Blast from the Past: The Story of Clyde and Sweets
The Wine and Gold’s basketball brotherhood talked about how their coalition began (originally including Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and why it’s essential to have a bud to bond with over the course of an often-grueling NBA campaign.
Today’s Blast from the Past takes a look back at another pair of former Cavaliers; now broadcasters and lifetime friends. The duo formed an unlikely alliance in the late-70s, a friendship – forged through the business of basketball – that both men still beam about to this day.
It’s the story of Jim Chones and Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Walt Frazier – who, along with Mike Breen, broadcasts New York Knicks games on MSG – came to Cleveland this past week: the very definition of sartorial splendor and, as one might assume, without a single grey hair in his beard.
Jim Chones is, of course, the infinitely philosophical color analyst for Cavs broadcasts on WTAM, joining the new radio voice of the Cavaliers, John Michael.
Their friendship began long before either player got behind a mic.
In 1977, the Cavaliers were on the other side of their “Miracle of Richfield” days. In fact, one of the heroes from that squad, Jimmy Cleamons, had elected to ink a free agent deal with the Knicks one season after the franchise’s watershed moment. As compensation for Cleamons departure, the Wine and Gold were awarded Walt Frazier.
Frazier was already a lock for the Hall of Fame when he arrived in Cleveland. He’d spent 10 seasons in the Big Apple, winning NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973. He was league royalty and a celebrity beyond the sports world. And on October 7, 1977, he went from the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, located in the middle of bustling Manhattan to the Richfield Coliseum, located in the middle of bustling nowhere.
“It was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for me,” admitted Frazier on his arrival in Cleveland. “Because I think if I had stayed in New York, I’d probably still be ‘Clyde’ – running around. Now I’m in St. Croix (Virgin Islands), I’m down to earth. New York now is just a place for me to make a living.”
Not all of his new teammates embraced him. Jim Chones did.
In fact, not only did Chones welcome Frazier into his basketball family. He welcomed him into his real family – inviting Clyde to live with him and his family in Shaker Heights.
“Some of my old teammates, they were critical of it,” recalled Chones. “But they wouldn’t say it to my face. No one could tell me who I should deal with and who I should like. No one. And my wife said: ‘It’s alright. We love Walt. We’ll treat him just like family.’”
“It was a revelation,” said Frazier. “I really didn’t know (Chones) when I was traded here. That he would invite me into his house, that was quite a gesture, man.”
The veteran duo would drive together to the Coliseum on those snowy winter nights, with Chones expanding Clyde’s musical tastes – from jazz to Steely Dan. And life for Frazier at the Chones household was always interesting, if not completely private.
“Sometimes, (Walt) would be in his room doing yoga, and my daughter would run in there and squat down and kiss him while he was upside down,” Chones laughed. “I’d say, ‘Kareeda, come on!’ And he’d say, ‘Nah, that’s alright.’”
By the time Frazier got to Cleveland, he was on the downside of his career – though he still averaged 14.6 ppg in his first season with the Cavs. And although injuries limited the onetime-superstar to just 15 combined games over his final two seasons, he still has fond memories from his time with the Wine and Gold.
He opined on some of his former teammates – and current Cavalier legends.
On a young Campy Russell: “A guy who could create his own shot, we definitely featured him in the offense. He could play inside, come outside, handle the ball in transition. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Campy, but he was kind of a jokester, carrying on in the locker room with the guys.”
When Frazier joined the Cavaliers, they were already a cohesive unit that had played together for years, led by their head coach.
“They were very team-oriented,” added Clyde. “Fitch, of course, was the catalyst. Since he was the coach and general manager, he kind of ruled with an iron fist. When I came, I was outsider, trying to fit in. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I was injured and never really able to play the game my way.”
But Frazier helped the team in other ways, especially in the knowledge that he gave Jim Chones during any number of their late night conversations.
“We used to stay up until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning,” reminisced Chones. “He’d be holding my daughter – my oldest daughter who now works in Milwaukee. And we’d just be talking, sitting at the kitchen table, making a sandwich and just talking. I mean for hours.”
Chones added: “It was a great experience for me. He was so cerebral. It made me a better player. He helped me – how to guard certain guys. ‘This is what Willis (Reed) used to do,’ he’d tell me. ‘Sweets you can do that.’ He helped me. And he’s a very spiritual, very deep individual.”
After a year in Shaker Heights, Frazier bought a house in Richfield and completed his storied career with the Cavaliers after the 1979-80 season.
Frazier was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987 and is now one of the most colorful color men in the NBA. Like his old friend, Jim Chones, Clyde brought a unique view of basketball to his broadcasts. He’s known for both his rhyming phrases and his elaborate vocabulary – and he explained the origins of both.
“I was on the radio broadcasts with Jim Karvellas, and with him, you don’t get a chance to say anything,” smiled Frazier. “(But) sometimes, he had to catch his breath and I’d throw in – ‘the Knicks are swishing and dishing’ or ‘shaking and baking.’ ‘That pass went high and awry.’ That’s all I could get in. I had to make it count.”
Never one to follow the beaten path, Clyde improved his vocabulary in an unorthodox way.
“I used to get the Sunday New York Times – the Arts & Leisure section. They’d critique the plays on Broadway – ‘riveting, mesmerizing, provocative, profound.’ All these words, I liked the way they sounded. So, I used to write them down, learn how they were utilized in sentences. And then I started applying it to the court.”
After Wednesday's 10-point victory by the Cavaliers over the Knicks, Frazier moved on to the next stop with Mike D’Antoni’s team. Back in New York, he just moved up to Harlem after living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for years. And soon, he’ll be opening a restaurant – called “Clyde’s” (natch) – on 10th Avenue, not far from the Garden.
Walt Frazier wasn’t a Cavalier for long. But Cleveland made an impression on the man. And he had the same effect on at least one Clevelander during his stay.
“Walt Frazier is very misunderstood,” concluded Chones. “He’s one of the most cerebral, spiritual individuals. In his game, you could see it. I don’t think people give enough him credit for his spirituality.”