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April 17, 2014

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NBA SUMMER LEAGUE:

Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier smooth as ever

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Sam Morris

Walt Frazier calls the action from the sidelines during a contest between the Knicks and Grizzlies on Wednesday afternoon at Cox Pavilion. Frazier averaged 18.9 points per game during a 13-year NBA career from 1967 to 1980. Frazier was known just as much for his style as he was for his skill.

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Walt Frazier was known as much for his style as he was for his well-rounded game during his prime in the early and mid-1970s.

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New York Knicks great Walt 'Clyde' Frazier at the 2009 NBA Summer League.

Las Vegas sweltered in triple-digit heat Wednesday. Walt Frazier, as cool as ever, didn’t drop a bead of sweat.

As he does everywhere he goes, his presence added a measure of class and respect to the NBA Summer League at Cox Pavilion.

Wearing an untucked black polo shirt, fuschia shorts and white hand-woven leather slip-ons, “Clyde” glided across the bubbling Cox asphalt to the New York Knicks’ team bus.

He has had the same easy gait and cool demeanor for decades, since he went to New York and helped the Knicks win NBA championships in 1970 and 1973.

Wednesday, the only accessories that were missing included a Borsalino hat, a full-length mink and the Rolls Royce.

That’s how Frazier typically showed up for games at Madison Square Garden.

“A lot of these guys today credit me as the first guy with the bling,” Frazier said. “That was part of the fun of being in New York then. We were winning, and we had that hoopla back in the 1970s.

“The Garden was always sold out – 19,000 people. We were kind of ahead of our time. New York is the mecca, and in those days everybody dressed up. All the guys wore suits.”

Frazier, known as “Clyde," took some style notes from Willis Reed and Dick Barnett, but he found his signature fashion statement as a rookie.

“What set me apart was ‘the Clyde hat,’” Frazier said. “I wasn’t playing well, so in order to pacify myself I always bought clothes. I happened to be in Baltimore and I was looking in a store window.

“This hat was a Borsalino, a brown velour hat. The first hat I bought. Once I got that, then the Rolls and the fur coats started happening. It was a fun time.”

The Borsalino is an Italian-made fedora made from Belgian rabbit. He earned the nickname because the hat resembled the one Warren Beatty wore, as Clyde Barrow, in the 1967 movie "Bonnie and Clyde."

Frazier, 64, still owns every mink he ever wore.

“My body has changed,” he said. “But they put in new felts and pelts, so they were good investments.”

Frazier, one of the game’s legendary point guards, was a fantastic investment for the Knicks for 10 years and the Cleveland Cavaliers for three seasons.

He averaged 18.9 points and about 6 rebounds and 6 assists – he also turned steals into an art form – during a career in which he made less than $3 million.

A Knicks radio broadcaster for six years before he started doing television commentary for the team 12 years ago, Frazier talks about scrubs these days who double in one season what he made in his career.

He worked New York’s defeat to Detroit early Wednesday afternoon.

“Ball boys make that now,” said Frazier, laughing, about his career earnings. “Fans are so rabid about the game, and merchandising and television contracts enabled guys to make extraordinary money that we never had the opportunity to.”

Frazier has done quite well, thank you, with the Puma shoe that bears his “Clyde” nickname and is in its third decade of production.

He’s still in the national spotlight, too, with the “Just for Men” hair-care products commercials he does with former New York Mets star Keith Hernandez.

Asked how he’d fare in today’s game, the 6-foot-4 Hall of Famer deferred to the youngsters.

“The guys are so much bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “It would be a mismatch. They’d be taking us inside, because the average height of an NBA player today is 6-7.

“They had Willis Reed listed at 6-9. He’d be more of a ‘three’ (small forward) than a center today. That’s really the evolution of the game.”

C’mon, Clyde. Today’s group could beat you and Reed and Dave DeBusschere and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe?

“We could shoot the ball better,” Frazier said. “The guys these days are not as good at shooting, especially the mid-range jumper. Today, the game is dunks and ‘threes.’

“With the fundamentals, too, like the pick-and-roll and backdoor players, they’re not as adept at those as we were.”

He marvels how the game has evolved. Frazier never signed an autograph in high school and he never had a press conference at Southern Illinois.

“Even when I went to the Knicks, there was hardly any hoopla,” he said. “There was no ESPN. That’s catapulted everything today.”

To emphasize his point, Frazier, the oldest of nine children who grew up in Atlanta, attended his first NBA game when he took part in his first game with the Knicks.

He said it’s a blessing to still be so close to the game he loves. Many of his peers aren’t, he lamented. Then again, Frazier revealed the substance behind the style that has made him a pro in a second field.

Initially, his laid-back style didn’t play well on the airwaves. Nerves jumbled his thoughts. He’d stumble in mid-sentence.

“I worked diligently to improve my vocabulary,” he said. “I had to master vocabulary. I had to be assertive. Now, I love speaking engagements. I can talk to the president or little kids, doesn’t matter. It has propelled my life.

“No matter what type of day I’ve had, when I get behind the mic, I’m oblivious to everything.”

Walt Frazier often gets the same undivided attention when he’s in the house.

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