Former Charlotte Hornets forward Anthony Mason, who combined great physical toughness with deft passing touch, died Saturday following a battle with various heart ailments. He was 48.
Mason had been hospitalized in the New York area, reportedly suffering from congestive heart failure.
Mason played for the Hornets from 1996 through 2000, paired with Glen Rice and Vlade Divac as that team’s big three. Prior to that he played for the New York Knicks and had stints with the New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks before retiring following the 2002-03 season.
A burly 6-foot-7, Mason became one of the NBA’s better defenders while playing for the Knicks from 1991 through 1996. He played there alongside Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing, now associate head coach of the Hornets.
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“My heart is heavy after learning we lost Anthony Mason last night. We were teammates on the Knicks for five great seasons,” Ewing said in a statement provided by the Hornets.
“Mase came to play every night and was always ready to go to battle with me every time we stepped on the court together. I will remember him for his strength, determination and perseverance. My thoughts are with his family. May he rest in peace.”
Mason was traded to the Hornets in the deal that sent Larry Johnson to New York. While with the Hornets he was named third-team All-NBA and second team All-Defense following the 1996-97 season.
Former Hornets coach Paul Silas utilized Mason as a “point forward,” running offensive sets through him to optimize Mason’s unusual ball-handling skill for a player of his size.
The Hornets used to promote themselves as playing “hardball,” and that certainly applied to Mason. He was physically imposing with a body broad enough to guard small forwards, power forwards and centers. He had a personality to match; loud, boisterous and opinionated, he asserted himself on any game he played.
Among those he often competed against: Now-Hornets chairman Michael Jordan.
“I’m deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Anthony Mason. Mase was one of the toughest competitors of his era.” Jordan said in that same team statement.
“While on the Hornets, he was beloved by fans throughout the Carolinas for his hard-nosed play and skill on the court. The Hornets organization extends its condolences to his entire family.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell