NEW YORK >> Anthony Mason, the rugged power forward who was a defensive force in the NBA from the 1990s into the early 21st century, has died. He was 48.
The Knicks confirmed Mason’s death, which was first reported Saturday by the New York Daily News. He had been battling heart problems.
“We would like to thank everyone for their heartfelt thoughts and strong prayers. Anthony felt each and every one. He fought like a warrior to the very end,” the Mason family said in a statement provided by the Knicks.
Mason won a Sixth Man Award with the Knicks and later made an All-Star team, but it was the toughness he provided alongside Charles Oakley while surrounding franchise center Patrick Ewing that made him beloved in New York.
“MY MAN MY MAN A. MASON R.I.P, WE GONNA MISS U BROTHER,” Oakley wrote on Twitter.
The 6-foot-7 Mason won the NBA’s Sixth Man award in 1995 with a Knicks team that was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in one of its classic clashes with the Indiana Pacers. Mason also won all-defensive-team honors two years later with the Charlotte Hornets.
Knicks President Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls teams against the ’90s Knicks, said that “as a competitor, there was none fiercer thanAnthony Mason.”
“Standing on the opposite end of the playing field, coaching in those great Chicago/New York battles, No. 14 in the orange and blue always stood out,” Jackson added.
Mason’s career averages — 10.9 points, 8.3 rebounds — don’t tell the full story of his game. A solid, muscular presence down low, Mason was there to play defense, and on coach Pat Riley’s bruising teams, he could shine.
Mason played for New York from 1991-1996, and then for the Hornets until 2000. He made his only All-Star team in 2001 as a member of the Miami Heat, after reuniting with Riley.
“Anthony Mason exemplified perseverance for all players fighting for their chance in the NBA,” Commissioner Adam Silver said.
“NBA fans and players around the league admired his tenacity on defense and playmaking on offense.”
He wasn’t all grit, though. Despite his plodding look, Mason was a nimble athlete and deft ballhandler who often showed up for games with words or designs styled into his hair.
Mason was drafted in the third round out of Tennessee State in 1988 by Portland, but he never played for the Trail Blazers. After a brief stint overseas, he played sparingly in 21 games for the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets before he finally caught on with Riley’s defense-first Knicks in 1991. He was a force for them as they made a run to the 1994 NBA Finals, and clashed with other powerful Eastern Conference teams, including Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
He was dealt to Charlotte in a July 1996 trade that brought Larry Johnson to New York. With the Hornets, Mason played three strong seasons in four years, missing 1998-99 due to injury, before Riley brought him to Miami, where he was coaching a Heat team that played with the same style as those Knicks teams with which Mason flourished.
At Tennessee State, Mason was dominant, and was the school’s first All-Ohio Valley Conference selection. In the 1987-88 season, he took a school-record 247 free throws.
Anthony Mason was born Dec. 14, 1966, in Miami. He went to high school in the New York City borough of Queens, where his son Anthony Jr. would later play for St. John’s University before going on to a pro career in the minor leagues and overseas. Another son, Antoine, is at Auburn this season after transferring from Niagara, where he graduated after finishing second nationally with 25.6 points per game last season.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.