Anthony Mason, one of the Knicks’ most popular players of the 1990s who had one All-Star season during a 13-year pro career, has died following a massive heart attack, the team said Saturday. He was 48.
According to multiple reports and league sources, Mason had been fighting for his life after undergoing multiple surgeries over the last few days. Veteran NBA writer Peter Vescey broke the news Wednesday about Mason.
The Springfield Gardens, Queens, native was a bruising power forward with a no-nonsense demeanor on the court, and he had a fan-pleasing blue-collar work ethic. He came up from the minor leagues and also played overseas before finally making the NBA.
Mason won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 1994-95, a season after helping the Knicks reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1973. The Knicks lost to the Rockets in seven games.
On Saturday, Anthony Mason Jr. issued a statement following his dad's death.
"Overnight New York City and the world lost a legend, a friend, a brother - but more than anything our father. ... As you all would expect our father - Big Mase - put up an incredible fight, dealing with a severe heart issue," he said.
"Pops we've got to let you know we love you and know you'll always be with us," Anthony Mason Jr. said.
Figures from Mason's past took to Twitter to express their grief.
"We gonna miss u brother," tweeted Charles Oakley.
"A great athlete and true gentleman. He will be missed," wrote the Rev. Al Sharpton.
When Don Nelson succeeded Pat Riley in 1995-96 as the Knicks' head coach, Mason was at the center of a full-blown controversy. Nelson decided to make Mason the focal point of the Knicks’ attack, going away from perennial All-Star and the face of the franchise, Patrick Ewing. Nelson’s move was unpopular with Ewing and other Knicks and led to his removal as head coach only 59 games into his first and only season in New York.
“For Nelson to do that was amazing," former Knicks great Bernard King told NBC 4 New York. “Patrick was still a dominant player in the league at that time. While Anthony was a very good player for the Knicks, Patrick was still one of the best players in the league."
Mason was later traded to Charlotte in the famous Larry Johnson deal that helped key the Knicks’ success in the late 1990’s, culminating with a trip to the NBA Finals in 1999, where the Knicks lost to the Spurs. That was the first of Tim Duncan's five title teams.
Mason later played for Riley in Miami, becoming an All-Star in 2001 as an injury replacement for Grant Hill.
-- Mitch Lawrence contributed to this report.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 22 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter.