The NBA is not without its characters. Basketball is a team sport, but it also allows for style and individualism as displayed in a perfect finger roll, an ankle breaking crossover or the angle of a headband on a furrowed brow. In the last few years, NBA players are truly embracing their own sense of style off the court by hiring stylists, starting clothing lines and even modelling. It's normal for a modern athlete to have multiple hustles when they're not on the court to make sure that their brand and finances stay strong through retirement or injury.
This generation of All-Star players showing an interest in fashion have their older generations to thank for trailblazing in the style department. Walt "Clyde" Frazier is a retired two-time NBA champion and now serves as the colour commentator for Knicks' broadcasts on MSG Network and he bring his own flavour and colourful wardrobe to every game. I didn't get to watch Frazier playing, as he ruled the hardwood in the 1970's, but I'm always fascinated by his personal panache and candor on MSG. Walt is a style icon, perhaps the greatest ever that graced the NBA.
Frazier came to New York as an Atlanta boy and took the social scene by storm with his "WCF" vanity plate on his Rolls Royce, fur coats, custom designer suits, late nights in Harlem and the Upper East Side and his signature swagger. He will always be the epitome of cool. He owns the honor of being one of the first NBA players to have a signature shoe, the Clyde - in suede, of course, and it still sells strongly even thirty years after the shoe's initial release. His lexicon on the MSG broadcasts are often imitated - there's even a fake Walt Frazier Twitter account, and his wardrobe choices are always screen grab worthy. He's an author and literally wrote the book on cool, Rockin' Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool, wherein he admitted he spent half of his rookie salary, $10,000, on clothes. He's often named to best dressed lists and was recently featured in GQ's special issue on the twenty-five coolest athletes of all time. Even USA Today's Money section took note of his long time work with Manhattan's Mohan's Custom Tailor. Frazier's a long time client of Mohan's and in return for his endorsement, gets a steep discount on suits. And yes, Mohan's was responsible for the cowhide and leopard-skin concoctions but Frazier found the fabric on his own.
When the Knicks were visiting the Raptors this season, I made it my mission to track down Mr. Frazier (as I wasn't sure whether it was proper or not to call him Walt or Clyde). After asking Amar'e all I could about his impending (and now published) work in Vogue, I trolled the halls of the Air Canada Centre in my four-inch gold eel skin platforms, looking for Frazier. I wore the exotic skinned shoes hoping that they would bring me luck, and although not practical, I managed to catch Clyde. He wore a ball cap, instead of his trademark fedora and a fully custom-made ensemble. He wore green plaid corduroy single breasted suit, with a yellow patterned collared shirt, a black, pink and green striped tie and tan ostrich leather shoes. He was even kinder than he appears on television. He smiled through the interview, is patient, soft-spoken and has a true passion for bespoke suits and basketball.
I've waited to post this interview and today, March 29th, being that is his sixty-sixth birthday, seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to a true style icon and genuine character in sports. Oh, and for those wondering - his outfit matched the birthday cake that MSG presented him with yesterday. Now that's special. Frazier has done what most athletes dream of doing - he's become a lasting and employed figure after his playing days. He may even be better known now for his ridiculous suits and rhyming catch phrases than his steals and championships. Perhaps, one day I can go fabric hunting in the garment district of Manhattan with Frazier (my birthday wish), but for now, I hope you enjoy this snippet of Clyde.
Megan Wilson: How did you develop your own sense of style? What made you "Clyde"?
Walt Frazier: Coming to New York was just a Mecca of clothes, I used to follow my teammates when I was a rookie I used to go where they got their suits made, their shirts made.... What set me apart was my hat - the Clyde hat - then I bought the Rolls Royce and the mink coat so that developed into a style.
MW: Fashion always changes every season. We see it in the NBA now with players like Amar'e Stoudemire going for a more tailored look. How has your style changed from when you were playing?
WF: Well when I was playing in the '70's - the lapel used to come all over your jacket so they'd come down on your jacket. The ties were wide then they made them narrow. Men's fashion is not like women where you're going to have dramatic changes all the time so if you hold on to the stuff it will come back in style. What I like are colours, different colour combinations. Today, I have something that I think is different. Like the shoes, people usually black shoes or grey shoes with this suit but I like the antelope colour. With antelope I can add some pizzazz to it.
MW: What's your favorite exotic skin to wear?
WF: I have stingrays... Stingrays makes up a nice boot. I have alligator, but sometimes using the belly gives you a different look, a softer look. I used to be really into fashion, like when I was playing, I used to spend months and months [of salary] on clothes and outerwear. But I still like being fashionably dressed, I spend a lot of time picking out my ties and my shirts. I think when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you look good so that's what I try to do.
MW: When you go to the tailor to have your suits custom-made, do you design them as well?
WF: Ya, I tell them about the lapel, which type of lapel and the buttons. I essentially design them. Like this fabric I picked myself. I was in a fabric store and I saw the fabric, then I take it to my tailor and tell them I want it double-breasted, single breasted, whatever type [of] cut.
MW: Who do you think has the best style in the NBA now? Who's on par with the players of your day, does anyone compete?
WF: Like you said, Amar'e is good. He wears a more tailored, European style fit. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, I've seen these guys too. They kinda go with the college kinda look, with the sweaters, they kinda mix it up.
MW: Do you think it's good to take a risk with fashion and not playing it safe?
WF: Well, I like challenges ... I like to step out and do that. I guess in New York, you can do that, no one will stare at you no matter what you wear.
MW: You've had some memorable outfits, do you have a favorite? Is it hard to choose?
WF: Not really. This one is good today, I like tomorrow['s suit]. I've got to come up with something new so I never reach the pinnacle, just another plateau when I see another suit (laughs) and try to top that one. That's what I try to do every game. ... The fans now know that I'm going to have a different suit so they're looking to see what I'm wearing so I have to give them something new.
MW: Now, NBA bloggers out there are always interested in what you are but don't have a baller's budget. What kind of tips would you give to them to get a cool, Clyde style?
WF: Don't push the colours all the time, it's about the fit. If you can get a nice tailored fit, like we're saying with Amar'e, you can probably get that off the rack, people will probably think you've had that custom-made. Of course for shirts, you can get them tailored. But the tie and handkerchief a lot of the time make the outfit. If you can get a nice tie and a nice pocket square to finish it off.
MW: So where did your outfit come from today?
WF: My tailor, Mohan's Custom Tailors did the suit. My shoes are made of ostrich leather and I had them made up custom by a guy in downtown New York. My tie is a custom-made by a guy named John Coages, I usually go to him to get my ties. What happens when you're a tall guy is that your ties have to be longer than a regular tie, I can't always buy ties from the store because if I want to do a different knot. And it's not that expensive, maybe a hundred and twenty dollars.
MW: Who do you think has the better style - you or Craig Sager?
WF: (laughs) I think he's a little more flamboyant than I am... I think my style is a little better. It's because I'm taller - taller guys can wear a little better style.