Q&A: Walt Clyde Frazier

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Sunday, March 29, 2015 with No comments
Courtesy of Steve Serby

Q: How would you describe what it’s like being Clyde Frazier today?
A: It’s like being Clyde Frazier in the ’70s. The people still show me a lot of respect, want my autographs, taking pictures, get excited. … It’s almost the same. A generation that knows me now as the Knick announcer (laugh).
Q: Who was cooler back in the day, you or Joe Namath?
A: I think Joe had it going on. He was the first with the fur coats, and the big contract, so he was the focal point of New York City at the time. I was just happy to be mentioned in the same breath (chuckle), doing some of the things that he was doing. He set the standard, man, he was the guy, you know, the talk shows, TV shows. … He set the pace for guys now with marketing.
Q: Did you hang out with him at all?
A: Yeah, at that time we were very close. The city was different then. Guys didn’t have bodyguards (chuckle). You know, you could just walk over and talk to them. I was friendly with Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones — remember they also won a title with the Mets, and Art Shamsky — and then Namath and those guys — Rich Caster, [Emerson] Boozer, Matt Snell. We always made a lot of appearances together in shopping malls at that time because we were all champions, so had a lot of time to mingle with those guys. … It was a fun time in the city back then, the guys were very close, there wasn’t a lot of ego problems, there was a lot of camaraderie with the players.
Q: How electric was it inside the Garden for the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch in January 1974?
A: Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve seen Linsanity (laugh).
Q: That was a turbulent time in American history.
A: Right, right, tumultuous times. And the only thing that people had in common, on Tuesday and Saturdays, go to a Knick game, watch these guys play together, how they played the game, teamwork, the defense, the unselfish play. … There’s no women, there’s no kids at the game, it’s just guys. So what happened then — we had DeBusschere, a handsome guy, all the guys were nice-looking guys — so women started wanting to come to the game. Guys would bring their girlfriends to the game. The Knicks game was the place to be seen, and it became a happening.
Q: Where do you think the ’69-70 Knicks team ranks in history?
A: I think in the top 10. If you look at us individually, we weren’t that good. I mean, Willis could have scored more, I could have scored more, but we would not have been a championship team. But it was about sacrificing and teamwork. We had to play the way we played to win.
Q: How would you define cool?
A: My cool is, I rarely showed any emotion. I could make a game-winning shot and I just run off the court, maybe I clenched my fists a little bit. … When I had the Rolls, I never knew the reaction that that car would generate … or the fur coats or the hat. … Just the things I was doing that people thought were extraordinary, and I was just having fun. I was like 25, the greatest city in the world, living my dream, just doing what I thought was fun, people thought was really cool.
Q: How many suits do you have now?
A: Probably between 75 and 100. You know what’s helped me, I haven’t gained a lot of weight, so a lot of my suits I can still wear from seven years ago, and some of them go back as far as maybe eight or nine years.
Q: When you played, why did you have your pregame meal at P.J. Clarke’s?
A: I used to live at 54th and Third, one block away. One day I went in there and the owner was named Danny, and he goes, “Your money’s no good in here.” I never had to pay after that. And I still get that, wherever I travel. Like if we go to Florida, there’s so many Knicks fans that come up to me and shake my hand, congratulating for the experience that they experienced with the championship team in California, Chicago. … The bigger cities, man, people have not forgotten that team, it’s amazing.
Q: If you didn’t know how old you were, how old do you think you’d be?
A: Sixty-something. Like most of the guys when they hear … 70? Like [John] Starks is going, “Oh man, I thought you were like 60-something, man.” A lot of people are flabbergasted to find out I’m … like 70 years old, so … I’m flabbergasted! (Laugh) Sometimes my hips hurt, my shoulder hurts, my wrist is hurting. I’m like, “Man, growing old is not good,” you know?
Q: Do you still have a Rolls?
A: No, no, I sold the Rolls. I don’t get out much now. If it wasn’t for Clyde’s Wine and Dine, I’d probably just be going to the Knick games and coming home. I used to go out, man, and I’d go, “What are you doing man, go home?” (Laugh). One time, it was so funny, I see this attractive girl outside the Garden. So she comes up to me and she goes, “Uhhh … are you Clyde?” I say, “Yeah,” she goes, “Can I have your autograph for my grandmother?” (Laugh) That’s when it dawned on me, like, hey man, there’s a gap here, there’s a big gap here now, man.
Q: Getting traded to Cleveland was devastating at that time for you, right?
A: Yeah, because I knew I only wanted to play maybe a couple more years, so like if Willis had come to me and told me, “Hey man, kinda groom Ray Williams,” I would have been amenable to that. Sometimes I often think how differently my life would be say if I wasn’t traded. Would I have gone into coaching? Would I still be around the city being Clyde? I know if I stayed in the city, I wouldn’t be in St. Croix [U.S. Virgin Islands]. I wouldn’t have that type of lifestyle that I have now.
Q: And of all places to be traded to, Cleveland.
