Remembering The Knickerbockers: Anthony Mason

With the Lockout turning my summer into a three month hangover, all the normal offseason writing/talking issues like trade rumors and free agent spending have unhappily been replaced with sentences that begin, “soooo, basketball…” before slowly trickling into a steady stream of tears. It’s beyond depressing, so I’ve taken to the soothing medicine known as Netflix to replace my normal mid-summer form of entertainment with something less injurious: Movies!

A few nights ago I was watching Celebrity, an extremely underrated black and white Woody Allen comedy from the late 1990’s. The film serves as semi-fictional commentary on the way our society treats all who are famous, however undeserving they might be of the status. Two characters, formerly husband and wife, drive the dichotomy exemplifying our nation’s behavior when it comes to seeing or being one of the glitterati—everyone wants fame, it’s just some of us are more reluctant to chase it than others.

The movie’s filled with beautiful models and brash movie stars who believe in nothing more than their own invincibility; gorgeous actresses with rocks for brains and delusional magazine writers peddling them terrible screenplays. It even includes a professional athlete; an NBA player, in fact. Not coincidently, being that it was shot by Woody, he’s a former Knick. But in choosing Anthony Mason, the film makes an interesting decision. He’s a man whose style of play tended to detract viewers more than welcome them; nobody went to Madison Square Garden in the mid-90’s to watch Anthony Mason navigate his undersized 6’7″ body through the paint. Rough edges and sharp elbows flying around like a loose airplane propellor, there was nothing elegant about the way he played.

The league had its fair share of celebrities. Jordan, Shaq, and Sir Charles are a few who gracefully leapt back and forth between the equally glamorous roles of player and entertainer. Anthony Mason isn’t and never could be in that company, but maybe that’s just a funny point the movie was trying to make. Off the court, Mason seemed to be a clamorer for scrutiny. Turning the hair on the side of his head into an attention seeking billboard was a way at countering his uneventful play. It allowed him to stand out as “the guy who cuts funky things in his hair”, in the mold of a less grandiose Dennis Rodman. Kids weren’t walking around saying they wanted to set screens, spring for rebounds, and execute a solid boxout, but they were trying to cut cool things into their hair.

In 1996 and 1997 Mason led the league in minutes per game with 42.2 and 43.1, respectively. To place this in context, Golden State’s Monta Ellis was the only player last season who averaged over 40 minutes per game, doing so with 40.3. It’s probably the most impressive and unknown achievement about Anthony Mason’s playing days (he also averaged 40.7 minutes as a 34-year-old in Miami); to log all that time in an era as grimy and physically taxing as the mid-90’s was utterly ridiculous. He was an absolute horse content with doing nitty gritty work at a demanding level, Mason personifies all that Pat Riley’s Knicks are remembered for. He could’ve played in any era, and today’s team would be blessed to have someone of his ilk on its roster.


Twitter: @BucketsOverBway

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