Living Through His Father: The Story of Antoine Mason

Credit: Getty Images

Living Through His Father: The Story of Antoine Mason

 

February 28th, 2017 is the second commemoration of the death of one of the most beloved New York Knicks of all-time. The icon with the customized hairdos and burly body—whose toughness and bad boy reputation defined Knicks teams of the 1990’s—was laid to rest two years ago after suffering a massive heart attack which led to congestive heart failure at 48.

Now, Anthony Mason’s son, Antoine, aims to carry on his legend, living through his father on-and-off the court.

“My dad was my best friend,” Antoine Mason said. “I didn’t know him as an NBA player, he was just my dad just like everyone else’s. He and my mom are my heroes.”

Credit: Manny Millan

“Mase” and his wife, Latifa, raised Antoine to work hard in school and pursue whatever sport he pleased—except football. Basketball was never forced upon him, but once Antoine began shining in high school, his parents gave him the utmost support.

Antoine Mason, 24, is a high scoring, rugged guard who played his first four years at Niagara before transferring to Auburn in 2014 as a graduate transfer. Undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft, Antoine currently plays in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL Canada) for the Halifax Hurricanes and aspires to one day make the NBA. His father took a similar route early in his career, playing professionally overseas in Turkey and Venezuela, then bouncing around NBA teams before landing with the New York Knicks in 1991 at age 25.

In his junior year at Niagara (2013-14), Antoine Mason averaged 25.6 points (2nd in nation) and 3.5 rebounds per game while knocking down 44.0% of his shots. 846 total points were third nationally and third-most in a single season at Niagara. During his time at Auburn, Antoine competed against some of the biggest names in college basketball and felt his skills were on their level. He remembers taking on the Kentucky team that headlined Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, and Willie Cauley-Stein—all current NBA players who are becoming stars in the league—in his senior year. Kentucky—then, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation—couldn’t handle Antoine, as he dropped a career-high 29 points in Auburn’s 110-75 blowout loss to the Wildcats. Kentucky head coach John Calipari called Antoine “a very tough player and great scorer” after their matchup with Auburn.

At Auburn, he played 26 games for the Tigers but sacrificed most of his season to remain by his ailing father’s side. Though he was amid the best collegiate season of his career, Antoine labels his senior year as “the hardest year of [his] life” and feels if he hadn’t missed so many games, he would have fulfilled his dream of being drafted into the NBA.

Credit: Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Antoine honored his father with a tribute on his shoes in Auburn’s SEC tournament opening-round game against Mississippi State just two weeks after the tragedy occurred.

As Anthony Mason used his menacing physical attributes to bully his way into the paint and crafty skills to knock down silky-smooth mid-range jumpers, Antoine has a knack for shooting the ball and slashing through the lane. Though four inches shorter (6’3”) and nearly 40 pounds lighter (210 lbs.) than his father during his thirteen-year NBA career, Antoine’s frame resembles his father’s—at a quick glance, Antoine’s broad, muscular body could be mistaken for the Knicks great. Not only are they built similarly, but Antoine shares the same mentality his father once possessed each time he stepped on the court.

“We’re the same player mentally… we want to guard the best player every night,” Antoine Mason said of his father. “Our competitive nature to always want to win is the same, and we both hate losing.”

Antoine Mason continues to impress in his first season in the CBL. Now a professional, he took his talents to Canada to hone his craft and use it as a pathway to the next level. In 21 games played so far in 2016-17, Antoine is averaging 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game for the 18-5 Halifax Hurricanes. He is looked at as instant-offense for Halifax and is a focal point in their lineup.

In Fall of 2016, Antoine tried out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League, but was cut two weeks later. He uses it as fuel as another way to prove the doubters wrong.

“My goal is to make it to the NBA,” Antoine said. “Me being 24-years old I feel like I’m still young and not just chasing the money but chasing my dream.”

Antoine Mason plays basketball all year round to keep his skills sharp and often trains with Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris. The two players have the same trainer and each time they join forces, Mason learns from Harris and experiences what abilities are required to play at the highest level.

