Anthony Mason: The Most 'New York' Of The 1990's New York Knicks

If you came of age in this massive metropolis in the 1990s, the New York Knicks were a significant part of your life. Even those here who worshipped at the Church of Jordan knew that the liveliest Sunday NBA on NBC sermons came when the big, bad, blue and orange-clad devils tried to drive their pitchforks into the sainted one. And goodness, did they ever try.

Throughout the entire decade, the Knicks were the catharsis of a city going through some hard times with exploding socioeconomic tensions. They had the definitive sporting identity of this city (they still are the most "New York" team we've got, but that can be explained another day.) Though Manhattan's Madison Square Garden was the team's Octagon, the Knicks were The Bronx far more than the Yankees ever cared to be. They took the working class ethos the Mets tried to reflect and added steel-toed Timbs and some bad attitude. They hit harder than the Giants and Jets combined. They taught the Rangers and Devils how to defend and fight (the Islanders of those days? Not so much.)

The only unifier of five distinct boroughs has had then and ever since was the collective rally around those 90s Knicks. They were like the city they played in; beautifully ugly, despite how much Rudy Giuliani told you to be scared of it. The Knickerbockers were every social class, forgotten and advertised, balled into a fist that occasionally worked with the other hand to make a mid-range jumper.

And if there was ever someone who wore the venom of the "DE-FENSE" chants, the happy, but rageful sounds of made baskets and the multiple personality disorder of the city on his sleeve, it was Anthony Mason.

What made those early 90s teams so unique was that in a place like the "global city" of New York, the Knicks were the only team that had players whose personalities related to its natives. Patrick Ewing was the bright-eyed star who, like most transplants, grew hardened over time, but never stopped working towards greatness. Like the 'every(wo)man' that roamed the Five Boroughs, John Starks took shot after shot like he was applying for multiple hourly jobs to pay the bills. Charles Oakley was the guy on every block that you knew you didn't mess with; whether you were in mob territory, the projects or on Wall Street. Derek Harper and Greg Anthony were going to pick your pockets in a dark alley late night, but you weren't going to run after them because they, too threw elbows and Oakley stood three feet away.

And yet, the original 'Mase' of New York did what no one else on the team could do as well; he literally and figuratively wore the Knicks logo on his head.

(For those who think 'literally' is misused too often, it's not here. He literally had the Knicks logo on his head.)

Mason sort of bullied his way onto the Knicks after a wayward path in and out of the NBA. What made him a Knick wasn't just signing a contract after an impressive tryout, but was the taking on the persona Pat Riley demanded of his charges. However, what made him a favorite was that you could always point him out in the sea of turmoil. A power forward masquerading as a small forward, he was insanely agile for a guy his size. Defensive skills that gave opponents fits. One-handed free throws that mystified the crowd. Haircuts that endeared him to fans because all you could say with each design was "oh man, he really did that, he's insane!"

Even in an era defined by rap and hip-hop, Mason would have been the team's rapper if he decided to spit bars. He had the brashness that helped grow the genre, but he just happened to be one of the hardest working athletes playing in this city.

Maybe it helped that Mason had NYC roots. Along with Rolando Blackman (Panama-born, Brooklyn-raised) whose time in New York was marred by injury, Mason was born in Miami, but became a prep star in Queens. Though his roots weren't always played up publicly, perhaps because of them, he understood what made the city tick. He felt the hoops passion here as it's the one sport that crossed all the barriers we placed upon ourselves. He knew the desire and desperation to win, aesthetics be damned.

He was incredibly flawed off the court, as superbly detailed by Ball Don't Lie's Dan Devine. His transgressions disappointed and angered us, but in retirement, we had seen someone who we hoped had learned from his past to impart lessons onto his sons.

The Knicks were hated by everyone who lived west of the Hudson River, and actually hated by a few who lived within city limits. Yet, they were adored overall because for better or worse, they had the men that connected in a manner that no other athletes of the time ever could. Though he would only spend five of his 13 NBA seasons here, Mason's connection was even stronger, though because we could see our struggles and successes in his own.

It wasn't just that Anthony Mason was New York or the stereotypical "Noo Yawk." For many of us who grew up in the parts of the city you weren't told about, Mason was one of us. He was crazy, he was gifted, he was conflicted, he was destructive, he was self-made, he was true to himself.

He was home.

(Rest in peace, Anthony Mason. February took another one from us.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *