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Monday, May 6, 2002
Walt Frazier

Special to Page 2

Walt Frazier has seven All-Star Games, four All-League Defensive teams and two NBA titles. He's 36 points and 19 assists in Game 7 in 1970. He's the Knicks' all-time assist leader and 18.9 points a night for 13 years. He's inside, he's outside, he's on-the-run, on-the-spot and in-the-flow.

Walt Frazier
Walt Frazier defined cool in the 1970s.
He's all that and then some. He's "Clyde." He's full-length mink coats, velour hats and a sweet Rolls. He's shoes and belts and ties and suits all cut to perfection and dressed for success.

On the court and off, Walt was, is and always will be the godfather of style, the very definition, the embodiment, the essence of cool.

Forget Mike, everybody wants to be like Clyde. Page 2's Eric Neel is no different -- except he's got 10 Burning Questions, and he's taking lessons.

1. Page 2: What is "cool?"

Walt Frazier: Cool, for me, was just being myself. A lot of people say they think that I'm cool. I think it's mannerisms, it's an ambience. It's how you accept things.

They thought I was cool because, in a game, down the stretch, there's bedlam, there's chaos, but you look at Walt Frazier and he looks like it's the beginning of the game. I was unflappable; they used to say I had a poker face, that I never showed emotion on my face. People said, "How can you do that?!" They viewed it as being cool, because they couldn't control their emotions in that same way.

Did you have to work hard at being cool, or did it come naturally to you?

Frazier: Well, I was kind of groomed for it because, growing up, I was the oldest of nine kids, and I was always sort of precocious, in that respect. When my parents weren't around, I was in charge. And then, in sports, I was always the captain of the football team, basketball team, baseball team. So I always had these leadership roles, and when things went awry, the coach would tell me, "Walt, you've got to keep it together." I was the guy. I had that since grade school, through high school, and then in college. So it became a normal reaction for me. Like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and I like that.

The tough get cool.

Frazier: Yeah, yeah, that's it (laughs). But on the inside, I'm percolating like everybody else. Outwardly, I don't show emotion. Actually, the more pressure there is, the more relaxed I become. I like pressure.

Walt Frazier
Frazier fit right in while playing in the Mecca of style.
2. Everyone, of course, thinks of you as "Clyde" Frazier. Did you ever have any other nicknames?

Frazier: My nickname is June, because I'm a junior. My family and people who grew up with me ... It's funny, if you grew up with me, you call me June; if you went to high school with me, you call me Walt; if you followed me in New York, you call me Clyde.

For most of us, Clyde is the epitome of style. Is being stylish important to you?

Frazier: You know, I think I have the gene. My dad was a good dresser. I can remember as a kid trying on his shoes and clothes. And then when I came to New York, that was the Mecca, man, for fashion, for everything. In college, at Southern Illinois, I wore penny loafers and button-down shirts, like everybody else. But when I came to New York, I saw how guys dressed on my team, as well as everybody else, and I got into it. What distinguished me was the hats. You know, once I bought that Clyde hat and the movie, "Bonnie and Clyde," came out, that catapulted me to the top.

Where are those clothes now? Do you still have them?

Frazier: I have them, but I can't get in them. Some of them, you know, actually the styles didn't change that much. Some of them would still look good, I think. Maybe not the bellbottom pants. But like Red Holzman used to say, "You keep 'em long enough, Clyde, they'll come back in style."

Shaquille O'Neal
Players such as Shaquille O'Neal, who don't try hard to eliminate their weaknesses, baffle Frazier.
3. As an announcer with the Knicks now, you have a reputation for being honest and saying what you think. Has that ever gotten you in trouble?

Frazier: Yeah, a lot of people think I'm too critical of certain players. Like say, I would say, "This guy can't shoot free throws ... that's despicable, it's inexplicable." This is your job, man. Personally, I think, if something is my profession, then not many people should be doing it better than me. So why should you, for example, be able to beat Shaquille O'Neal shooting free throws. He's a professional, but you can probably make more free throws than him consecutively. With the salaries of today's players, you don't need another job. This is it. So what do you do in the offseason, if you don't work on your weaknesses? A lot of them play golf, they do everything but work on their games.

When you said "despicable" and "inexplicable," that was a nice segue to my next question, which is, of course, that you're known for using a creative vocabulary on the air, and I wonder if you could tell me when and how your love for language began.

Frazier: See the thing is, when I started in TV, I was doing in-studio work, so you only have like two or three minutes to articulate your ideas, and you've got to get in and out, be concise and profound. It was the same way when I started on radio. Most of the guys on radio are accustomed to working alone, so they never let you say anything! You know, he's always talking and he goes, "Right, Walt?" and I go, "Right."

So I was like, man, look, my thing is, if I'm gonna do something, I have to have an impact. Otherwise I won't do it. I want to have fun, and be objective and efficient at what I do. So that's how I started with the words.

What do you do to build your vocabulary?

