Former Heat All-Star Anthony Mason, who played with the type of toughness team president Pat Riley reveres, died on Saturday in New York. He was 48.
It was Riley, then-coach of the Knicks, who played a key role in plucking Mason out of obscurity and made him a piece of those tenacious New York teams in the 90s that won games with brute force, grit and skill. Mason, who was all three of those things combined, played in the NBA for 13 seasons, helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals in 1994, and later was named an All-NBA forward with the Charlotte Hornets before joining the Heat in 2000.
"News like this is not only sad, but it’s tragic," Riley said in a statement. "Anthony Mason was a very young man with a great family and friends. To lose him so quickly during his journey, especially to those of us that knew him, hurts."
Reunited with Riley, Mason only played one season with the Heat, but it was a memorable one. He was signed as a backup, but started for most of the season after Heat center Alonzo Mourning was diagnosed with kidney disease. Mason averaged 16.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists during the 2000-01 season before playing a limited role in the postseason.
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Along with Bruce Bowen, Brian Grant, Eddie Jones, Tim Hardaway, A.C. Green, Anthony Carter and others, Mason helped the Heat win 50 games in the 2000-01 season and earn the No.3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Mason led the Heat in minutes that season (3,254) and rebounds (770).
"We had a great season in Miami experiencing Anthony as an All-Star with the Heat, and I also had the privilege of coaching him for four years in New York, where he helped take us to the brink of a championship," Riley said. "There were so many great moments that we shared that I will never forget. Our prayers and sympathies are with his family. May god bless his soul."
Born in Miami on Dec.14, 1966, Mason grew up in the New York City borough of Queens and attended Springfield Gardens High School. He played collegiately at Tennessee State before being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the third round of the 1988 draft. Mason never played for the Trail Blazers, but instead began his career overseas in Turkey and Venezuela.
Mason returned to the U.S. and played briefly for the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets in addition to stints in the CBA and USBL. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1995 while playing with the Knicks. While in Charlotte, Mason was named All-Defensive Second team and All-NBA Third Team in 1997. It was his best season statistically. He average 16.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
"Anthony Mason exemplified perseverance for all players fighting for their chance in the NBA," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "With a gritty style of play and a distinctive skill set, he blossomed from a third-round draft pick into a Sixth Man award winner, All-NBA selection and, at age 34, an All-Star. NBA fans and players around the league admired his tenacity on defense and playmaking on offense. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Mason family during this difficult time."
First reported New York Daily News, Mason suffered a heart attack earlier this month. Anthony Mason Jr. said in a statement to the Daily New that his father had been "dealing with severe heart issues."
"Overnight New York City and the world lost a legend, a friend, a brother," said Mason Jr., who played for St. John’s and was on the Heat’s training camp roster in 2010, "but more than anything our father, Anthony Mason. As you all would expect our father — Big Mase — put up an incredible fight … 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.’"