By Joseph Staszewski
Anthony Mason was known for having his name cut into his hair. “Mase” and that image now have a permanent place of prominence on the walls of the Springfield Gardens gymnasium.
The school renamed the gym Mase Court after its famous alum and former NBA all-star at a ceremony May 14. A green-and-yellow banner with his silhouette, showing his signature haircut, hangs on the wall. An orange-and-white plaque to commemorate the day and Mason’s New York Knicks jersey will also be hung. Mason, who helped lead Springfield Gardens to the 1983 PSAL boys’ basketball city title, died at 48 after a massive heart attack in February.
“My pops is not here but he is living forever,” said his son, former St. John’s hoops star Anthony Mason Jr. “Putting your name and face on things shows how wonderful a person he was.”
Many people turned out to honor Mason. His sons Anthony and Antoine,as well as Antoine’s mother, Latifa Whitlock, represented the family. Former Knicks John Starks, John Wallace and Anthony Bonner were also on hand, along with Mason’s high school coach Ken Fiedler and his son, former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler. Current Springfield Gardens students, dressed in orange Mason shirts that were donated by the Knicks, filled the gym, along with the school’s PSAL Class A city championship boys’ basketball team.
“He would have definitely been humbled,” said Antoine Mason, a senior at Auburn. “He would have been emotional. He would have fought the tears away, but I know once we would have got in that car he would have bawled up because he knows how much work he put in.”
His sons thanked Ken Fiedler, who they call grandpa, for giving their dad a chance back in high school. Mason was the sixth man on the championship team. Fiedler described him as not the best player, but the one with the biggest will to succeed.
“He had that heart,” Fiedler said. “If you told him to do 25, he’s doing 26. If we are doing push ups, 10 a set, he’s doing 12. That was just his way. He was a great example.”
That is exactly what Mason became to this year’s Springfield Gardens boys’ basketball team. The squad adopted his never-say-die spirit and blue-collar mentality as it made its way through the playoffs before losing in the state Federation Class A semifinal. Anthony Mason Jr. spoke to the players privately before the event.
“We put him on our shoulder,” Springfield Gardens coach Angelo Buono said. “We got Anthony Mason T-shirts. We wore them and embraced his spirit and his style of play with heart.”
Mason put that on display every time he took the court and the hope is that by naming the gym after him, more young people will be inspired to connect to his story.
He played 13 seasons in the NBA, including five for the Knicks, from 1991-96. He averaged 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds during his years with New York, epitomizing the tough style of play associated with head coach Pat Riley. The colorful Mason won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1995 and was an All-Star with the Miami Heat in 2001. Being from New York gave fans a special connection to him during his days with the Knicks.
“You felt like you were out there playing because he was from New York and the fans appreciated that,” Starks said.
By having the gym named after him, Mason got the ultimate show of gratitude from Springfield Gardens, which also retired his number back in 1994. This honor would have had an extra-special meaning for him.
“He would be thrilled,” Fiedler said. “He is looking down now and saying, ‘Me?’ Yea, bud. It’s for you.”