A: Yeah, I always equated that to being shipped to Siberia, man (laugh). I remember the first night I went out, these guys used to always be talking about this one place to go. And finally we had a night off and I went there, man, I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is gonna be a long year.” They were all raving over that club, and I was like if it was in New York, I wouldn’t even go to that club. Then if I go out with my mink cost on, everybody wanted to know, “Hey man, where you going?” (Laugh). So I used to say to myself, “Man, you’re all dressed up and nowhere to go,” you know? J.R. [Smith] has found it out (laugh).
Q: How come you never remarried?
A: Once I was in it, I was committed to it, but then once it didn’t work, and the lifestyle I was living, I just couldn’t see being married. I was kinda selfish in a way with my time because I’m the kind of kid when I was in high school and we lose, I used to go home and cry. So I become reclusive. Like when I first came to the Knicks, that’s how I became Clyde. When I first came to the Knicks, the team wasn’t winning, so I never went anywhere. I’d just go to my room, that’s what I used to do in college, if the team wasn’t playing good, I won’t talk to anybody. So what I did with the Knicks to pacify myself, I’d go shopping. So I go shopping, buy clothes, go back to my room and dress up. I look in the mirror: “Well you ain’t playing good, but I still look good.” (Laugh). And that’s how I was in my career. You only saw Clyde when the team was winning. When the Knicks weren’t winning, you never saw me out, because the music doesn’t sound as good, the food doesn’t taste as good when you’re not winning.
Q: Describe the young Phil Jackson.
A: Happy-go-lucky. … He was back in sorta the hippie stage, the long hair … a guy from North Dakota that liked to go out to jazz clubs, hang out and have fun. I never envisioned him as being a coach or an executive at that point, because he was somewhat of a maverick. He didn’t really like to conform to the rules. Holzman was always in a tug of war with him and with his dress. … He was my roommate early on, and I liked to sleep, and Phil liked to go. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never seen sights in L.A., Chicago, Detroit, ’cause he was the guy that got me out: “Come on, Clyde, let’s go …” Well, you know he never called me Clyde, you have to ask him why. He still calls me Walt. I always forget to ask him why he never called me Clyde.
Q: Is Jackson going to be able to turn around the Knicks?
A: I have faith in him. … I’m thinking in the future that things are gonna turn around and the Knicks’ll be back to prominence.
Q: I couldn’t think of a better recruiter than you. Why not Clyde Frazier recruit guys to New York?
A: Yeah, they never use me, man, and I don’t know why. Because these guys, if they walked a mile in my shoes, they’d definitely come to New York. But New York is not for everybody. There’s a certain guy — there’s [Lawrence Taylor], there’s Reggie [Jackson], there’s Clyde, there’s Namath, there’s [Tom] Seaver — the guys that really thrive on that pressure. And I think that’s what’s keeping guys away from New York now because they can make the same money someplace else, without all the scrutiny, without all the pressure. It’s a special guy like [Carmelo Anthony] or like Amar’e [Stoudemire] that wants to enhance their brand by coming to New York. They know what New York is about. They want to be a part of that. Phil knows that guy. He’s been here, he saw Clyde, he saw Willis, so he knows the type of guy that can adapt to this pressure of New York City that will thrive on being in the World’s Most Famous Arena, dealing with the fans. I have the faith in him.
Q: What would be Clyde’s pitch to free agents about playing in New York?
A: I would just walk around the city with them — uptown, downtown, Harlem. And they will see — I haven’t played in 35 years — how the people react over me. We would stop traffic. In Midtown, we would stop traffic if we were together crossing. They couldn’t get that from any other player in any other city, or a player that hasn’t played in that long and he’s still as popular as I am, that can’t walk the street without people wanting his autograph, taking pictures, talking about the team.
Q: Before LeBron [James] decided on Miami, maybe that would have been a good idea to have you walk around New York with LeBron.
A: I’m not sure LeBron wanted the pressure. I think at that point, he wanted more titles, but I don’t think he just wanted to be the main guy. Because if he did, how could you turn down this kingdom? All you have to do is win one title here — one — and you’re The King. I don’t think he wanted the pressure by himself.
Q: Do you think he would ever leave Cleveland?
A: He can’t now. He would be crucified. I don’t see any way that he could do that and be respected by the public again. He’s stuck there.
Q: Clyde’s all-time starting five.
A: Jordan and Oscar Robertson … Wilt Chamberlain … Elgin Baylor, and I’d have to put Bill Russell on that team.
Q: Russell at power forward?
A: Yeah, somehow he’d have to be there..
Q: Do you think your poker face when you played intimidated guys?
A: Yeah, because they didn’t know what to think, they didn’t know what I was thinking.
Q: Why wasn’t Clyde Frazier scared of New York?
A: I’ve never seen the bad side of New York — I was booed late in my career, ’cause people were frustrated with the team, and I was the last … vintage point of the greatness. … There were some boos, but overall, I’ve only seen the kindness from New Yorkers. When I go somewhere now, the respect that people show me: “Mr. Frazier.” … You know, the respect that people show me, man, I would be an ingrate not to take time to sign autographs and to take pictures, and to do the things that I go, that’s what I’m saying, they keep a smile on my face, the fans do. So if you come to Madison Square Garden, there’s one autograph you’re guaranteed to get, man, that’s mine.
