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News » Scars tell Mason's story

Scars tell Mason's story

Scars tell Mason's story
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The scar is about six inches long, running vertically along his right breastplate, like a zipper implanted beneath the skin.

If you ask, Roger Mason Jr. will show it to you.

It is that scar that once made him question his future and his place in the world. It is that scar that caused him to wonder if his life's plan was meaningless. It is that scar that once made him wonder if he'd just rather be an architect.

Today, Mason is proud of that scar.

"My journey is what made me who I am," says Mason, in his first season as the Spurs' starting shooting guard.

On the surface, Mason's upbringing seems like a spinoff of "The West Wing." He grew up the son of a well-connected D.C. doctor, an ophthalmologist with friends in high places, and attended middle school with Chelsea Clinton.

Tonight, as the Spurs face the Wizards, Mason returns home an established NBA player, the embodiment of a hometown kid made good.

For Mason, life is good - "a dream come true," he says.

But life has also given him scars.

The one on his chest was made by a surgeon's scalpel, meant to repair a torn labrum in his shooting shoulder that had threatened to derail his pro career before it began.

There are other scars, too. Some tangible. Some metaphorical. Some self-inflicted. All serving as a reminder of the price he paid to get where he is.

Always a Jr.

Roger Mason Sr. taught his son the little things that attentive fathers always do, like how to ride a bike and bait a fishhook. He also instilled in his son a love of education and a sense of intellectual curiosity. But, most importantly, he planted in his son a direction for the future.

"He got me into hoops," Mason said.

As a kid, Mason can recall the many pilgrimages to the Capital Centre in Prince Georges County, to watch the Washington Bullets play.

He'd ROOT on his heroes, Jeff Malone and Bernard King, and get there early to watch visiting stars like Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas warm up. Yet Mason remembers none of them as fondly as he remembers the man who was sitting next to him.

"It was cool," Mason said, "because those were the times I went with my dad."

Roger Mason Sr. died of kidney failure when his oldest son was 11 years old, leaving behind an emotional scar that cut deep. Years later, with ink and a needle, Mason rendered that scar permanent and visible.

He had Psalm 46 tattooed on his left shoulder.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the depths of the sea."

These are the words that Mason, along with his three younger siblings, recited in vigil as their father lay dying nearly two decades ago. He forever wears the memory of those last moments with his father on his sleeve.

Ever since his childhood days in the Capital Centre grandstands, Mason knew he wanted to make a name for himself in Basketball. After his father's death, he discovered a new purpose.

He wanted to make his father's name, too.

When, as a freshman at Virginia, the P.A. announcer introduced him as "Roger Mason," Mason kindly asked him to reattach the "Jr."

"I wanted to make it known that I'm not just Roger Mason," said Mason, now 28. "There was a Sr., and I'm trying to represent him well."

The path to Mason's ultimate dream, however, was not without a fresh round of pain.

The long way around

Mason was born at D.C.'s Howard University Hospital, less than a mile from the Verizon Center, where the Wizards now play. It could be said he took the most roundabout route possible to get to an NBA arena.

He left Virginia for the draft after his junior season, a few credits shy of an architecture degree, assured by scouts he would be a first-round pick. Those plans were dashed in the span of seconds during his first predraft workout, when Mason collided with another player.

He dislocated his shoulder, shredding the labrum. He would need surgery. Before he was even drafted, Mason was out for the season.

He couldn't even pull on a pair of pants, much less shoot a Basketball. Still, Mason held out hope of going in the first round. He thought he was going 14th to Indiana.

Instead he slid. And slid. And slid. All the way to the second round before the Bulls snapped him up 31st overall.

"Honestly, it was horrible," Mason said. "It was my first NBA experience, and my worst."

Mason missed the first 66 games of his rookie year while his shoulder healed, just in time to find himself in journeyman hell.

He was traded to Toronto the next season, then waived. He went to Greece, then Israel. Finally, he returned to Washington, landing a make-good deal with the hometown Wizards in 2006.

There are dozens of Roger Masons out there, good players one break away from having a career. Mason got his when Gilbert Arenas wrecked his knee last season. That opened up time at point guard, and Mason took advantage. He averaged 9.1 points and shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, enough to earn a two-year contract with the Spurs in the summer.

The Spurs were enticed by Mason's 3-point shooting skill and his ability to play both guard spots. But they were also drawn in by his background.

"When somebody makes it who has been picked in the 40s and 50s, who didn't get much respect, it's satisfying," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We purposefully try to find those guys, because they're not full of themselves, and they have something to prove."

In his first season in San Antonio, Mason has proven himself and then some. He is averaging 12 points per game, and ranks eighth in the league in both 3-point percentage (43.9 percent) and 3-pointers made (112). More famously, Mason has sunk four game-winners this season.

On the Spurs' payroll for a relatively cheap $7.2 million between this season and next, Mason is providing perhaps the best bang for the buck of any offseason free-agent attraction.

"I didn't know he'd be playing like this," Tim Duncan said. "He's been a surprise. Obviously, Pop and those guys knew something."

Mason returns to his hometown a bona fide NBA player now, but this development hardly surprises him. He always believed he'd get here, no matter how many times it felt as if his earth had been removed, the mountains swallowed by the sea.

"I took the tough route," Mason said. "I didn't have anything handed to me."

And he has the scars to prove it.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: February 23, 2009


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