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This week in Knicks history: Walt Clyde Frazier’s jersey gets retired

Stylin’ and profilin’, plus jersey retirin’

New York Knicks Willis Reed Hands Walt Frazier His Retired Jersey

Walt Clyde Frazier has been teaching vocabulary on television for three decades, but before becoming a broadcaster he played 10 spectacular seasons with the Knicks that included two titles, and 41 years ago this week his jersey was forever enshrined in the rafters of MSG.

Frazier is easily among the top three players in franchise history, alongside Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing. In 10 seasons with the Knicks, he posted stellar regular averages of just over 19 points (49% from the field), 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals per game. A seven-time All-Star, Frazier made the NBA’s All-Defensive team seven times and was All-NBA six times. He famously had 36 points and 19 assists in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, leading the Knicks to their first ever championship despite a hobbled Willis Reed.

When he retired, he was atop the franchise leaderboard in numerous categories, including total points and assists, as well as playoff scoring and assists average. Today, he’s still number one in assists and has fallen below only Ewing in scoring, according to basketball-reference. Fun fact: Frazier leads the Knicks in career triple doubles, with 23. Further, he leads the franchise in win shares (one wonders how long will it take Immanuel Quickley to supplant him).

Frazier’s number 10 was the second jersey to be hung in the MSG rafters in the history of the team; only Willis Reed beat him to the punch, with his jersey having been retired in 1976. The Frazier ceremony was held on Dec. 15, 1979. If you’re wondering why that seems a little close to his actual playing career, here’s the deal: Frazier retired midway through the 1979-80 season as a Cleveland Cavalier because, at 34-years-old and 13 total seasons into his career, he was no longer playing at a high level.

For a quick reminder of the importance of perspective, read this October 1979 New York Times article about his retirement, entitled “A Sad Finale for Frazier.” It’s glum, explaining how the sure-to-be Hall-of-Famer should have had a more fitting finale to his career, but instead was forced to quietly bow out too early and without any fanfare.

For a brief lesson on prescience of Frazier, read this quote from him in that article:

“Even when I retire, I think I’ll retain my stardom. Clyde is not going to die.”

Frazier was right, his star did not fade. But something else that article got wrong was the idea that Frazier was retiring without any fanfare. Just two months after his final NBA game, on Dec. 15, 1979, the Knicks made things right by holding a glorious ceremony for Frazier that included his jersey being retired. Apparently, the jersey retirement aspect of the night came as a surprise to Frazier himself, per this writeup about the event that was in the New York Times the following day. How nice of the Knicks!

In watching the above video, which features almost five minutes of footage from the night Frazier’s jersey was retired, a few things stand out:

> Marv Albert is hilariously young and looks like an Adam Sandler character.

> As part of the celebration, a 15-year-old kid, who sounds like his name is Kenneth Dublin, gets the opportunity to give Frazier a scrapbook he had been making about the superstar for 10 years. Through the magic of mathematics, we can determine that Kenneth would be 56 today. Where is he now? Does he still watch the Knicks? Is he a P&T commenter?

> This quote from Frazier says everything you need to know about why he’s one of the most beloved sports figures in New York history:

“I’m sure without my teammates I would have been good, but because of them I was great.”