Dishing and Swishing

I have to say my foray into the world of broadcasting was kind of serendipitous. After I retired in 1980, I was an agent for a while representing players. I had my own agency. Then I was just doing some representative work for people in New York. I was actually going to retire to St. Croix. I never anticipated basketball coming back the way it did. When I was playing a lot of teams were losing money and the league was stigmatized by having too many black players. I just thought the league and all the teams were going to fold. The only player that the NBA had carrying it was Dr. J. There was no interest. Then Magic and Bird came followed by Jordan and it really took off. That is when all kinds of opportunities came back, where I could make money signing autographs and it was a whole different stratosphere for players who had played basketball. It was amazing.

When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, I was doing a series of interviews and someone at Madison Square Garden saw me and approached me, asking if I would be interested in doing some broadcasting. That’s what got my career started. I used to do a pregame, halftime, and postgame show for the Knicks along with Greg Gumbel, who was also working at the Garden at that time. It turned out to be my tryout for the team. I worked with Greg just the one year and really learned professionalism and how to be prepared. It’s like being a player. You have to work on your game and you have to practice. It’s the same thing in the broadcast booth.

After doing the pregame, halftime, and postgame, I then moved into radio because Ernie Grunfeld, who was doing the broadcasting, went into coaching for one year. So I replaced Ernie in the booth and I found right away that I had to improve my vocabulary because the color guy for radio doesn’t get a chance to say anything. Also, when I was being interviewed as a player, I was never really comfortable. I liked to be very loose and comical when I was talking, but I was uptight because I was afraid they would ask me something and that I wouldn’t be able to answer in time. I was too nervous. I figured that once I learned words, I could articulate better and I wouldn’t be under this pressure to try to finish. What was happening with Greg and I, I never knew what he would ask me and we only had two or three minutes to articulate whatever the subject was that we were talking about. You had to be brief in your answers to get in and out. So I just said, man, I have to improve my vocabulary.

Radio is much more difficult that television because it is teamwork. There are certain nuances between the play-by-play and color analyst. On radio, the color guy only talks when there is a foul or the ball is dead. Essentially that’s it. The person that helped me tremendously was the late Marty Glickman, a Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Knicks. The team recommended that he work with me because they could see that I needed help. He was the perfect guy. I remember listening to him doing New York Giant games when I was with the Knicks. He was so fantastic on the radio that I actually would turn down the sound and listen to him on the radio because he made it so exciting. I went to work with him for like four or five times and then I really caught on to what he was trying to say. He used to critique me after each game. I used to go and sit down with Marty and he was always so informative. The main thing that he told me was that on the radio you have to assume that the audience is blind, that they can’t see, so you have to be very descriptive. When a guy takes a jump shot, he’s not taking a jumpshot, he’s taking a jumpshot along the baseline. Or, the guy isn’t driving in the paint, he’s driving diagonally into the paint. I learned right away to be descriptive in what I was saying because the people can’t see. It’s different than watching on TV. Marty was really the catalyst for setting me in the right direction on what to do on the radio.

In addition to Marty, I also learned a lot from Marv Albert and Mike Breen. I learned from Marv to be prepared. He was always prepared and told me to never say anything that you haven’t read. Always be resourceful in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Make sure you’ve done your homework so if you say something you can back it up. Then when I started working radio with Mike, he had so much respect for me that he would tell me to just come in and talk whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to wait for him, which was different. He changed the whole nuance between the color guy and the play-by-play guy by giving me more freedom to articulate.

They all helped me with the challenges that I faced entering broadcasting and helped me realize some of the more important aspects of the job. The first thing for me would be confidence – you have to believe in yourself. The next thing is preparation. You have to practice. Marty used to tell me to read anything, the newspaper, books, just read out loud for half an hour. Just read, read, read. Try to project my voice and the way I talked. Broadcasting is essentially learning how to talk all over again – crossing the t’s and saying your –ings. I was frustrated early on. I was like, man, I don’t know if I can do this. One of the only things that really helped me was my tenacity from having been a ball player, and accepting the challenge that, hey, I can do it if I really want to. I found out the first time I did a game that I really loved broadcasting. I said, man, I really like this. This is something I want to do and I am really going to work and try to improve at it.

