BY DAVID RUSSELL
Before he was a favorite of Knicks fans, Anthony Mason was a bench player at Springfield Gardens.
“Mase made the team as a junior, while I was a senior,” Norm Roberts, a high school teammate of Mason’s, said. “He was trying out. He was long and he could rebound. He had a real knack for offensive rebounds. Coach Ken Fiedler ran tryouts where the better guys who might make it would play against the vets who would be back for sure. Coach asked me what I thought of Mase. I said, ‘he is long, has good hands. He really looks like Albert King. He’s going to be good.’”
Mason died on Feb. 28 at the age of 48, two weeks after suffering a massive heart attack. His funeral was held last Friday at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica. He played on the 1994 Knicks, the first Knick team to make the NBA Finals in 21 years. He later made the All-Star team as a member of the Miami Heat.
Roberts, who coached St. John’s from 2004-2010, remembered Mason as a good teammate.
“He was a goofy guy, always funny,” Roberts said. “He’d make you laugh but he was a competitor with a good basketball IQ.” Roberts would later coach Anthony Mason Jr. at St. John’s.
Knicks fans loved the tenacious defense Mason played in addition to his large personality, which included occasionally shaving messages into his head.
The Anthony Mason who was on the 1983 PSAL champion Springfield Gardens squad was far different.
“Believe it or not he was quiet and shy,” Janet Kleiner, who was Mason’s gym teacher, said. Kleiner also coached the girls’ team from 1981-2008. “He was very quiet. Mason was a solid student in the classroom. Just an all-around solid student-athlete.”
Springfield Gardens honored Mason in the late 90s.
“On Anthony Mason Day his smile was probably as wide as his shoulders,” Kleiner said. “I spent 34 years of my life there. He put his arm around me and my heart burst with pride. He was very generous. He came back and asked what he could do for my team. He furnished my team with uniforms one year.”
Mason went to Tennessee State and played in Turkey, the CBA and the USBL before thriving under Pat Riley’s Knicks.
“Playing with him was great, as was winning a championship,” Roberts said. “But what I’ll remember most about him is that Mase made himself an NBA player. He did it the hard way.”