I GOT THE text from my son while riding the subway Saturday morning: "You have to find the time to write about Mase." I was on the 2 train, and I would soon pull into Penn Station and be under Madison Square Garden before barreling on to my destination. That seemed appropriate.
Anthony Mason has gotten to his destination, at 48, years before he should have. And I know why my son thought news of his death from heart failure would hit me hard. For one thing, I'm 48 too. For another, Mase meant something to me. He embodied so many ideals I hold in high regard—like channeling inner strength to chase an impossible dream, working with focus to deny the naysayers and making everyone around you better.
Mase was also a symbol of New York's toughness in the 1990s. When he walked onto the basketball court with Patrick Ewing, John Starks and the rest, they were not going to walk off until they had given their entire bodies to the cause. I sat up close in those years, as a basketball-obsessed season-ticket holder, so I saw and felt the sweat equity they put into playing the game.
Knicks fans are a funny group. When we grouse about the current roster, we often compare it with the teams we're most proud of, the champs of 1970 and '73. After that, it's always Bernard. Then Mason and Starks. We still care about them. A lot. Because those guys cared about us and tried, with everything they had, to win for us.
At the beginning of this season I decided to boycott the Knicks. I haven't watched the games. And I promised myself I wouldn't write one word about them. Because they're not worth it.
But Anthony Mason is.
So thanks, Mase. None of us who watched you play, who wondered aloud how such a hard man could have such a soft touch, will ever forget what we saw you do. For us. Rest in peace, big.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MASON)