Basketball player Walt Frazier rose to national prominence on the strength of his athletic prowess and dynamic personality. Excelling on both the college and professional levels, the Atlanta native won numerous awards, set records, and spearheaded several championship teams during the 1960s and 1970s. His flamboyant lifestyle off the court augmented his fame.
Walter Frazier Jr. was born in Atlanta on March 29, 1945, the eldest of nine children of Eula and Walter Frazier. His athletic talents emerged at the city’s all-Black David Howard High School, where he played football, baseball, and basketball. In 1963 he entered Southern Illinois University in Carbondale on a basketball scholarship. A guard, Frazier soon became a standout player, averaging nearly eighteen points a game and earning all-American honors on three occasions. He led his team to the 1967 National Invitation Tournament championship (a title that then carried a great deal of prestige) and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Later that year the New York Knicks made Frazier their first-round choice in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. Frazier’s trademark quick passes, aggressive defense, and calmness under pressure endeared him to fans and helped the Knicks become one of the preeminent teams of the early 1970s. In 1970 Frazier led his team to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. In one of the greatest play-off performances ever, he scored thirty-six points, made nineteen assists, and stole the ball five times in the seventh and deciding game of the series. Frazier and the Knicks won a second championship when they defeated the Lakers in five games in 1973. Although the Knicks would not win another title during Frazier’s tenure, he continued to enjoy success. He routinely led his team in assists and frequently in scoring, and in 1975 he was named MVP of the NBA all-star game after scoring thirty points. Frazier joined the Cleveland Cavaliers before the 1977-78 campaign but retired after three injury-plagued seasons.
Off the court Frazier often wore fedoras and fur coats and drove expensive automobiles. His attire prompted a Knicks trainer to nickname him Clyde, after the dapperly dressed outlaw Clyde Barrow. Many magazine articles celebrated Frazier’s lifestyle, making him one of the game’s best-known personalities. His fame led to a contract with Puma Shoes, one of the first such agreements awarded a basketball player.
After he retired from playing, Frazier invested in the United States Basketball League and bought a ranch on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since 1989 he has served as a commentator on New York Knicks broadcasts. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and he holds the Knicks’ all-time record for career assists (4,791). In 1996 he was named one of the fifty greatest players in NBA history.