Q: Did you hate the Celtics back then?
A: I still hate them (laugh). It’s more out of respect. Like if I had gotten drafted by the Celtics, I would have been very disappointed. I always root for the underdog, so I never rooted for the Celtics. They used to dominate, man, they used to always win. The Knicks were my favorite team, actually, because I liked their style, or whatever, the guys that they had on the team. … I like to build something. I like to come in the way I did with the Knicks. They’d been the doormat for a while, and then we started to build something. I can’t envision when I was playing that I would want up play on a team with [John] Havlicek and Bill Russell, just to win a championship. To go on a team with Oscar Robertson and Jerry West to try to win a championship. I don’t think any guys from that era would ever wanted to do that. Because you want to beat these guys, you want to kick their butt, man. So, we don’t want to join forces with them, you want to do your own thing and try to beat them. Today, the mentality of guys conspire and get together and go have a team, that’s so foreign to me, I can’t fathom that.
Q: Regrets?
A: Only being traded, that was my only regret. I wish I could have finished my total career in New York City.
Q: Does it amaze you that Chamberlain was the player he was considering that he claimed that he slept with 20,000 women?
A: (Laugh) If there was a Superman, if anybody could do it, it was Wilt Chamberlain, man.
Q: How do you plan on celebrating your birthday?
A: I never celebrate my birthday. I just pay homage to the Lord for the blessing. … This year I had no choice, because the Knicks have jumped in and they’ve done everything, but normally, I really don’t celebrate my birthday. It’s a quiet time for me, just reminiscing. One reason why I never go to Atlanta because all the people that have catapulted me to where I am today are no longer around — my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, most of my coaches — I think I have one coach, this high school coach, that’s still alive — everybody’s gone, it’s so depressing. Obviously, if those people were around, I’d probably have a big party, have them there, so they can celebrate what I’ve accomplished, and how I’ve done it. … But usually I’m more the other way. It’s a sad time for me when I think back that I can’t share this happiness with those people that really got me to this point. . . My uncle [Eddie Wynn] my mother’s brother, was the guy who really got me into sports. I can remember one Christmas I got a trumpet, like I wanted to be in the band. And he tore it up (laugh): “You’re not gonna be in the band, you’re gonna be a ballplayer!”
Q: So it’s been a pretty darned good 70 years.
A: Yeah, magnificent. So, the only celebrating I’m looking forward to is the 100th birthday, man. That’s what I’m trying to be, the centenarian. I got lucky to get into the diet and exercise, yoga, all the different things that I do now. Maybe I’m 10 pounds heavier than when I played. … I never did drugs, I never smoked. I was a sophomore in college before I drank a beer. So in New York, I tried to be cool, I started drinking Tanqueray and orange juice, or rum and Coke. And then one morning, I used to live at the hotel, the phone rang, we used to practice, and I put my feet on the floor, I go, “That’s it, man.” I used to have these terrible headaches, “ I go, that’s it, no more drinking.” And then I found wine, I found that I could drink wine, and then the next day I wouldn’t have the terrible hangover, so the only thing I used to drink pretty much was white wine, that was it. … So the only vice I had was buying clothes, man, that’s the only thing I couldn’t keep away from. And I remember Holzman, he used to see me with the Rolls and all the clothes, he used to always say, “Clyde, you saving any money?”c (Laugh). I go, “Yeah Red,” and he goes, “Remember, you gotta save some money for a rainy day.” I said, “OK Red.”
Q: What would you like to say to Knicks fans and to New York?
A: Thanks for everything, man. You guys made me who I am, you keep me humble now, you keep a smile on my face. We used to say, it’s so nice, they named it twice, man — New York, New York. I always tell people I couldn’t understand why LeBron wouldn’t come here because New York is a place you’ll never outgrow. How many times can you go to South Beach, man? But New York is a place you never outgrow. … You can always go somewhere different. You’ll never be the most famous, you’ll never be the richest, you’ll never be anything here but just a piece of what New York has to offer. When I want to go, I can ride on the West Side Highway. When I come to the games, I come the West Side Highway. That’s my St. Croix. I see the water. I can see New Jersey. I see the boats out on the water — it’s so tranquil for me. Or I could go up the east side and do the same thing on the East River, coming along there. I could go uptown. I could go to Harlem. All these different places are different. I could do that the rest of my life, man, and never be bored in New York City. To me, that’s the beauty of this place. Things that I’ve never done before — I really never enjoyed Broadway, going to the plays — I can do that. I’ve been here almost 50 years, and there’s still so many things that I haven’t experienced that I can do. I have a lot to thank them for: my style, my coolness … my tenacity, my sagacity, my altruism. … They’re like the catalyst for what I became. I came here at 22 years of age, out of Atlanta, Southern Illinois, didn’t know anything (chuckle). Overwhelmed by the city at the time — didn’t really like the city because of the coldness … and I end up being a New York icon. … I have a lot of people to thank.