“I’ve known Tobias [Harris] since I was ten or eleven years old and often train with him,” Mason remembers. “Anytime you get the opportunity to put in work with an NBA player who has experience of how the NBA game is played, it’s great to pick his brain and learn from him.”

In the 1990’s the New York Knicks were beloved for their toughness; two key members of this team were Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. The heir apparent to this rough-and-tumble royalty is of course, Antoine Mason. And even he had something to say defending his father’s former teammate and friend Charles Oakley after the incident at Madison Square Garden in February.

“I haven’t spoken to [Charles Oakley] since the incident, but it was wrong. To kick out a former player who represented New York and was loved and who put his blood, sweat, and tears into the organization… that wasn’t right. I hope he and James Dolan worked it out,” Antoine admitted.

Credit: Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated

Much like Oakley, Knicks orange and blue run forever in Mason veins. Still a Knicks fan himself, Antoine Mason admits the league has changed tremendously since his father’s time in the league. Today, superstar players are teaming up to chase championships, while top players of the 1990’s were going head-to-head on a nightly basis.

“During my dad’s time, there was [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen’s Chicago Bulls, Utah, Orlando, Indiana, Houston, Indiana, Phoenix, New York and other great teams led by (most of the time) one superstar player,” Antoine Mason stressed. “Then, into the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it was Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Utah, Detroit, and Miami. It was much harder to win, and the defense was tougher to break. Now, it’s kind of a cakewalk to the Finals.

‘Super Teams’ may make the league less competitive because they win almost every time, but people don’t realize the Boston Celtics were the first team to do it. Even though [Kevin] Garnett, [Paul] Pierce, and [Ray] Allen were a bit older, they teamed up and won [the championship] in 2008.”

Antoine Mason also spoke about the play style and physicality between both eras.

“I wouldn’t say the league has gone soft, but it’s changed. In today’s era, you don’t see as much trash talking, it’s not as physical, and the playstyle is different,” Antoine said. Now, you see more big-men stepping out and taking threes, less big-men [going at each other] in the paint.”

Antoine Mason was stunned when he heard Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors this past summer. As a true competitor, Antoine couldn’t believe Durant abandoned Oklahoma City after their playoff run just a couple of months before.

“I was surprised, man,” Antoine expressed. “Even though Oklahoma City blew the 3-1 lead, they were still a very good team and so close to the title. Myself, as a competitor, would never join a team that just beat me, but in today’s works, more and more people are making decisions to better themselves.”

As successful he was as a player, Anthony Mason also had success in the insurance field. Mason took a job in life insurance with The Hotaling Group—a firm based in Manhattan—to protect high-level clients’ earnings and help others avoid the mistakes he made during his playing career. Earning over $40 million as a professional basketball player, “Mase” once admitted he spent a vast amount of money on unnecessary items. In February of 2014, Anthony Mason and former Knicks teammate John Starks teamed up to invest in a pizza joint located in Harlem, New York.

What’s next for Antoine Mason? After the 2016-17 season in Canada concludes, he plans on trying out for an NBA D-League team next year and working his way up to the NBA. With the memory of his father with him every day, and former teammates of his father’s such as John Starks, Charles Oakley, and Tim Thomas—who he refers to as his uncles—supporting him, Antoine’s motivation motor will never lag.

Antoine remembers his father as a “fierce competitor who never shied away from the spotlight” on the court and a “hilarious, loving teddy bear” off it. Though he never won an NBA championship—the closest taste of a championship came in the 1994 Finals when the New York Knicks lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games—Anthony Mason “was extremely satisfied with how his basketball career turned out,” according to Antoine. Anthony Mason’s NBA accolades include: NBA All-Star (2001); All-NBA Third Team (1997), All-Defensive Second Team (1997), Sixth Man of the Year (1995).

Whenever Antoine is feeling down, he reminisces the irreplaceable times spent with his father. Voicemails, text messages, and highlights remain, but the legend of Anthony Mason will live on forever in the hearts of his family, the New York Knicks organization and especially, his son.

Credit: Brian Drake/NBAE/Getty Images

 

 

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