Sunday, March 1, 2015

Corey Rockafeler-NBA RAW -Anthony Mason-A hero for the ages

There are some sports figures who exert a much larger impact than their statistics. These unique players transcend the moment. They embody an approach and a style of play that creates an enduring bond with fans. Anthony George Douglas Mason, a multi-skilled, self-made NBA All Star best known for his unbridled ferocity and intensity was such a player. His untimely death at 48-years old, weeks after suffering a massive heart attack, leaves a gaping hole in the fragile psyches of legions of ardent New York Knick fans.

Long before Marshawn Lynch's " Beast Mode, "there was " Mase in Your Face." This nimble 6 -7 ,250 pound chiseled block of granite with shoulders broad enough to carry the hopes of championship-famished Knick fans became a instant hit in New York. Mase authored an unyielding take-no-prisoners, win-or die-trying style of play with the powerhouse Knick teams of the 90's. Knick fans are a tough, discerning, sophisticated bunch who recognize two things-heart and effort. Mason gave them an abundance of both. The Springfield Gardens,Queens High School star was one of them. Mason along with Patrick Ewing, and fellow bruiser- resident enforcer, Charles Oakley, formed one of the most physically imposing front lines in NBA history. Their forte' was in an in-your- face, not-in-my house type of defense crafted by coach Pat Riley. Together, along with another fan favorite, John Starks, they triggered  the most sustained success in franchise history making the post-season for 10 straight years( 5 with Mason). Their success culminated with a grueling 7-game loss to the Houston Rockets in the 1994-95 NBA Finals.

Mason was a lot more than just a bruiser. He was uniquely gifted. He had the handle of a point guard, the deft foot work of a dancer, and the uncanny passing ability to play point forward. But defense is where Mason carved out his niche. The self-proclaimed " the locksmith" due to his ability to "lock down" opposing scorers. Mason had breathtaking defensive versatility. He could guard 1 through 5. It earned him NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1995( also leading the league in minutes played), 1996-97 All-NBA Third Team, NBA-All Defensive Second Team( both with Charlotte Hornets) and an  NBA All-Star trip in 2001( with the Miami Heat).

Part of Mason's every-man appeal was his circuitous path to the NBA.  He was drafted in 1988 in the third-round by the Portland Trailblazers from little known Tennessee State University. He was then cut . Mason's grit-and-grind show took him everywhere from Turkey, Venezuela, the CBA, USBL, two abbreviated  NBA stints( with the Nets and the Nuggets), until a fateful summer in 1991. Playing summer ball in the Catskills, new Knick coach Pat Riley caught a glimpse of Mason playing. Mason was like a man playing against boys. The rest as they say is history.

At the time coach Riley was better known for his viscerally entertaining, aesthetically pleasing brand of NBA ball called Showtime. Adorned with five rings and former cast that included Hall Of Fame talents like Kareem, Magic, and Worthy, Riley went against  the grain  in New York. He recast the Knicks into a rough and tumble ,bruising style of defense -first gladiators . He found a perfect center piece in Mason. The Knick post season wars with the Michael  Jordan led Bulls were legendary. These were grueling ,win-or die, heavyweight slug fests akin to the Ali- Frazier epic boxing battles. The Knicks may not have won any titles, but they electrified the city and were feared everywhere they played.

Mason would play five years for the Knicks before being shipped off in a trade with Charlotte for Larry Johnson. Statistically Mason would enjoy his best years  with the Hornets averaging 14 points, 9 boards, and nearly 5 dimes over three seasons. He would then be reunited  with Pat Riley for 1 year in Miami before spending his last two years with the Milwaukee Bucks. Mason  retired in 2003 with career stats of 10.9 points, 8.3 rebounds,m and 3.4 dimes.

Like many of us, Mason had his transgressions. But no one can ever dispute  he gave the game of basketball everything he had and then some. Anthony Mason was  my hero and a hero to millions of Knick fans worldwide. We loved you then Mase and and we will  always love you. God bless you brethren, You will forever be in our hearts. Mase in your face.

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