13 February 2013

Clyde Frazier: Poet and Superfly Style

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I grew up a Knicks fan, but I was too young to remember Walt "Clyde" Frazier playing in a Knicks' uniform. By the time I started watching Knicks games, Clyde was on the sidelines as a member of the media. He announced the games for the radio as a "color commentator" and eventually transitioned into television. The golden era of Knicks broadcasting occurred when Clyde announced games along side the legendary Marv Albert. If you thought Clyde and Earl Monroe were a devastating backcourt duo, then Clyde and Marv were equally stupendous.

My first memories of Clyde happened on the radio. In the early 80s before cable TV, not every Knicks game was aired on TV, so I spent a lot of nights listening to games on a transistor radio. Clyde was the funny guy with a lush vocabulary. I remember asking my father about Clyde's knack for big words. My father didn't give a short answer, rather it was a complicated one. He explained that athletes sometimes become broadcasters because they love the game so much and that networks like to hire former professional athletes because they can give a better perspective into the game. However, most athletes didn't study much in college because they were there to play ball and win games, whereas, the average sports announcer went to college to study journalism and/or broadcasting. My father specifically pointed to Syracuse University and said that all the premier sports broadcasters got their degree from Syracuse. Bottom line... Clyde and other athletes seeking jobs in the media were at a slight disadvantage because they didn't go to college and study to become broadcasters, rather they went to school to play ball. Clyde wanted to be good at his job, but needed a crash course so he scoured The New York Times and he circled words in the dictionary he didn't know. Clyde expanded his vocabulary in order to become a better radio announcer.

My father used Clyde's story to get me to 1) read New York Times, and 2) use the dictionary to expand my vocabulary. My father was very adamant about the differences in newspapers and said the tabloids (Daily News and NY Post) were inferior to The New York Times. I was encouraged to read every section of the behemoth Sunday edition of the Times with a dictionary nearby. We had a big blue Websters dictionary with super thin pages that my father had acquired from college in the 1950s. Just like Clyde, I was never shy about looking up stuff I did not understand. Looking back from today's perspective, I realize it's the little things that helped put me on the path to becoming a writer.

When Clyde announced games on the radio, I occasionally had to look up a word like auspicious, effervescent, neophyte, and serendipitous. My favorite Clyde word was "percolate." I was somewhat familiar with that word because my mother had a coffee machine that was called the Percolator. Instead of being baffled by mixing coffee cliches with basketball announcing, I looked up percolate in the dictionary and discovered it had multiple meanings... lively activity or gradually coming to life.

Clyde Frazier announced the Knicks games on radio for over a decade and occasionally filled in for TV before he became a part of the full-time TV crew for the MSG Network in 1997. On the radio, you couldn't see what Clyde wore, but TV audiences got to see Clyde's unique fashion style. Clyde, ever the ladies' man, wore outrageous outfits and tested the elasticity of fashion. Clyde was one of the best basketball players in NYC in the 1970s and he embraced the era of Superfly by often dressing up like an uptown coke dealer. Clyde's flamboyant outfits were completely outrageous (often with alligator boots), but he had style and panache. Only Clyde could get away with it without coming off like a total goofball. 

When Clyde got a little older, his outfits got a little more absurd. An old guy in mutton chops shouldn't be dressing up like a pimp, but Clyde stayed true to himself. These days, Clyde's outfits have become an integral part of the Knicks pre-game show because you tuned in early on to see what Clyde was wearing. Did he go for a classy look? 1920s gangster-pinstripes? Or did he opt for full-blown retro-Suerfly?

Over the years, I've grown to appreciate Clyde the poet, mixing slang with high-brow vocabulary words. But my favorite Clyde-like phrases involved his ability to rhyme hoops phrases...
Dishin' and swishin'
Hustlin' and bustlin'
Wheelin' and dealin'
Postin' and toastin' 
And if you read this site frequently, you know I like to over-use the phrase "Swiss Cheese D." Well, you can blame Clyde for that.

Grantland recently posted a short documentary film about Clyde Fazier. Check out Disdain the Mundane.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Awesome...loves to hear about where Clyde's unique choice of words came from.