Reminiscing with Tony Masiello: former Griffs hoops star and Buffalo mayor

Tony Masiello was selected as a member of the Canisius basketball all-sesqui team for the school’s 150th anniversary last year. (Canisius athletics/GoGriffs)

By Adam Gorski, Sports Reporter

Everybody dreams of living a life that they will look back and be proud of.

Tony Masiello is no exception.

When he remembers back to his days of leading the Canisius men’s basketball team in the late 1960s, having the opportunity to play professionally, and his prominent rise through politics that led to his election as the mayor of his hometown, Buffalo, he does so fondly.

“I have no regrets, I’ve had a great life,” he said. “I enjoyed and loved Canisius College and playing basketball … and then in politics for 35 years, I met and made friends with people from all walks of life and all levels of government. I’m truly blessed.”

While most may know Masiello from his tenure as mayor and his time in politics, it was basketball that was his first passion. Growing up on the West side of Buffalo, he recalls his younger self at the playgrounds and elementary schools in the area where he learned and first understood his love for the game. From there, he attended Cardinal Dougherty High School and starred on the basketball team, winning league MVP in his senior year of 1965.

Next came a big decision: where he would play his college basketball and continue his education. With offers from the likes of St. Bonaventure, Niagara and Buffalo, he chose Canisius.

“I grew up going to Canisius doubleheaders in the early 60s,” Masiello said. “My brother Vito and I would take the bus, Niagara Street bus, to the (Buffalo Memorial Auditorium), it would cost us 50 cents each to get in … that really inspired me because I could see myself in a Canisius uniform playing in front of 10 or 12 thousand people every Saturday night.”

Playing under coach Bob MacKinnon, his dream came true, as Masiello had the opportunity to play in plenty of big games while donning the blue and gold, including a win over No. 8 Syracuse in 1967 at The Aud, and multiple bouts with Basketball Hall of Famers Bob Lanier and St. Bonaventure, as well as Calvin Murphy and Niagara.

He would go on to finish his illustrious career at Canisius with 1,069 points and 634 rebounds, and was selected as captain his junior and senior years. He also led his squad in scoring and rebounding in both of those years, averaging a double-double in 1967-68.

He was selected to the Canisius Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Playing at Canisius College in the 60s was a blast,” Masiello said. “That was before the Sabres, the Bills were basically in its infancy…so Canisius basketball was the Saturday night out in Buffalo. It was, for me, an opportunity for my family to watch me play, and many of my friends.”

After his playing days at Canisius, in 1969, he was selected in the third round of the ABA Draft by the Indiana Pacers, but unfortunately was not able to make the team’s roster. A tryout for the NBA’s Buffalo Braves in 1970 yielded the same results, and that’s when Masiello realized his basketball career may be over.

“Unfortunately, being a third round draft of the Pacers, I couldn’t make the transition from forward to guard, so that didn’t work,” he said. “I soon realized I was a six-foot-four young man who wasn’t going to play professionally, so I had to find something else to do.”

Citing his strong competitive spirit, Masiello saw politics as an ideal next step, and he certainly made the most of it.

“Politics, quite frankly, are rough and tumble,” he said. “[Elections] gave me the opportunity to transfer that passion and energy from the basketball court to the political arena.”

At the age of 24, he won his first election to become the North District representative to the Buffalo Common Council, an election he specifically remembers winning by 127 votes. From there, he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a member of the New York State Senate from 1981 to 1993.

In 1993, he was elected the 61st mayor of Buffalo, winning 67 percent of the General Election vote. He would go on to serve three terms before deciding he would not run for re-election in 2005.

He remains proud of many of his accomplishments while in office, whether it was the starting of the Buffalo Inner Harbor development and the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus, or transforming and renovating schools downtown, but one stands out more than others.

“I’m most proud of the fact the people of the City of Buffalo elected me three times to be their mayor,” he said. “You’re helping people from all different walks of life. That kind of transition, based on those principles and my work ethic, was the best kind of transition for me.”

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