Last month saw the rerelease of Knicks legend and color man Clyde Frazier’s 1974 autobiography/life manual Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool. He had a book signing Tuesday at the NBA Store, where we sent mega-Knicks fan Martin Bell, a founding member of the Stephen A. Smith Heckling Society of Gentlemen, to chat with him about the book, this year’s team, NBA history, and a potential new rhyming catchphrase.
As someone who spent an entire year trying to find this book, I couldn’t be happier. Why reprint it now?
I think the publisher who read the book was enthralled with it, thought it was very relevant to what is going on today, and I was delighted, of course, that something I did 35 years ago, they’d want to bring it back. I think it’s good because a lot of kids today know me as the Knick announcer, so this will give them some insight into me as a ball player. For me, it’s a revelation that I had the foresight long ago to be into health and fitness. One of the first guys who started weight training, vitamins, the exercise craze when it wasn’t really in vogue. And I always had a passion for fashion, being in the mecca of New York City. I can remember as a rookie I wasn’t playing well, and to pacify myself I always bought clothes. I’d go in my room and look in the mirror and go, “Well, I still look good.” So then I bought the hat, and that’s when it all started, and right after that I started to play better on the court. The media focused on this guy’s dressing, and then the championship, the Rolls Royce, the fur coats, and the rest of the stuff that I got into. But I was just having fun. I was like 25, 27 years of age in the world’s greatest city, and on a winning team, and I was just doing what I wanted to do. It wasn’t like we sat in a room today like they do now and we have a team saying, “Well, this is going to be our brand, we’re going to do this and do that.” I was just out having fun, being myself.
It seems like you were ahead of your time in another respect, which is that this is a time when a lot of players from various sports, and even Broadway Joe Namath, have Twitter accounts, where they’ll share a lot about what they happen to think about life, about their interests, electronically. You did a similar thing in a very candid way in Rockin’ Steady 35 years ago, and talked about everything from how you dress and train to how to catch a fly with one hand. Have you thought about ways to reach out to fans aside from the book? Have you thought about a Twitter account or anything like that?
You know, I tell my friends, “I don’t text, and I don’t vex.” I’m like in the Stone Age, man. I’m not into that, because I see it as … I don’t want to get hooked at this point. I see my colleagues, and if you took away their … What do you call it? I can’t even think of the name. [A bystander chimes in “BlackBerry.”] Yeah. If you took that away, they wouldn’t know which way to turn, man. I just don’t wanna be that way. And relating what I do every day, I think I’m a more private person. I think I’m satisfied with the impact I’ve had. And I’ll rest on my legacy, whatever it was, that’s what it’s going to be. The only thing that I do now is, there are some kids that I can help along the way. I’m concerned and going into the schools, talking about abstinence from drugs and alcohol. But other than that, I’m pretty happy with my legacy and not embellishing it in any way, especially electronically with iPods and emails and all the other stuff that’s out there now.
With the LeBron James situation having worked out the way it did, folks like Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are being applauded for having actually been brave enough to sign with New York. Is that surprising to you? Absurd? Should New York have a more difficult time signing talent because people fear the spotlight?
When I played, everyone wanted to play in New York or L.A. or Chicago because of the outside interests. I was the first guy to endorse a sneaker. And you could have a life after basketball where you could go into broadcasting or dealing with the corporations on Wall Street. But today the players make so much money, so that’s not important anymore. You can make more money not playing in New York — it’s not as expensive.
A lot of the story of the past few weeks has been Raymond Felton finding a comfort zone with himself, and on the pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire. What have you seen that’s improved since the beginning of the season, and do you think he’s hit his ceiling as the point guard for this team?
Well, Felton had a poor season last year. Obviously, he’s having a career year the way he’s going. I think it’s because of discipline and motivation. He knew last season that he had had a mediocre season and had something to prove. [The Bobcats] got rid of him. He’s having a sensational season and actually is playing at an All-Star level. The same with Amar’e, and they’ve developed a nice chemistry now with the pick-and-roll play. But to me, Felton has done more, man. He’s a very good defender, which I didn’t know about before, and I think [Monday’s Minnesota game] was indicative of that. He took [Luke Ridnour] out of the game. The guy couldn’t even get the ball. And that caused havoc on their offense, because now the big guys were trying to orchestrate and turning the ball over. I thought he was very instrumental in turning the game around with his defense.
Do you communicate much with current players, particularly with the guards?
People are flabbergasted when I tell them that only three Knick players have ever asked me anything.
Who are the three?
Greg Anthony, Larry Johnson, and now, Toney Douglas, I’ve had sort of a rapport with him. Today’s players see an old player like me, and they say, “That was then and this is now.” To me, basketball a hundred years from now will still be about teamwork, defense, playing with savvy. But today’s players, I don’t know. They’ve kinda lost it that way. I remember when I was young, anytime I could be around Oscar Robertson or Jerry West, I was sitting there like a little kid, in awe. Especially my first All-Star game, I remember sitting in the locker room. I didn’t say a word. I was just mesmerized that Wilt Chamberlain was sitting there, Bill Russell, all of those guys. I just sat in the background, man. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream come true for me. So I was trying to learn anything I could from those particular players. But I think today’s players, that’s one of the benefits they do not capitalize on. A lot of players are not even privy to the history of the game. They don’t really know the former players, they only know Dr. J and they go forward from there. I mean, some of them know me vaguely, but they’re not that familiar — one time, David Lee came up to me and said, “Man, I can’t believe in one game you had 36 points and 19 rebounds …” And that’s the greatest game in Knick history! There’s a guy that’s on the Knicks that wasn’t even familiar with that. I think it’s hurt the game, that a lot of the players are not students of the game. I can go all the way back to George Mikan, I know the history, when basketball first started. That was something I was really into, the history of the game. And I think the NBA should embellish the former players more. There’s no tie with the former guys, you rarely see them talking about the Knick championship or players two decades ago who helped make the game what it is today.
Before we have to go, have you ever considered using the phrase “feckless and reckless”?
“Feckless and reckless.” What would that be?
If somebody’s driving down the lane and they’re both inept and out of control, they’re feckless and reckless.
Oh, that’s a good one. People are always sending me different rhymes … You might hear it.
Roll it around.
I might not give you credit for it, but you might hear it.