The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Bridge. Each an iconic New York institution with a style and grace all its own.
And then there is Walt “Clyde” Frazier, whose name remains as synonymous with Gotham as it was nearly 40 years ago, when the Knicks last raised a championship banner to Madison Square Garden’s rafters. Frazier, the point guard on the only two Knicks teams to ever win an NBA title, has been the team’s TV color analyst since 1997. Before that, the man who made phrases such as “swishing and dishing,” “posting and toasting” and “bounding and astounding” was the Knicks’ radio announcer.
A recent sit-down with Clyde — he with the career per-game-averages of 18.9 points, 5.9 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals — shone even more light on one of the NBA’s most colorful characters.
The first thing you notice — beyond the fact that Frazier inexplicably manages to pull off a sport coat presumably made of Del Boca Vista clubhouse drapery — is how he exudes confidence. Sure, everyone knows Clyde’s fashion lights up the room, but it is more his attentiveness and sincerity that are so immediately striking. Perhaps that’s why it should surprise no one that the Hall of Famer — and one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players — still relishes the opportunity to mingle with fans. That’s part of the reason why now, having just turned 67, he’s decided to open his own restaurant, Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine, in Manhattan.
“It’s not something I did overnight. I thought long and hard about it,” said Frazier. “I haven’t played in over 30 years, so it’s tantamount to my popularity calling Knicks games. A new breed of younger fans know me now, they like my style.”
For Clyde, it’s not all about style, though. It may seem odd, but the man who’s made a second career out of rhyming and timing actually uses the restaurant to keep himself busy during the day. “Before, when there was no game, I basically stayed in bed all day. Now, with Wine and Dine, people expect me to be there,” he said. “It’s funny — I used to be all dressed up with nowhere to go, but that’s not a problem anymore.”
When it comes to success in his new venture, Frazier is all business, third-person references notwithstanding. “Clyde gets ’em in the door, but the food brings ’em back. This isn’t just some sports bar — we’re getting rave reviews,” he said. It might not be a sports bar, but how many restaurants have their own dedicated free-throw room where you can challenge one of the greats to a little one-on-one?
It always seems to come back to basketball for Clyde, but that doesn’t mean that’s always a good thing. One gets the distinct impression that although Frazier still loves the game and enjoys staying connected to it, it is almost as if he is saddened by the way the players comport themselves nowadays.
“These guys aren’t students of the game,” he said. “They may know me (and the other greats) vaguely, but I can name all of the players that came before me. The Knicks players now don’t even know that their franchise was dominant in the ’70s.”
Perhaps that is why Frazier never got into coaching. As is the case for so many elite athletes, the ability to instill the very same qualities that made them great in another player can be elusive. Not that the Knicks’ organization ever asked him to try. “I would have only wanted to coach in New York, and I never got the opportunity.” All the blame doesn’t rest with management, either. Not one player on the Knicks’ roster has reached out to Frazier for guidance. Not Jeremy Lin — whom he thinks is for real — not rookie Iman Shumpert, not struggling Toney Douglas and not the reportedly erudite Baron Davis. Anyone else might feel slighted, but Clyde — who spends offseasons working on his St. Croix estate (replete with rental properties) and sailing around the Caribbean — seems to take things in stride.
He has his opinions, though, and he offered his thoughts on several topics surrounding his former team.
On deposed coach Mike D’Antoni (who could probably use a week or two in St. Croix at this point): “I was surprised, I liked him and was sad it didn’t work out for him.” That is not to say Frazier was sold on D’Antoni’s approach. “My rings are predicated on (defense), and I am indelibly etched in that style. Offense is capricious. Some nights the ball just won’t go in, but when you bring it on the defensive end, when you’re not shooting well, it can carry you. Every championship team needs a blend (of offense and defense).”
On the oft-criticized Carmelo Anthony: “He’s one of the most prolific scorers I have ever seen. Sometimes his shot selection is poor, but I’m as baffled as every one else as to why he’s struggled this season.” Clyde didn’t read too much into Anthony’s controversial recent comments about his effort, either. “Look, he makes $18M a year, but when you’re on the court, it’s about pride. It has nothing to do with problems with the coach, it’s about what’s inside you during the heat of battle. I have never felt like ‘Melo was dogging it or that he wasn’t giving it 100%.”
As for the Knicks’ other superstar player, the injured Amar’e Stoudemire, Frazier seems to have developed a fondness for the man who brought legitimacy back to the franchise by signing with the Knicks in 2010. “It’s devastating,” Clyde laments with respect to the loss of Stoudemire, “I get sad about it. I can’t believe this has happened.” Ironically, Frazier once suffered from a bad back during the 1975-’76 season, missing over 30 games, but he credits yoga for a speedy recovery and says he “hasn’t had a problem since.”
If and when Amar’e does return to the Knicks, count Clyde as one who believes that Stoudemire and Anthony can be successful together — “[If] they want to. Like with me and Earl the Pearl, they said it would never work, but we made it work.” Prescient advice? Conventional wisdom suggests that Stoudemire and Anthony are too similar, that they occupy the same floor space. Frazier doesn’t buy it. “They have to check their egos to ensure that the team can succeed. That means playing in the team concept, sacrificing and playing defense.” It’s no wonder neither of the Knicks max players have gone to the legend for advice, they might not like what they hear.
Fortunately for Knicks fans, hearing Clyde opine as they “wine ‘n dine” is but a dinner reservation away.
Clyde’s Wine and Dine is located at 485 10th Avenue, New York, NY, (212) 842-1110. Reservations are recommended.
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