a connection with Mason who was born in Miami, but grew up in NYC and went to Springfield H.S. in Queens.

Parker has covered many athletes in his nearly 30 years in journalism, but he still has Mason’s phone number in his cell. It says a lot about Mase.

When Parker covered the Knicks in 1991, Mason was there too. So was John Cirillo, the best PR man in sports. He took care of his players and the writers who covered the Knicks.

Here are Cirillo’s words about his friend, Mase:

Knicks fans worldwide are saddened today, and particularly devastated and forlorn are the comrades of the 1994 Eastern Conference championship squad. Mase is gone. Big tears, as big as Mases huge frame, pour from all of our eyes.

Anthony Mason, the massive forward with the physique of a football blocking-back but the dexterity and agility of a point guard, was a major contributor on the Pat Riley-coached teams of the nineties, including the just-miss 94 team which lost in to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals in a heart-breaking seven game series. The favorite son of Springfield Gardens succumbed to complications from a heart attack suffered last month.

Anchored by Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks, Derek Harper and Mase, Coach Riley developed a drive-the-line-at-your-own-risk defensive mentality that delighted the sell-out crowds at the Garden and had opponents shaking in their sneakers en route to a 57-win season, and a march to the Finals with a memorable conference series triumph over the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers.

A sometimes tough-guy persona, gruff, raspy voice, and occasional off-the-court problems all belied his true good nature. The soulful Mason was beloved by the fans, particularly because of his affinity for the kids, never failing to take the time to sign autographs and chat with the masses.

Scouts Dick McGuire and Fuzzy Levane had plucked him from the U.S.B.L., and Coach Riley was the master motivator, but Mases success was in large part to his work ethic and belief in his abilities that he belonged in the NBA. And he sure did. He was a keeper.

Mase was also smart and observant. On one road trip, I was being bombarded with requests while waiting for the team bus to depart to the arena. Once we had boarded, Mase plopped his hulking frame next to me. I squeezed closer to the window to give him more room. Can I ask you a question, he wondered. Sure, whats up? Everyone is always asking you for something, and you never forget anything. How do you do it? I pulled a blue sheet of Coach Rileys coaching diagram paper, which I fancied using to keep notes, from my jacket pocket. I write everything down, Mase, this way Im sure not to forget. He roared, and in that unmistakable, raspy voice of his, said And I thought you just had a great memory. I replied, Well, I do, but its better to be safe. He roared again. Wry smile, got up and headed back to sit with his teammates.

Mase had his share of well-documented run-ins with Coach Riley. I remember once he threw fit when he was taken out of a game. At the next Garden home game, he was stretching during pre-game warm ups, and I pulled him aside. Mase, why do you show those emotions of unhappiness in front of 20,000 people, and a million people watching on television. He responded that he should be playing more, and that he didnt understand why he wasnt getting more PT. I said, Mase, you may be right, but why dont you just knock on the coachs door and talk to him one on one without letting the rest of the world in on it.

Ill never be sure if he took my advice but what I do know is that we got within a hair of winning the NBA Championship, and Mase was an integral member of that team.

But my favorite memory of Anthony Mason came in 2010, years after his retirement, when he agreed to do a Christmas time appearance at P.S. 63 in the Bronx, where my niece Kristin Pasheluk was teaching fourth graders. Heres the recap:

Christmas came early to P.S. 63, the principal at the Bronx public school shouted over the loud-speaker to the 200 students assembled. A thunderous roar and applause followed. Thats because former Knick Anthony Mason was on hand with holiday wishes and gifts from Steiner Sports as part of the companys community outreach program. It was like being back at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.

Youre our future, Mase, clad in a Santa hat and Knicks gear, told the kids. Work hard, and stay in school.

Fourth graders in Kristin Pasheluks class got a special treat, each receiving a framed photo of one of three Yankee greats Jeter, A-Rod and CC, but it was Mase who unquestionably stole the show.

To this day I wondered how the kids knew who Mase was, and why they were so excited. Maybe the principal or their teacher told them, or their dads had shared the memories from those happy days, or was it just Mases huge presence that gave them a hint that he was very special.

Very special indeed!

Rest easy my friend, rest easy!

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