Walt Frazier meets the accountants

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Basketball legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier told a group of accountants about his experiences playing for the New York Knicks’ championship teams in 1970 and 1973, along with his 30 years in the broadcast booth calling the Knicks games for the MSG network.

Speaking Wednesday during a meeting of the Accountants Club of America in New York, Frazier reminisced about his first NBA championship in 1970, when his teammates included such luminaries as Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Phil Jackson.

“I think my first championship is like my first kid: you always remember the first one,” he said.

ESPN sportscaster Bill Daughtry interviewed Frazier for the session and reminded him of the 36 points he scored during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA championship, along with the 19 assists, seven rebounds, and his 12 for 12 score from the free throw line. Frazier recalled the roles of Knicks coach Red Holzman and team captain Willis Reed, who surprised his teammates by coming out to play as center for 20 minutes despite an earlier leg injury.

“Without a lot of you guys, that would not have happened,” said Frazier. “The New York fans are the most provocative, and in Game 7 we did not know if Willis Reed was going to play. When we left the locker room, Holzman always talked to me, like if we were playing Baltimore, he would tell me, ‘Clyde, forget about offense, just play defense on Earl.’ So when I came out for Game 7, he said, ‘Clyde, hit the open man.’ As the game progressed, I was the open man.”

Frazier also remembered the opposing players on the Los Angeles Lakers team, who had a daunting roster of their own. “Willis made his first two shots, and that set the tone for the entire game,” he said. “The crowd never shut up. They just got more and more vociferous as the game continued. I saw Wilt Chamberlain, I saw Jerry West, I saw Elgin Baylor, three of the greatest players ever. When Willis Reed came on the court, they were mesmerized by him. They stopped doing what they were doing. They were just holding the ball, and at that point I said to myself, ‘Man, we got these guys.’ It gave me so much confidence, but we knew Willis could barely walk. So it was a courageous effort by him. If he did not do what he did, I would not have had that type of game, and if you guys did not give us the support that you did that night.”

Daughtry also asked Frazier about his 30 years broadcasting the Knicks games for the MSG network. Frazier reflected on how young players today earn so much more than his generation.

“Time flies,” said Frazier. “Sitting here today, I see the accountants. I wish I could turn back the hands of time. I’d be making $100 million today. I’d be keeping you guys busy. Time is everything. Back in the days when you came out of college, guys wanted to come to New York, LA, Chicago because of the outside opportunities like endorsements and commercials, when you leave the game. So I’m just the beneficiary of that. I’ve been in the right city at the right time, and I’m still involved with the Garden.”

Only three younger players have ever come to him for advice during his 30 years of broadcasting, he noted, in part because he has to keep some distance so he can report on them objectively for viewers. But he worries they may need financial advice if they want to hold onto their earnings when their playing days are over. He has been involved in a group called the Champions League that helps older players build future careers.

“Four or five years ago Sports Illustrated did an article on professional players,” he said. “Whether it be football, basketball or baseball, five to seven years after they have retired I think 75 percent of the guys are broke. They never talk to the guys that have been there, trying to get a perspective. I find that when young people get money, they think they know everything. They won’t even come to you guys, bona fide accountants, to try to set them up. I always pay homage to my parents’ guidance. They guided me using common sense. When someone brings me a deal, I try to sit down and I think about it. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. I was really embraced by a village. I know that’s sort of a cliché, but I had parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, my peers, my coaches. So whenever I’m faced with a problem, I hear that village. It’s like my mom is always saying, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.’ My grandfather talked about common sense. Use common sense.”

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