DECEMBER 8, 1969
He would mute the volume, stare at the basketball game on his television screen and unleash a singsong commentary filled with phrases like "courageous cagers dashing and flashing." Thus was Walt Frazier, a Hall of Fame guard with the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, reborn as a broadcast analyst and—to his stunned surprise and many a vigilant viewer's delectable delight—an inimitable wordsmith. "I always knew I'd have to improve my vocabulary to be an effective announcer," said Frazier, 56, before working a Knicks game last Thursday night for the MSG Network. "So I'd practice announcing until the words became second nature. Now, I think my alliteration and rhyme make me unique."
While such singularity hardly seems surprising from the man whose flashy suits and wide-brimmed lids as a player inspired New York center Nate Bowman to dub him Clyde (as in Bonnie and...), Frazier was the ultimate team player. As with Oscar Robertson before him and Magic Johnson after him, the 6' 4" Frazier was a triple threat, as likely to pass or crash the boards as he was to shoot. A seven-time All-Star who averaged 18.9 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds and excelled at defense during his 12-plus NBA seasons, he was at his best during the Knicks' title runs, in 1970 and '73.
When his playing days ended in 1979, however, Frazier wanted nothing to do with basketball or the sedentary life of an ex-jock. He found the perfect escape: a ranch on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, where he grew his own food and sailed his beloved trimaran, the Eula V, named for his mother. But an '87 interview with Marv Albert on MSG led to a job doing commentary on Knicks radio broadcasts, and Frazier, constantly working on his game, became obsessed with the dictionary, reading it for hours, making lists of words that "enthralled me," he says. "Riveting, dazzling, suffocating—I loved the words, loved how they sounded. Learning them and using them changed my life."
Frazier has morphed his love affair with the language into a humorous quasidictionary for kids called Word Jam (Troll Communications, $6.95), which he hopes will be "my enduring legacy." When the last pass has been dished, the last shot swished and the last defender sufficiently shaked and baked, Frazier, who is single, will move (and groove) back to his seven acres on St. Croix. There he will be a contented farmer, sailor and erstwhile poet of the broadcast booth, and, as he puts it, "my fans will then be the waves of the ocean, and my applause, the roar of the sea."