Younger Knicks fans know Walt Frazier as the man with the colorful suits and even more colorful vocabulary. Frazier is a commentator for the Knicks’ MSG Network and has become famous for using phrases like “posting and toasting” or “dishing and swishing” to describe the action. Beginning in the late sixties, Frazier became a star guard and something of a New York icon as well. Naturally, it didn’t hurt Frazier’s fame when he helped deliver the Knicks’ only titles in 1970 and 1973.
Frazier was never as famous nationally as players like Magic Johnson would later become, but he became a major attraction in Manhattan. While somewhat shy as a rookie, he adjusted to life in New York with a persona that a trainer called “Clyde.”
Frazier commented: “I was never afraid of being an individual.”
Instead of his old routine of going to bed early, Frazier would party at nightclubs and wear flashy fur coats. A legion of female fans flooded him with requests for tickets. In 1973, he collaborated with Puma on one of the world’s first successfully marketed basketball shoes known as the Puma Clyde. Versions of those shoes are still being manufactured today.
In a 2013 interview for ESPN, Frazier described himself by saying: “I disdain the mundane.” That was a statement about his desire for variety and excitement, but it also seems like a reference to his on-court play. Frazier retired at the age of 34 but still boasted a body of work that admitted him into the Hall of Fame.
He averaged 19 or more points from 1969-1976 and made the All-Star team each of those years. Frazier was a key ingredient alongside forwards Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley. Frazier and fellow guard Earl Monroe made a strong one-two guard punch during the second championship season.
Frazier put up big numbers without the option of the three-pointer and seemed an unstoppable force until his trade to Cleveland in 1977. In 1974-75, he set a career high with 2.4 steals per contest. Frazier was also a strong facilitator with a career average of 6.1 assists. Frazier strongly believed that teammates needed to trust each other in order to play their best. For instance, center Willis Reed generally wasn’t great at running the floor. However, Reed would do it willingly when he knew that Frazier would lead him to the hoop with a perfect bounce pass.
Just three years after Frazier was drafted out of Southern Illinois, the Knicks captured the franchise’s first title in 1970. In the playoffs, they defeated the Baltimore Bullets and Milwaukee Bucks prior to facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Reed is famous for playing hurt during Game 7 of the Finals and scoring the game’s first four points. However, Frazier was the real dominating factor in scoring 36 points, pulling down 7 rebounds, and making a whopping 19 assists in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd. Both players made the All-NBA First Team that season, as did the Lakers’ Jerry West.
Things all came together again in 1972-73, but it wasn’t easy. New York would again defeat the Bullets in the first round but then squared off with the Boston Celtics, who sported the best record in the league. The Knicks would win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Boston Garden, which was far from a friendly venue to visitors. On tap was yet another showdown with the Lakers, who had defeated New York in the 1972 Finals. This time, the Knicks would win the series and the clincher was Game 5 at the Forum in Los Angeles. Frazier chipped in 18 points during what would be Wilt Chamberlain’s last NBA game.
Although Frazier spends much of his summers on the island of St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands, he remains a part of the New York scene. He is co-owner of a large restaurant called Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine once described by the New York Times as “Godzilla in chinchilla.”
Frazier’s best years coincided with the Knicks’ glory days, so who can blame their fans if they can’t get enough nostalgia? Frazier is also impossible to miss during Knicks pregame warmups, microphone in hand and dressed in plaid or zebra print suits. After all, it’s time for another night of swooping and hooping.
(References:When the Garden was Eden by Harvey Aaron, The Game Within the Game, Walt Frazier)