by Adam Figman | @afigman
The Junior Knicks League’s playoffs tipped off Saturday at the infamous “Soul in the Hole” Park in Brooklyn. Action included an overtime thriller in the 13-and-under finals, as well as playoff games for the 15-and-under and 18-and-under divisions (championship games for those leagues will be held next weekend). But, for many of the park’s visitors, the day’s most exciting moment came when a familiar gentleman entered the park, walking peacefully as if he was strolling along the beach. The man was Knicks alum and broadcaster Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who couldn’t manage four or five steps without being swarmed for autographs, pictures and handshakes. Former Knicks player and TV analyst Cal Ramsey also came out, and I was able to snag a couple of minutes with each for a pair of quick interviews.
SLAM: So what brings you to the park?
Walt “Clyde” Frazier: Just checking out the youth program by the Knicks. We always try to lend our support to younger kids, and try to inspire them, not only on the court but off the court. Education, as you know, is a big factor, [as is] abstinence from drugs. I just feel compelled to try to give back. I haven’t played in 30 years, but as you can see…
SLAM: You get a lot of love.
WF: Yeah, so I try to give it back. I’m reciprocating.
SLAM: How do you stay busy all summer?
WF: Mostly in the Virgin Islands; I have a house there, and rented properties that I rent out. So occasionally the Knicks will call me to come into the City for a function like this, and I come back. But usually around October is back when I’m based in New York.
SLAM: You seem to be very relaxed, laid back. Do you maintain this all season, or is it just a summer thing?
WF: (Laughs.) All season. That’s one of the advantages of playing in New York, you get used to the attention and the exposure. So I guess over the years I’ve mellowed. I’ve learned to just go with the flow, and just take it all in.
SLAM: Any early opinions on the Knicks’ off-season moves?
WF: Yeah, I like them. Obviously if they didn’t lose LeBron, everybody would be very excited, so that’s the only stigma that’s overshadowing what they’ve done thus far. I think the acquisitions from Golden State should help us get better defensively. [Ronny] Turiaf, [Anthony] Randolph, these guys can intimidate inside. And of course Stoudemire. [Ray] Felton, I think, is an upgrade over [Chris] Duhon. He’s strong, he gets in the paint, he can shoot. So I think there’s a good nucleus they have going, [but] you know they’ve had a good nucleus. Now it’s our time to step up. They’ve got to make the playoffs this year.
SLAM: The main criticism of Coach D’Antoni, which you touched upon, has always been a lack of focus on defense. Do you think that’ll change?
WF: I hope so. These guys can play D, we know that. So he has to hold them accountable. He’s gotta get on them and make sure they do what they’re supposed to do, because as far as shooting—you know the Knicks are saying we need another shooter, that’s true too—but what if you held a team to four less points? You know, that’s defense. Looking at just one aspect, that we need another shooter, we also need some intensity on the defense. That would help as well.
SLAM: What were your thoughts on LeBron’s Decision?
WF: I was shocked, man. How could he turn on New York? I thought, man, this guy wanted this challenge. Because when these guys come to the Garden, you see how they play?
SLAM: Yeah, always better.
WF: Right, you’d think this guy wants it every night. I couldn’t believe it.
SLAM: You didn’t see it coming?
WF: Nah, I didn’t.
[I look up and notice the growing line of people waiting for an autograph.]
SLAM: OK, last question. You’ve gained quite a reputation for your vocabulary and the rhyming phrases. Which phrase do you think you’ll be using to describe this year’s Knicks team?
WF: [pumps fist] Tenacity and sagacity! Yeah, they’ve got to bring the tenacity on the D, and play smart. They’ve got to play smart, team ball. And hey, there’s a lot of talent there, man.
SLAM: What brings you to the park today?
Cal Ramsey: Well I’m here because this program was sponsored by the New York Knicks, as you know. It’s the Junior Knick League, and I’ve been supporting this event since its inception. As a matter of fact it started back in 1991, when we attempted to get every youngster in New York City involved with the Knicks summer basketball program. And there are other aspects of this program: Some of these kids get to come to play at the Garden at halftime and we have player visits to their faculties occasionally at Boys Clubs and YMCAs. When I was a kid I played in a program similar to this, so I’ve been a part of this all my life.
SLAM. How else do you stay involved with the Knicks?
CR: [I’m involved] very well; I go to every game, I go to Liberty games on Sundays, and I go to every NYU game. I’m an assistant coach at NYU and I’m director of community relations and a goodwill ambassador for the Knicks. So I’m at every home game, I work with the players and I come to events like this. I’m totally involved with the Knicks.
SLAM: What do you think of the team’s moves this off-season?
CR: They’re good so far. I’m curious about the big German kid [Anthony Randolph]—they say he’s a pretty good player, a good athlete. I love Stoudemire, obviously. We have a pretty good core to build around. [We have] Wilson Chandler, Billy Walker, and the draft pick they had, I haven’t seen him play yet but I hear he’s pretty good. So I’m optimistic.
SLAM: Do you think the team’s defensive mindset will improve?
CR: Well, you need athletes to play good defense, and I think we have some pretty good athletes now. [They have] the German kid. Hopefully Stoudemire will make a pretty big difference in the middle. They should be better defensively.
SLAM: So when are you suiting up and getting out there?
CR: (Laughs.) I’ve done my part. I talk to the kids, I sign autographs for the people, whatever they want me to do, I do. You know when I played, when I was 19, I averaged 20 rebounds a game in my sophomore year at NYU. And that was more than Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
SLAM: They played the same year as you?
CR: The same year, 1956, my sophomore year. Elgin averaged 18.3, Wilt averaged 18.0, and [I averaged] 19.6. (Laughs.) So print that!