There was a time when nobody wanted Anthony Mason.
Mason, the heart and soul of Pat Riley’s best Knicks squads, had bounced around teams in Turkey, Venezuela and Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he landed on the Long Island Surf of the United States Basketball League in 1991.
"You could have had Anthony Mason for a nickel back then," said Don Cronson, the longtime agent of the former Knicks player who died in 2015. "Nobody cared."
Nobody, added Cronson, except for the Surf’s general manager, Ed Krinsky. Krinsky invited Knicks scout Fuzzy Levane to drive out to the gym in Old Westbury and watch Mason play. Krinsky then convinced Levane to invite Mason to the camp the Knicks team was having in Westchester, and the rest is history.
"Ed discovered Anthony," Cronson said.
While Mason may be the most famous player that Krinsky helped over the years, he is far from the only person whose life was touched by the behind-the-scenes basketball legend from Bethpage.
Krinsky, who died Oct. 28 at the age of 88 after a short illness, was influential in the careers of countless players, coaches and others he met through his years of coaching, teaching and running basketball teams on Long Island.
"He helped a lot of ballplayers," said former Nets and St. John’s star Joe DePre, who played for Krinsky at Westbury High School. "He loved basketball. But he also just liked people. He really was a great person as well as a great coach."
Born in Brooklyn on Feb. 22, 1933, Krinsky attended James Madison High School at the same time Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a student and several years before Bernie Sanders was a track star there. Krinsky went on to play both basketball and baseball at Harvard. After a stint in the Army, Krinsky returned to Harvard for a master’s degree before moving to Long Island in 1957 to take a job teaching history at Westbury High School.
Krinsky, who later became a guidance counselor, took over as coach of Westbury’s varsity basketball team in 1959. Over the next 20 years, he would post a 274-126 record, win one Nassau County championship and send countless players on to the next level.
Dennis DuVal, an All-American guard at Syracuse who played for the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Bullets, remembered Krinsky as a great coach who just really cared about his players.
"He didn’t cut anybody from his teams," said DuVal, who was the star on Westbury’s 1969-70 team that went 17-2. "He also drove all of his players home from practice because there was no late bus. That was back before there were seatbelts, and he would put us all in one car and his two daughters would be with us."
Krinsky’s daughters, Donna Romano of Dix Hills and June Krinsky-Rudder of Boston, said basketball was just a part of their family life and fondly recall vacations at Kutscher’s Hotel and Country Club near Monticello where their dad would be coaching All-Star teams.
"All of our family vacations were basketball vacations, except for two," Krinsky-Rudder said. "He would be coaching somewhere and it was our vacation. I kind of liked it that way. It was more interesting as opposed to a tourist vacation."
Basketball coaches around the country trusted Krinsky when it came to sizing up talent.
Herb Brown, the former head coach of the Detroit Pistons and brother of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, first got to know Krinsky when Brown was the coach at C.W. Post and Krinsky was at Westbury.
"He was arguably one of the best if not the best high school coach on Long Island when he was at Westbury," Brown said. "He was a basketball innovator. I wrote three books on basketball and he helped me with all three. We exchanged ideas my entire life as a basketball coach."
Brown hired Krinsky to work as an advance scout, mostly at Madison Square Garden, when Brown was with the Pistons in 1976 and 1977, and Krinsky would also later do some scouting for the Houston Rockets.
Long before NBA teams regularly scouted international players, Krinsky began forging basketball contacts overseas. In 1977, he coached the United States team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel and later became a consultant to the Maccabi team in Tel Aviv.
Krinsky was asked to coach Egypt’s 1980 Olympic team. The selection of an American Jew to coach Egyptian players spurred all kinds of media coverage about Krinsky, including an appearance on "The Today Show." Though Egypt joined the U.S. in boycotting the 1980 Olympics, Krinsky spent the summer conducting basketball clinics throughout Egypt instead.
In 1991, Krinsky became the general manager of the Long Island Surf of the USBL. The USBL was a spring league and served as a developmental league for players hoping to latch on with an NBA team or, more commonly, get a contract overseas.
Some notable Surf players that went on to play in the NBA include Mason, Lloyd Daniels and Michael Curry. The 1991 team included both Mason and a guard named Kenny Atkinson, who would one day become coach of the Nets.
Walter Szczerbiak, a former ABA player who also played overseas, was scouting for the Spanish League and immediately recognized Mason as a rare talent. He set up a meeting between one of his teams and Mason at a seafood restaurant on Long Island.
"We were talking about a contract. Anthony spent the whole meeting reading USA Today and not paying attention," Szczerbiak said. "The coach thought he could control him, but after that the general manager said no way."
SUNY Old Westbury basketball coach Bernard Tomlin was the coach of that 1991 Surf team. The fact that Mason was a little rough around the edges didn’t seem to bother Krinsky. He believed he could play in the NBA.
"Ed just was very passionate for sports and for people," Tomlin said of Krinsky. "He always had something to offer everybody."
Paul Hewitt, the former Georgia Tech basketball coach who is an assistant with the Clippers, said Krinsky has "thrown me a life preserver" multiple times in his career. Hewitt, who played at Westbury, said Krinsky talked the JV coach out of cutting him even though he wasn’t good. And, when he didn’t have a college scholarship, Krinsky sent him to a camp at Long Island Lutheran where he was able to land a scholarship to St. John Fisher College.
"For a guy who spent most of his life in the background," Hewitt said, "you can’t imagine the players out there that he helped. Not just players. You can’t imagine the people he impacted."
Albert Ko, his longtime assistant, can. Ko was pursuing a certificate in sports management and marketing at NYU when one of his professors suggested he reach out to Krinsky, who had been named the USBL’s director of operations in 1999.
"He basically gave me a break because he saw me as someone who needed one," Ko said. "I didn’t have a network or connections. He understood it was going to be tough for me because of my race and physical appearance. I’m a dwarf and I’m Asian. He saw my resume, gave me an interview and hired me right away. I’ll never be able to thank him enough."
Gratitude seemed to be a common theme among those remembering Krinsky this past week. In his final weeks, former players, friends and colleagues from all over the world reached out to Krinsky via phone calls, FaceTime, email and text.
"We used to joke that he was 'Forrest Gump' because of all the people he had known and met over the years," June Krinsky-Rudder said. "But in the end, it was more like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ He really touched a lot of people."