Former NBA power forward Anthony Mason, who played a strong supporting role in the New York Knicks' rise to prominence in the 1990s, died early Saturday morning, the team confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 48.
Mason's death was first reported by the New York Daily News, which said he had suffered a heart attack earlier this month. In a statement to the newspaper, Anthony Mason Jr. confirmed his father had been battling heart problems:
"Overnight New York City and the world lost a legend, a friend, a brother ... but more than anything our father, Anthony Mason. As you all would expect our father -- Big Mase -- put up an incredible fight, dealing with a severe heart issues. 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.'"
The majority of Mason's NBA career was spent in New York, where he emerged as a defensive leader backing up frontcourt stars Patrick Ewing, Charles Smith and Charles Oakley. In 1993-94, he was part of the first Knicks team to reach the NBA Finals since 1973. He won the NBA's Sixth Man award in 1995.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement praising Mason's career:
"Anthony Mason exemplified perseverance for all players fighting for their chance in the NBA. 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."
Knicks president Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls during their 1994 Eastern Conference semifinal loss to New York, said in a statement that "as a competitor, none was fiercer than Anthony Mason."
The 6-foot-7 Mason played for the Knicks from 1991 to 1996 before being traded to the Charlotte Hornets. In his first season with the Hornets, he recorded career bests in points (16.2), rebounds (11.4) and assists (5.7).
Mason reunited with former Knicks Coach Pat Riley while playing for the Miami Heat during the 2000-01 season. He played in his first and only NBA All-Star game that season. Mason then played two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks before retiring in 2003.
Over his career, Mason averaged 10.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Born in Miami on Dec. 14, 1966, Mason played high school basketball at Springfield Gardens in Queens before attending Tennessee State. He was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988.
Mason played overseas and had stints with the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets before joining the Knicks.