Anthony Mason, a longtime NBA player who helped the New York Knicks reach the 1994 NBA Finals, has died at the age of 48.
A Knicks spokesperson confirmed to ESPN that Mason died early Saturday morning. The 13-year NBA veteran had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure earlier this month.
“First I want to thank all those who offered prayers and well-wishes for my Father, our family really appreciates it,” his son, Anthony Mason Jr., said Saturday. “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’s other son Antoine, a senior basketball player at Auburn, had said earlier this week that his father was “getting better” following multiple heart surgeries.
Mason’s family released a statement Saturday morning, saying that he “fought like a warrior to the very end.”
“We would like to thank everyone for their heartfelt thoughts and strong prayers,” the statement said. “Anthony felt each and every one. He fought like a warrior to the very end. Please keep your prayers and thoughts with us through this very hard time — it is a great loss for us. We ask for our privacy during this time.”
Mason played for six teams but was best remembered for his five-year tenure with the Knicks. Mason’s bruising, physical play epitomized then-coach Pat Riley’s Knicks teams. The 6-foot-7 forward became a fan favorite for his physical play and also drew attention for the creative artwork and messages that he had carved in his hair cuts.
Mason teamed with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and John Starks to help the Knicks win the Eastern Conference in 1994 and reach the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games.
“My heart is heavy after learning that we lost Anthony Mason last night,” Ewing said in a statement. “We were teammates on the Knicks for five great seasons. Mase came to play every night and was always ready to go to battle with me every time we stepped on the court together.
“I will remember him for his strength, determination and perseverance. My thoughts are with his family. May he rest in peace.”
Oakley took to Twitter to send his condolences.
Knicks president Phil Jackson, who coached against Mason during his time with the Chicago Bulls, also released a statement Saturday.
“As a competitor, there was none fiercer than Anthony Mason,” Jackson said. “Standing on the opposite end of the playing field, coaching in those great Chicago/New York battles, No. 14 in Orange and Blue always stood out. On behalf of the entire Knickerbocker community, our condolences go out to his family.”
Mason won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 1994-95 as a member of the Knicks. He also played with the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat following his stint with the Knicks.
“Anthony was a multifaceted individual,” his longtime agent Don Cronson told ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor. “There were many aspects to his personality, and some that people weren’t aware of. In the best sense of the term he was a momma’s boy. From the day I met him he was always thinking of his mom and taking care of her. As rough and tough as he was, Anthony was also a doting father, and I saw that many times.
Mason was reunited with Riley later in his career while playing for Miami, where he was named to his one and only All-Star team in 2001.
Mason’s career is a story of perseverance.
After playing high school basketball at Springfield Gardens in Queens and college basketball at Tennessee State University, Mason was selected in the third round of the 1988 NBA draft by thePortland Trail Blazers, who waived him shortly thereafter.
Mason then played in Turkey and Venezuela before joining the then-New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets for short stints. He also played in the USBL and CBA.
Mason found a permanent home with the Knicks in 1991 after receiving an invite to play on the organization’s summer league team.
Riley appreciated Mason’s intense, physical approach and kept him on the roster, beginning a run that would end with Mason leaving an indelible mark on the Knicks organization and its fan base.
“Anthony Mason exemplified perseverance for all players fighting for their chance in the NBA,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “NBA fans and players around the league admired his tenacity on defense and playmaking on offense.”