The New York Knicks had just lost to Golden State, but Walt Frazier, as usual, had things well under control. Back at the Oakland motel where he and his Knick teammates were staying, Frazier joined some friends in the cocktail lounge. He finished off a glass or two of wine and danced with one of the women in the group, a comely brunette. The party was still going strong when Frazier abruptly got up and announced grandly, "I'm going to have a bowl of granola and go to sleep."
Now you see him, now you don't. Same thing on the basketball court. He goes half-speed for a few steps and you think you have a fix on him, and then suddenly he has the ball out of your hands or is past you for two points. He is Clyde, remember, the Knicks' wily, wisecracking man about town. It is scarcely any secret that Walt Frazier drives a Rolls-Royce, that not long ago he moved into a 45th-floor apartment on New York's East Side, a 7�-room spread that he is now sprucing up with a pool table and sauna. The apartment has a dozen closets which are already so crowded with velour suits, flowing capes and the like that Frazier has to hang his $5,000 black ranch mink coat in one of the bathrooms.
On the other hand, there are intriguing signs that Frazier is reducing the voltage of his storied life-style. In recent months he has taken to smoking a pipe. He has also been seen now and then wearing neckties. His new apartment is done in beiges and browns, a far cry from the dominant lavender of his previous place. He still sleeps in a mink-covered round bed, but the nine-foot mirror that was on the ceiling of his old bedroom is gone. As for choosing granola over brunettes, Frazier allows, "After playing one game in an evening, I sometimes don't feel like playing another."
The fact is that Walt Frazier will turn 30 next month and he is starting to look, sound and act just a tad venerable. Standing the other evening at his living-room window, his trimmed beard silhouetted like a hedgerow against the illuminated Manhattan skyline, Frazier said softly, "I've always picked my spots. I still like to rip and run but I know I can't go like I used to and still play good ball."
Now in his eighth NBA season, Frazier has reached a crossroads of sorts. With the retirements this year of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, it is permissible at long last to say unequivocally that he is the best all-round guard in pro basketball, stature he underscored by winning the MVP award in last month's NBA All-Star Game. And with the departures of Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere, Frazier is the most prominent link to the Knick teams that won two NBA championships and awakened fans—or at least New York sportswriters—to the joys of team defense and hitting the open man. Just now the Knicks are barely above .500 and struggling to make the playoffs. But thanks largely to Frazier, enough of their old mystique remains to pull big crowds both at Madison Square Garden and on the road.
A fixture on every list of best-dressed or most-eligible athletes (he was married while attending Southern Illinois but has been separated for seven years), Walt Frazier is also the personification of cool, this both by his own estimate and that of the sneakered youngsters who collect outside dressing rooms in all the NBA cities and slap palms as Clyde glides into view. Frazier picked up his nickname when he was wearing wide-brimmed hats like those in Bonnie and Clyde, and the handle now seems dated. Groping for something better, some compare him to Shaft, who is also black and cool, while George Morrow, the foghorn-voiced manager of a hangout next to Madison Square Garden called Harry M's, speaks of him as "the Frank Sinatra of the Sports World."
"The women love Walt Frazier with a passion," rasps Morrow. While the Frank Sinatra of the Sports World dined in Harry M's one night, Morrow brought over somebody who wanted to meet him, a stout, middle-aged woman whom Frazier kissed on the cheek. The lady jumped up and down, squealing delightedly.
"You all right?" asked Frazier.
He is a habitu� of such East Side haunts as P. J. Clarke's and Hippopotamus, yet he insists that the only time he ever had too much to drink was the night his son, Walter III, was born, eight years ago. "Walt takes better care of himself than any athlete I've ever known," affirms Knick Forward Phil Jackson, a former roommate. And the Knicks' Bill Bradley, known for being squared away himself, says, "Clyde's got his feet on the ground. He knows where he's going." Before Frazier could get into his new apartment, his personal life was investigated by the building's board of governors, one of whom worriedly asked him, "What about these wild parties you give?"
"I don't give wild parties," Frazier replied evenly. "I go to them."