Walt Frazier Dishes on Basketball with Style
Covers much ground in first In the Game interview.
September 2015 – Walt “Clyde” Frazier visited Drew University, showcasing his love of basketball, language, and of course, sartorial style.
The Hall of Famer and Knicks broadcaster joined former New York Times columnist Ira Berkow as the first speaker in Drew’s new In the Game interview series. Frazier covered everything from his upbringing and college days to his dapper style, influences and yes, loquaciousness. He even compared today’s Knicks stars to those on the championship squad he played for in the 1970s. Indeed, he gamely answered nearly every question thrown at him.
Dressed in pale yellow suit, striped tie and matching pocket square, Frazier demurred only when asked about the Knicks’ off-season roster moves. “Will you turn the camera off please?,” he said jokingly, alluding to the video camera fixed on him and Berkow. Then he generously offered that Knicks President (and former teammate) Phil Jackson did the best he could and rather than splurging on a couple of stars is trying to build a core of five solid players. The team finished last season with an abysmal 17-65 record, missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
“We got some very good role players,” said Frazier, now a commentator for the MSG Network, which shows all the Knicks games. “If they play up to their potential, that might make us a contender and perhaps [help the Knicks] make the playoffs.”
When asked if during his playing days, he envisioned Jackson becoming a coach, Frazier replied, “No, I thought he’d be at Woodstock or somewhere. He was a maverick.” Jackson, of course, went on to become one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers. “The transformation for him was his family. He had kids and he finally saw the light.”
Today’s game: “Today’s game is dunks and threes. Like in my basketball camp, every shot is a three-ball.…Nobody goes inside the arc, unless they’re forced to.”
How he righted himself after flunking out of Southern Illinois University in his junior year: “I challenged myself with a full slate of classes—no PE classes or anything to communicate that I didn’t make grades—and I had my best grade-point average in that quarter. We were on a quarter system. And that gave me so much confidence in the classroom.”
Developing his vocabulary: “The main thing that helped me? I used to get the Sunday Times—the Arts and Leisure section. And they critiqued the plays: riveting, mesmerizing, provocative, profound, dazzling! I liked the way the words sound.”
Another former teammate (and former Senator) Bill Bradley: “We used to call him Mr. President. We knew he had very good political aspirations. Actually, I just talked to him last week. He just turned 72 on his birthday. He had only planned to play two years and then he was going to go into politics. And as we know, he ended up playing ten years because he started having so much fun and learning the game and playing sports.”
Knicks first-round draft pick, Latvian Kristap Porzingis: “He says all the right things, like when the crowd booed him when he got drafted. They asked him about that. He goes, ‘Yeah, well, you know, I’ve just got to show them that I can play. I have to win the crowd over.’ He never got an attitude about it. He’s always cordial, smiling. You know, he doesn’t know the purgatory that’s ahead of him!”
The best Knick all-time: “Willis [Reed] is the greatest Knick ever because I learned from him. Obviously, if he wasn’t injured, there would be no question about who was the greatest Knick ever. I think we’d have another championship ring.”
At one point during the hour-plus long interview, Frazier noted that in 25 years only a handful of Knicks players have asked him for advice as a retired Hall of Famer. He didn’t dwell on the thought long, however, and in true Clyde fashion, went back to dishing and swishing all the way to the end.
The next speaker in the In the Game series will be former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton on Oct. 15, amid the heat of the Major League Baseball playoffs. Bouton is famous for Ball Four, a tell-all book about the game that was ahead of its time for revealing what took place behind the scenes, which, of course, was considered taboo when it was published in 1970. He’s also the creator of Big League Chew gum. As with Frazier, Berkow will conduct the interview at the Concert Hall.