Nobody represents Knicks success quite the way Walt "Clyde" Frazier does.
The 1987 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee made seven All-Star games and won two NBA titles with the Knicks, cementing his legacy as the team's greatest point guard. Now a color analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Breen on MSG Network, Frazier spoke with amNew York on a slew of popular topics about the NBA:
I talked with Mike Breen a couple weeks ago. He said he idolized you when he was a kid growing up in New York, and that now he's happy to call you a friend.
Yeah, he helped me in my broadcasting career, man. When we started, he gave me more ways to talk than a normal color guy on radio. From Day 1, when we did our first mock game, we had chemistry and it continued. But I have to say kudos to Mike for allowing me to have a little bit more freedom than the regular color analyst.
What's your assessment of the Knicks?
Consistency, man. Can they continue to make the 3-ball? When the Knicks are making the 3-ball, they can beat anybody. Obviously, Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] has come out of his funk.
What player other than Amar'e is most critical to their success?
[Raymond] Felton. He's the orchestrator; he's got to create and get the ball to the right guys. Also, your first line of defense starts with the backcourt. So, he's that type of guy — very tenacious. [Toney] Douglas has been consistent, too. He's been around the 15-point average coming off the bench, which is crucial. He brings that defensive intensity, as well.
Do you prefer Wilson Chandler coming off the bench or in the starting lineup?
Well, I'm like Coach [Mike D'Antoni]. I don't think it matters; he's better off the bench because if they need instant offense he can provide it. He's still playing the same minutes, whether he's starting or coming off the bench. I thought it might affect him, but he doesn't seem to be bothered whether he comes off the bench or starts the game. Whereas with Gallo, I don't think he could handle coming off the bench. I think he's gonna be more efficient as a starter.
How fierce was trash talking on the court when you played?
You know, our philosophy was let a sleeping dog lie. [Laughs] You don't want to wake him up, man. You're killing the team. You don't do anything to arouse him. We played with more savvy than the guys today. Like, the Celtics used to beat you by 40 points and they'd say 'Oh Clyde, how's the wife, how are the kids?' [Laughs] They didn't talk trash while they were pounding on you. These guys today are dunking and yelling and screaming. Everybody has pride. But you had a few guys who would trash talk. Just none of the elite players or the elite teams wanted to do that. Even [former Knicks head coach] Red Holtzman would tell us not to do it, man. Don't wake these guys up, man, just keep killing them. Don't do that.
The difference between then and now is pretty stark.
The difference between then and now is ESPN. [Laughs] You know how much more flamboyant they are. They gotta be on SportsCenter, man. They want to be seen. And being controversial is worth money. You can be T.O. [Terrell Owens], these guys who are en vogue with the networks. Those are the guys that get the jobs — the controversial players.
How would you fare with today's in-game rules?
Well, the new rule in respecting the game is trying to make everyone Walt Frazier. When I played, I was unflappable. I never showed emotion. I never received a technical in 13 years. I never talked back to the officials; I never did any of that. That was part of my game. I was always cool and calm and looking to exploit the opposition when they lost their cool, when they started to unravel. So, that was pretty much our team. We played with savvy and the exploitation of the weaknesses of other teams.
How would you play with today's perimeter rules, e.g. no hand-checking on defense?
The game is easier today. I was telling people I could probably average three or four more points a game without the hand-check rule, when guys could literally push you around the court. That was one of the transitions you had to make as a rookie. Getting constantly shoved by guys without a foul being called.
Back to the emphasis on technical fouls this season. Where do you stand on that topic?
I thought it was necessary. There was too much complaining. But there has to be a happy medium. Right now, there's hostility with the players and officials. It's not good for the game. You can't take the emotion away from players. Sometimes it's an emotional reaction not to what the foul was but the guy did something foolish. So, he might be reprimanding himself. But now he gets penalized for that. I think the [NBA] is going to have a meeting to make it amenable for both sides.
Isiah Thomas recently told ESPN.com that he wants to return to the Knicks. If he were to come back do you think he would make a positive impact on the Knicks?
Hopefully. [Laughs.] If he comes back, I hope he does. I remember Isiah when he first came here. He said, 'Hey Clyde, I want to get this place back to how you guys had it.' He wanted to do the right thing, and he made a lot of moves. It just didn't work out for him.
It's been tough for several great players to make a successful transition to running a ballclub. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isiah. Is it more difficult for great players to be team executives?
I would think it's easier because they know talent. This league is a player's league. If they get the right players, they can be successful. Isiah was trying to get the players; Bird is trying now in Indiana. Jerry West was a very successful guy because he had the Lakers. He got the right players at the right time. It takes time with a little luck thrown in as well.
This Knicks team is exciting. When will you know that the energy in Madison Square Garden is akin to when you played and during the '90s?
When Mike is saying something and I can't hear him. [Laughs] Also back to the Chicago days with Jordan and Ewing, and Starks going in for the dunk. The Garden is reverberating. You'll know. When the fans are standing and doing the National Anthem, they can't wait. You can feel the adrenaline in the arena. It's starting to come because they're anticipating something this year with Amar'e and the way this team is playing. They have to become a more dominant home team. You're talking about the World's Most Famous Arena. Teams come in here too relaxed now. They no longer come feeling the Garden and the crowd. The Knicks have to get back to that.
Do you want me to call you Walt or Clyde?
Clyde, most people call me Clyde.