Younger basketball fans may know Walt Frazier as a broadcaster, but the former basketball star is still beloved by many New Yorkers for leading the New York Knicks with artistic flair to two championships. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One On 1" report.
One would hope that former New York Knicks player Walt Frazier would wear something memorable to an interview at Madison Square Garden. The white, black and brown spotted coat he sported when he spoke with NY1 did not disappoint.
"I was in a store, looking for fabric for some sofas and chairs in my house, and I saw this fabric. I go, 'Wow, this should make a great suit!'" says Frazier. "I was kind of reluctant though, because I was like, 'is it too wild?' I wasn't too sure, but then I was going, 'Hey, that's how you became Clyde!'"
Frazier says "Clyde" is his alter ego. The nickname stems from his playing days, when he bought a wide-brimmed hat similar to one in a popular movie of the time, "Bonnie And Clyde."
The hat symbolizes something more than Frazier's love of fashion.
"The first time I wore the hat, everybody laughed at me. My teammates and, I remember, the guys on the other team, because they'd never seen anything like that. But that's part of my individuality," he says. "Like, when I was in high school, I never drank, because I'm not afraid of being ostracized from a group if there's something I don't want to do."
He has an emotional connection with older New York Knicks fans, not simply because he won championships in 1970 and 1973 and is a Basketball Hall of Famer. It's the artistry and flair he brought to the court, as a prolific scorer, passer and expert defensive player.
Most younger fans now know him not for his deeds, but words as a broadcaster.
"If you go to the playground, they're saying 'dishing and swishing,' 'posting and toasting,' 'stopping and popping,'" he says.
When Frazier started broadcasting in 1987, he hit the books -- the dictionary and the thesaurus -- and applied the same work ethic that, to use one of his favorite words, "catapulted" him to greatness on the court.
"When we went on the west coast, my girlfriend used to send me the tapes. On the way back, four or five hours, and I'm listening to the games and seeing if I'm being redundant with certain words," says Frazier.
Another book that has Frazier's attention these days is his recently reissued 1974 book "Rockin' Steady: A Guide To Basketball."
"[Bill] Bradley and I could make eye contact on certain plays, and we knew to go backdoor or come over, pick and roll," says Frazier.
Frazier was also also known for the Rolls Royce he rode around town.
"My car was part of the New York scene. Everybody knew that car," he says.
Yet even with his fancy car, Frazier occasionally went to the Garden by subway.
Budd Mishkin: You're getting on the E train to go to work and people's response to you is what?
Frazier: "That's not Clyde. What would he be doing on the subway?"
The image of Clyde, with the clothes and the car, the round bed and mirrored ceiling, played beautifully in New York. His family in Atlanta, however, wanted him to stay grounded.
"My mother would say, 'You're still the same.' So my mom could see that I hadn't changed," says Frazier. "But a lot of times, my mom would read these articles and say, 'Son, don't gain the world and lose your soul.' And that would be it."
Underneath the flamboyant athlete's surface was a thoughtful introvert.
"When you look at the scrapbook, they depict me as a loner. The loner, Clyde Frazier," he says. "Because I like to be by myself, and I tell people that when you grow up with nine kids, you never have a chance to be alone."
He gets that chance now at his home in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Frazier sails and oversees several houses that he rents out to vacationers.
Frazier's put down roots in New York City as well, by recently buying a series of connecting townhouses in Harlem.
Growing up in Atlanta, the eldest of nine children, Frazier's work ethic was formed by being, as he puts it, "a second-class citizen under the oppression of segregation."
"Your parents and your teachers use that as a carrot. I remember in basketball, I scored 25 points, and my coach would show me what the white guy did across town. Go, 'Oh he scored like 35.' That way, you can never rest on your laurels," says Frazier.
In 10th grade, he was a third-string quarterback, forced to play because of injuries to the other quarterbacks. Frazier says he was blamed for the team's losing season.
"The next two years, I was all-city, all-state quarterback, but I never forgot that one year when people talked about me," he says. "So that's why, as a player, I always kept one foot on the ground. I accepted the adulation, but in the back of my mind, I know how people can turn on you."
His own New York Knicks career didn't start out so well, back in 1967.
"I wasn't playing well, so I used to pacify myself by buying clothes," he says. "So I would go out and buy, go back in my room and say, 'Hey, man, I still look good.'"
By his third season, Frazier was one of the game's elite players. On the night of May 8, 1970, Frazier's 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Seven of the NBA finals led the Knicks to their first championship.
Amazingly, Frazier had mixed emotions, because much of his success that night came against a former college teammate, Dick Garrett.
"I hated that. The best game in my career came against one of my best friends," says Frazier. "And I was so happy when they took him out of the game, because if I like you, I can't pulverize you."
Frazier claims that many former basketball players never get over not being a player, resulting in failed marriages, drug and alcohol problems and destitution. His own transition to former player was eased by his family.
"My mother said, 'Come on home, son. You've done all you can do there,'" he says. So that was like kind of rewarding, because my mother understood me, and she said, 'Hey, you've done good there, so just come on back.'"
Along with broadcasting, Frazier is working these days with his adult son, Walt Frazier III. His happiness, both in the city and in St. Croix, is tempered by one regret from the past.
"If I could do it over again, I'd like to be with my son," he says. "And that was a very difficult decision that I sacrificed. Because my wife at the time -- we were too young, so we had problems. And I had to make a decision -- am I going to try to pursue my career, or am I going to try to deal with her and have it affect my career?"
Frazier says when he walks into the Garden, he doesn't glance up at his retired jersey and the two championship banners. Yet he is always mindful of the warm place he and the championship Knicks have in the hearts of New Yorkers.
"A lot of people saw a Knicks game as two hours, three hours they could forget about the problems of the world, and then you are watching a team that personified 'team,'" says Frazier. "We were a colorblind team, nobody saw color. [Willis] Reed and I were the most popular guys on the team, over Bradley and [Dave] DeBusschere. So it was a wonderful thing to see that. So we really captivated the city."