Anthony Mason, the New York Knicks power forward and fan favorite in the Nineties whose success and style on the hardwood carried over into the world of pop culture, passed away in New York City Saturday after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure earlier in the month, ESPN reports. The beloved basketball player was 48. While Mason’s career stats might not rival Hall of Famers, Mason had a huge impact off the court, inspiring both musicians and filmmakers with his impassioned brand of basketball.
Undersized for the power forward position at 6-foot-7, Mason graduated from Tennessee State in 1988. After bouncing around between foreign teams and brief stints with NBA clubs, Mason was recruited by then-New York Knicks coach Pat Riley in 1991. Wearing Number 14, Mason formed a bruising, much-feared front-court nucleus alongside Charles Oakley, Charles Smith and franchise center Patrick Ewing. In 1994, with Mason in tow, the Knicks advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in 1973; they would lose to the Houston Rockets in seven games.
Mason became a cult hero in New York because he was both a local product – he went to high school in Queens – and embodied the city’s tough spirit. In 1995, Mason was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year for his contributions to the Knicks off the bench, but he’d last just one more season in New York before he was shipped to the Charlotte Hornets for another soon-to-be Knicks hero, Larry Johnson. Mason’s three-year tenure in Charlotte included an NBA All-Defensive Second Team award and an All-NBA Team award. After an all-star season in Miami and a pair of years in Milwaukee, Mason was out of the NBA in 2003 after 13 seasons.
Mason’s tenacious style, sense of humor and defensive prowess quickly endeared him to the Knicks fan base, including high-profile admirers like the Beastie Boys and director Woody Allen. The baller was immortalized in the Beastie Boys’ 1994 Ill Communication track “B Boys Makin’ With the Freak Freak,” where the trio rapped, “I got my hair cut correct like Anthony Mason,” a nod to the player’s unique hair style. Mason would also appear in New York Undercover and Eddie, but his most notable on-screen role was when Allen cast him to steal Charlize Theron away from Kenneth Branagh in 1998’s Celebrity:
Spike Lee, perhaps the Knicks’ most visible fan, posted an Instagram tribute to Mason that read, “Mr Anthony Mason-May He Rest In Power. Once A Knick-Always A Knick.” Former Knicks nemesis Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers tweeted, ” Been such a heavy heart lately in the NBA family, especially now with the passing of Anthony Mason. Thoughts and prayers to the family.” Knicks Hall of Famer and longtime broadcaster Walt “Clyde” Frazier added, “It’s a sad day to hear the passing of Anthony Mason. #Knicks fans please pray for his family. It’s hard losing a loved one.”