Frazier: I used to get the Sunday New York Times, the Arts and Leisure section, and I used to love the words when they critique plays, or whatever: "riveting," "mesmerizing," "provocative," "profound." And I used to write them down, in notebooks and note how they were utilized in a sentence. And then I just studied them. People think I'm a voracious reader, but the only thing I read are my words and phrases.

Do you keep a list next to you when you call a game?

Frazier: I used to have a list, but whenever I go on the road now, I just grab two or three of my books and review. The secret is review. Review, and linking. I call it linking and thinking. That's why I was able to rhyme them on the air, because I'd learned them in threes.

I was also fortunate that my girlfriend at the time was an English major. So before I used any words on the air, I asked her how to pronounce and use them. She'd hip me to the nuances of the words. The thing is, if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em. So I used to talk to my friends in regular life with these new words, and they'd say, "Hey, Clyde, save it for the radio." And my girlfriend and I, we'd try out words around the house, we'd insult each other and stuff. I'd go, "Come on, you're so discombobulated today!" and she'd go, "Hey, man, look at your ineptitude!"

What's the best new word you've learned recently?

Frazier: Epiphany. I've been working on "epiphany." I'm always on the lookout, too. I was riding along the other day and I saw a sign for The Church of Epiphany. I like that word. I like the sound of it. I have to like the sound, the alliteration of it.

Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier
The omnipotent Wilt Chamberlain gets the upper hand on Frazier, right, during the 1970 finals.
If you'll indulge me for a minute, I'd like to play Walt Frazier Word Association with you, using players' names.

Frazier: Yeah, all right.

Allen Iverson?

Frazier: Invincible.

Jason Kidd?

Frazier: Indomitable.

Kevin Garnett?

Frazier: Relentless.

Kobe Bryant?

Frazier: Massive improvisation

Dirk Nowitzki?

Frazier: Offensive juggernaut.

Jerry West?

Frazier: Mr. Efficiency.

Walt Frazier, Oscar Robertson
Walt Frazier defends Oscar Robertson, right, during the 1972 NBA All-Star Game.
Wilt Chamberlain?

Frazier: Omnipotent.

Tiny Archibald?

Frazier: Feline quickness.

Bill Bradley?

Lethal shooter.

Oscar Robertson?

Frazier: Consummate player.

4. Who are the cool players in today's NBA?

Frazier: Gary Payton has that poker look. He never reveals anything. Tracy McGrady. I think you're going to find that most of your superstars are that way. When the game is on the line, they relish that pressure moment. Like they say, they did this a thousand times in the driveway as a kid. Game on the line, last second shot -- yeah, it goes!

What do you enjoy most about today's game?

Frazier: The agility and mobility of these players. The average size is 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, and if you watch them from a distance, you'd think they were 5-11, maybe 6 feet tall, with the incredible things they do with their bodies. I'm mesmerized by that.

What don't you like about today's game?

Frazier: The lack of work ethic. Say a player can't shoot free throws today, he might stay in the league 10 years and he'll still be a poor free throw shooter. Guys really don't work on their weaknesses. That's what frustrates me.

Gary Payton
Gary Payton has the same cool poker look that Frazier had in his heyday.
5. What was your greatest strength as a player?

Frazier: Handling pressure. I was able to come up with a key play when the game was on the line.

You mentioned before the idea of working on weaknesses ...

Frazier: I had no weaknesses. I was faultless, the consummate player. I had an all-around game. That's why I like Jason Kidd, Gary Patyon. These guys ... they have no weaknesses.

You were one of the greatest defensive players of all-time. Who was the toughest player for you to cover?

Frazier: West, Robertson, Earl the Pearl. Probably Earl the Pearl was the toughest because he didn't know what he was going to do. So there was no way I knew (laughs). With Robertson, I knew that he was going to try to overwhelm me because he was so big. With West, he had a very quick first step, and he was going to look to shoot the jumper. But the Pearl could go any way at any time.

Were you just ecstatic when Monroe joined your team in 1972 and played with you instead of being someone you had to cover?

Frazier: Actually, I was ambivalent because I enjoyed my confrontations against him so much. This was a guy who was an offensive juggernaut, and I took a lot of pride in trying to contain him. Playing with him, though, I relished that too, because I saw another side of Earl -- that he was very team-oriented, which he did not display with the Bullets, because they didn't want him to, they just wanted him to score.

It was ironic -- on the court, he was flamboyant and off the court he was very quiet, and I was just the opposite. You know, I was flamboyant off the court and on the court I was somewhat conservative.

Walt Frazier and the 1970 Knicks
Frazier, second from left, celebrates the 1970 title with Dick Barnett, left, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere, right.
6. In most fans' minds, your greatest game was the night you went for 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals ...

Frazier: Yeah, but it was overshadowed by (Willis) Reed's heroics.

Does that ever bother you?

Frazier: At the time, it did, you know, because that was just my third year in the game. I was seeking notoriety and you just alluded to the numbers that I had -- this was the championship game, and to have that type of game ... and it was like an afterthought. I was very upset.

Does it bother you now?

