Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Walt “Clyde” Frazier

Posted on February 10, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Walt Frazier

Walt Frazier

Imagine if you played the best game of your career to lead your team to victory in the seventh game of an NBA Championship Series and yet when historians discuss the game you get little mention as they spend most of their time talking about someone who scored only four points in the game and could barely get up and down the court.

Such is the case for the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month for February, Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

To most, the defining image of the 1970 NBA Finals between the New York Knickerbockers and Los Angeles Lakers is that of New York center Willis Reed limping out of the locker room prior to game seven and then hitting two baskets that set the tone for the Knicks ultimate victory over a powerhouse Lakers team that included Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
However, while Reed’s performance provided the emotional lift the Knicks needed, it was Frazier who dominated the game on the court.

Frazier scored 22 points in the first half as New York raced out to a 61-37 lead. The Knicks point guard finished the game with 36 points and 19 assists as New York claimed their first-ever championship with a 113-99 victory.

While Reed may have received all the attention during the 1970 run to the NBA Championship, there was no doubt who made the New York Knicks go during the 1970s.

Known for both his offensive and defensive prowess, Walt Frazier was an integral part of a Knicks team that made three trips to the NBA Finals and claimed the only two titles in franchise history. He was a four-time first team All-NBA selection and was an All-Defensive team pick seven times.

On the court, Frazier directed the show and often yielded the spotlight to his well-known teammates, including Reed, Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

Walt "Clyde" Frazier was known as the coolest and best dressed player in the NBA during the 1970s.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier was known as the coolest and best dressed player in the NBA during the 1970s.

However, off the court Frazier’s flamboyant sense of style and classic smile put him in a class with only “Broadway Joe” Namath as the most recognized New York City sports figures of the era. Nicknamed “Clyde” after wearing a similar hat to one that Warren Beatty had worn while portraying folk hero robber Clyde Barrow in the popular 1960s movie Bonnie and Clyde, Frazier was known for his flashy wardrobe and for arriving to games in his Rolls Royce.

Frazier’s Madison Square Garden debut in 1967 was a memorable one that proved to be foreshadowing for his decade of success with the Knicks.

A high school standout in Atlanta, Frazier attended Southern Illinois University and was a Division II All-American in 1964 and 1965. He led SIU to the 1967 National Invitational Tournament (NIT), played at Madison Square Garden, and was named tournament MVP as they defeated Marquette 71-56 to win the title.

The Knicks chose Frazier with the fifth pick in the 1967 NBA Draft and he went on to earn All-Rookie Team honors during his initial season in New York.

As part of a talented young nucleus, Frazier helped the Knicks snap a streak of eight straight losing seasons during his first season with the squad. They won 54 games while reaching the Eastern Division Finals the next season and then during the 1969-70 season won a franchise record 60 games and the first championship in team history.

The Knicks lost the NBA Finals to the Lakers in 1972, but won the rematch the following season for their second title in four years. Frazier spent 10 seasons with the Knicks and averaged 19.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during that stretch.

He completed his career with three injury-plagued seasons for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since his retirement, Frazier has remained visible in New York as a color commentator for Knicks games on the MSG Network. He also has appeared in a number of national commercials, most notably as a spokesman for Just for Men.

He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.

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