Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cooler Still

The New Yorker has a Talk of the Town piece about Walt "Clyde" Frazier, the former New York Knicks star, and his new restaurant "Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine," at which he arrived for a menu tasting "wearing shoes of lizard skin and lapels a shade brighter than a legal pad."

Some things never change.  Here's the piece I wrote about Frazier last year:

Still Cool

"Everyone has a certain rhythm that he dribbles to."  -- Walt Frazier
One of the great things about growing up on Long Island was the ability to ride the LIRR with friends to Penn Station at a relatively young age, go upstairs to Madison Square Garden, and watch a Knick game.  When I was a kid, in the late 60s-early 70s, the Knicks were an amazing team, and going to the Garden was truly magical.  The Knicks won two World Championships (1970 and 1973), and revolutionized the game by emphasizing the importance of team play and defense ("Dee-Fence").  The team included some remarkable personalities -- Dollar (later Senator) Bill Bradley, Earl the Pearl Monroe, Willis (The Captain) Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and my all-time favorite player, Walt "Clyde' Frazier.

Clyde was one of the greatest defensive players in basketball history, often dramatically stealing the ball while the opposing player appeared to be dribbling past him.  But he was an offensive force as well, a great passer and a clutch scorer.  His greatest performance was probably Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.  While an injured Willis Reed made his iconic, inspirational appearance, it was Frazier who took control of the game, scoring 36 points with 19 assists, to lead the Knicks to their first World Championship.

Clyde defined what it meant to be cool.  On the court he couldn't be ruffled, he never showed emotion, he was cool.  Off the court, he was completely different -- outrageous and flamboyant -- but that was also cool because of his complete confidence in expressing who he was.  He was nicknamed "Clyde" because of his wide-brimmed hat which looked like one Warren Beatty wore in Bonnie and Clyde.  He drove a Rolls Royce, wore full length mink coats and flashy suits.  

In 1974, he published a book which I still cherish:  "Rockin' Steady:  A guide to basketball and cool."

It was mostly about basketball, but also included his wardrobe inventory (with such categories as knots, kicks and lids) and had "a general guide to looking good, and other matters," in which he revealed grooming secrets, demonstrated how to catch a fly (with techniques for when the fly "is in a sitting position" and in midair), and stressed the importance of "being your own man." All things a 14 year old needed to know.

And, of course, there were the sneakers:  "Puma Clydes"

The New York Times' just published a profile on Frazier, who is currently an announcer for the Knicks.  (Walt Frazier -- Always in Style.)  It is wonderfully reassuring that after all these years, Walt Frazier has a "menagerie of 100 or so suits that hang on five racks and with patterns of tiger stripes and leopard spots; designs of bold plaids and checks; and colors of yellow, red, salmon and orange," including the one pictured above, a polyester cow-print suit with brown-and-black splotches.


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