Frazier: No. We mellow with age. Ironically, now I'm getting the recognition that I didn't get then. So, uh, you know, better late than never.

The story of that night is that Reed's presence really inspired your team and really rattled the Lakers ...

Frazier: Oh, unequivocally. If Willis didn't come out, I would not have had that game.

Is that right?

Frazier: Absolutely. He gave us the confidence we needed. The crowd ... the crowd propelled us to that win, man. They never shut up. They had us doing things we never thought we could do. My numbers attest to that -- 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds, four steals

Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot to mention the four steals before.

Frazier: Don't forget the steals (laughs).

Willis Reed
Everyone remembers Willis Reed's Game 7 entrance in 1970, but Frazier had the better game by far.
7. I know you're involved in a lot of charitable causes, and that you're currently working with Just For Men haircolor on a benefit sweepstakes ...

Frazier: Yeah, we formed a team to help kids, to help people look good, and also we're doing good by helping kids in general and my Walt Frazier Youth foundation in particular (www.waltfrazieryouthfoundation.org).

Do you think athletes have a responsibility to be involved in social issues and causes like that?

Frazier: Well, I do. You know, because of my background, being the oldest of nine, I've always felt responsible for kids and liked kids. I feel compelled to give back. Throughout my career, kids supported me, they bought my books, they attended my camps. They made me feel special. You know, they made me feel like Clyde was it. So I would be an ingrate if I didn't do something. I've been out of the game for 20 years, but there are still kids out there who need help and they still view me as a role model.

8. Do you still play ball at all?

Frazier: Why, are you challenging me? (laughs)

Oh no. No, sir, though if that's an invitation, I'm on a plane right now.

Frazier: Yeah, I play a little. During the summer, I still do camps with kids. I suit up. You know, the kids are like between the ages of 11 and 16, so I kind of dominate that 11- and 12-year-old group.

Is that how you stay fit -- doing those camps?

Frazier: Well, I'm a health and fitness zealot, man. I watch my diet. I work out at least four or five times a week. I do yoga. I'm really into fitness. I think my appearance is very important, especially when I'm promoting something, and I'm still in the limelight as an announcer. That kind of thing galvanizes me to try to stay fit.

And when I'm around young guys, too, they have an impact on me. I want to keep up. And sometimes I see old films of me in my playing days and I just go, "Man, I was, I mean, look at my body!" I want to get that body back. Right now, I'm compelled to get this six-pack in my abs. I'm working diligently to get a six-pack.

9. Speaking of young guys, the NBA playoffs are going on now. What's the biggest difference between playoff basketball and regular-season basketball?

Frazier: The biggest difference is mental. At this level, everyone has talent. And again, we allude to pressure. The playoffs are all about pressure, making adjustments, and it wears on you. It's a perpetual roller coaster. When you win you're up, when you lose, you're down. The cynicism, the criticism, the hoopla, you know, the pageantry. Everything the NBA values comes in the playoffs. This is what you play for.

Who do you think will win the NBA title this year?

Frazier: I'm going with the Kings. I don't have too many people, other than the people in Sacramento, who agree with me because everyone thinks that the Lakers are going to repeat. But I think the Kings, because they have the home-court advantage, could prevail.

10. Quickness was a big part of your game on the court, but when I was reading your 1974 book "Rockin' Steady," I came across a section in which you talk about catching flies out of the air.

Frazier: What happened was, I used to do camps all the time, right, so one particular day we were outside the mess hall waiting to go in and, you know, I'm like the Pied Piper, wherever I go there are always 10 or 12 kids gathering around me. So I'm sitting there, and I swat at some flies, and I knew I had one, but it turned out I caught two! I had two in my hands, and I shook them up so they'd get dizzy, and then I threw them down onto the ground. And everybody was like, "Hey man, Clyde can catch flies!" So that perpetuated the myth right there, man.

Can you still do it? Are you still that quick?

Frazier: Well, now I tell people that the flies know about me, so they don't come around. But you know, in that book, I demonstrated how to catch them. Because, you see, flies fly horizontally. If you reach straight up, you're not going to catch them. You have to swing horizontally, and then they'll just fly into your hands.

You also say in the book that at some point you anticipated that you would "just go back to being plain Walt Frazier," rather than "Clyde." Did that happen?

Frazier: Yeah, that happened when I was traded from New York to Cleveland in 1977. I often equate that to being shipped to Siberia. When I went there, I became Walt again because when there are eight inches of snow on the ground, there's no place I want to go. So I would stay at home, I used to sit in my living room, something I never did in New York.

And at that point, I'd played 10 years and I knew I was only going to play one or two more. I started to read a lot of self-help books, and I reverted back to Walt, and I'm still that person.

Clyde is dormant. Sometimes he shows up, but he rarely shows his face these days. Except in dress, you know, because I'm still on the air, so I still dress with Clyde.

Was that Clyde I saw at halftime on TNT the other night?

Frazier: Yeah, that was a Clyde suit that night. But see, after the show, Clyde went home, took a bath, and went to sleep. He wasn't out on the town like the old days.