I’ve come to be known for my style of broadcasting which I would describe as provocative. Some people say it’s like rap because of the rhymes. It is a combination of schoolyard talk like “shakin’ and bakin’” and then with the big words, it’s more of an intellectual kind of style. It vacillates between those two. Being a former ballplayer, the game is obviously something that I know. That is why I can be so unique in my style, because I know the game. It’s just a matter of relating it to the audience and how I view the game. I rarely use a lot of notes. I just do the game and tell you what is going on. I like to give pertinent stats, but I don’t just throw them out unless a team is 0-10 or something really blatant. Otherwise I let the play-by-play guy give the stats. I give you my expertise which is why I’m there. I’m the color analyst. That is what I am supposed to do. I just break down the game for you.

But early on I received more criticism than praise because it was so new. No one had ever heard it before. People were saying, "Why is he using those kind of words? Why is he doing this, why is he doing that?" There was a lot of negativity about my style when I first started. I was surprised because I didn’t want to use the clichés like everybody else. I was just trying to improve.

Broadcasting has changed a lot since I first started though. It has become more professional. You can’t come on the air now and just throw out stuff. They used to tell me that when describing some of the foreign ballplayers, some broadcasters said stuff like “the guy with the beard” or “the guy with the short hair.” When I first came in, the old school guys, they never really prepared. They would just go on and wing it. That was what they used to do. I remember they used to sit around the press room all night just talking and talking. I used to come and sit at the desk and the guy would grab my papers and literally start reading stuff. He wasn’t concerned at all man.

Today, you have to know the game and you have to study because of the influx of international players and the number of teams. And in New York it is amplified because the criticism can be overwhelming. That is another thing that helped me – the New York fan. I remember I had been away from the game for a while and I was saying “fast break” while they were saying “transition.” I was saying “pass” and they were saying “dish.” So I said, hey man, that is how I should sound. If this is my job the average guy shouldn’t be relating it better than I am. That was a big challenge for me.

And the other thing, how I used to practice was I used to go into bars and talk to people. The bars around happy hour are kind of loud so you have to project your voice. I used to go into the bar and learn how to try and talk over all these distractions without yelling. That is the one thing I used to envy most about a guy Jim Karvellas I used to work with. Back in the ’90s when the Knicks had Riley and Oakley and Ewing, the Garden could get so loud, you could hardly hear the broadcaster. Jim could just talk over all that noise like he was talking in a regular setting. I always envied him like, how the heck can he do that without yelling? I finally saw that it’s just a matter of practice and learning to control your voice. I relate it back to how Marty Glickman told me to read out loud, just change the tempo of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.

I’ll never forget the first time I left the box at the Garden, where we always did the pregame show in a controlled environment, to do the halftime show down on the court. I went down there, and man, it was bedlam. First of all people were yelling at me wanting autographs. Then just before we started talking, they started playing all the rock music up real loud. Now I’ve got to try and find the TV monitor. So the first time Marty critiqued me, he got me pissed off. He goes, “Hey Clyde look at you, you look like the pickpocket.” My head was going from side to side, I was looking for the monitor, I didn’t know where it was. It was total chaos, man. That is when I said, "I can do this, I don’t care what these guys say."

Broadcasting and the knowledge and wisdom that I have gained from the words have changed my life. So many players are intimidated to talk and go and speak to groups. That is the No. 1 fear of any one person, to get up in front of a group and talk. Now I love articulating. I have so much confidence, I can talk to the President of the United States. I can talk to anyone. No matter what people ask me or what I have to say, I know that I can say it in a concise and profound way, which really changed my life. That is one thing that I try to articulate to the kids, that reading and learning words is the best thing that can happen to you.

Like I said, what I do is sort of like rapping, so I tell them, if you know words, you can rhyme anything. You can become a rapper, whatever you want to do, by knowing words. It has really been a blessing for me getting into broadcasting and it is something that I’ll be able to use and do for the rest of my life.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s Top 5 Catchphrases

1. Dishing and swishing
The New York fans already had “dishing,” and “swishing” is something we said on the playground in Atlanta. We always had nets and when you hit the nets straight we would say “swishing the nets.”

2. Posting and toasting

3. Shaking and baking
Something we always said when I played back in the ’70s.

4. Huffing and stuffing

5. An intoxicating move, leaving him inebriated

Throughout his Hall of Fame career as a guard for the New York Knicks, Walt Frazier brought a smooth style, an honest approach and great natural ability to every game, becoming one of the great stars in the history of the National Basketball Association.

In his role with MSG, Frazier brings the same skills and approach to each and every game. Frazier is currently celebrating his 19th season doing radio and then TV with MSG, for the past three seasons he has teamed with MSG play-by-play announcer Mike Breen.