Knicks fans tend to glorify the tough guy image of an early '90s team that mostly came from nowhere and damn near climbed to the top of the NBA heap because they were hard as hell and wanted it more than the other guy. No Knick, other than maybe John Starks, embodied that fantasy more than Anthony Mason. Now that he's gone -- taken from us far too soon at the age of 48 -- you're going to hear many tales of the undersized, glowering badass with the black socks and crazy shaved head. It is an image that is woefully one-dimensional, not suited for a player of Mason's caliber.
True, Mase was never handed anything in his NBA career. He was taken in the third round of the 1988 draft -- a round which no longer exists -- out of Tennessee State. He played in Turkey, Venezuela and the old CBA before catching on with the Knicks. He was an ironman for New York, appearing in 395 of 410 regular-season games during his five-year stint with the orange and blue. He led the league in minutes per game twice in his career, once with New York and once with Charlotte.
But the guy did far more than merely show up and bust heads during those five years at MSG. He was arguably the greatest sixth man in club history between 1991 and 1995. Each of those four seasons ranks in the top 20 all-time in terms of win shares for a New York reserve. In 1994-95, when he was named Sixth Man of the Year, Mason racked up an incredible 8.6 win shares. To put that into perspective, only four Knicks starters have put up a higher total in a single season since 2001: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, David Lee and Stephon Marbury.
Mason's greatest strength may have been his passing. Now that they're running the Triangle, the Knicks can only dream of having a big with his court vision. Look at the top 20 seasons by a Knicks forward in terms of assist percentage. You see multiple entries from three players of the almost mythically unselfish dynasty years: Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas and Bill Bradley. The only other forward to appear more than once is our man Mase.
Anthony Mason, like Starks, Ewing and Oakley, belonged to the Knicks of my youth. I learned basketball by watching them, and they influence my writing to this day. This gig is my passion, my dream, and I fight every damn day to turn that dream into a reality. Anthony Mason is a part of that dream. If I make it in the end, I have heroes like him to thank.
So, please, do not cheapen the memory of this player by bringing his name up the next time you see some Knick getting into a fight or rocking a crazy haircut. Hold onto the hope that one day this club will once again employ a forward who can defend, run the break and drop dimes with gusto. And on that great and glorious day, please share with a friend or a loved one the real story of Anthony Mason.