Coming off two championships with the Knicks, in the prime of his career, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was a departure from your typical sports hero of the 1970s. Sporting a wardrobe as vast as Liberace‘s, and a burgundy-and-antelope Rolls Royce for good measure, his image off the court was as important to him as his image on the court.
Trying to depict the very essence of Walt Frazier â€“ one of the few elite players whose lifestyle often exceeds his statistics â€“ seems like a daunting task. Which is why at first glance of Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball & Cool, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Was it a comedic autobiography? Was it a player’s guide to living life in style? Or was it merely an instructional book, providing tips on basketball’s fundamentals? I would soon find out it was an incorporation of all three.
“It turned out to be more than an instructional book” says New York Times sportswriter and co-author Ira Berkow. “It was so uninhibited and different, what’s inside this book is what’s inside Clyde.”
This unrestrained approach to the novel was apparent by the sporadic shifts in theme. It would go from discussing Walt’s impulsive spending tendencies to elaborating on the principles of defense, passing and playmaking. It’d even go so far as to describe Walt’s grooming rituals in the morning and a how-to guide on catching a fly with his bare hands (complete with illustration).
“[Ira] kept talking to me and saw that I was more than just a basketball player,” says Frazier. “I had an opinion about fashion, style, creativity, health and fitness and even diet.”
Filled with timeless photographs compiled by Walter Iooss Jr., one of Sports Illustrated‘s most celebrated photographers, it was no wonder why Rockin’ Steady was brought back into print after 36 years. This book documents not only a specific era of basketball, but sheds light on a more humanized era of sports history. You know, when taking the E train to Madison Square Garden before a game was a common occurrence for a superstar athlete like Walt.
Probably one of the more insightful chapters of the book has Clyde breaking down his strategies on covering the NBA’s best guards of his time. Whether it’s keeping a hand in Jerry West‘s face, or giving Lenny Wilkens an extra step to compensate for his speed, or even letting Pete Maravich stop his dribble so he could steal the ball at the exact moment his hair comes down over his face, these all provide valuable insight into the psyche of a player fully-invested on defense.
“It was as if he was retired for 25 years,” says Berkow alluding to Frazier’s early wisdom. “People appreciated the honesty.”
At a time when it was commonplace for players to be well-rounded on offense as well as defense, Frazier was the epitome of versatility.
“I guess I was a precocious player at that point,” says Frazier, “so I’m always trying to improve myself, better myself, thinking of the future.”
As the only sports book listed in the American Library Association’s 1975 list of the 72 best books for young adults in the past 15 years, this piece of sports literary history preaches universal themes that translate well in today’s landscape. Though it should be known that this novel might not intellectually stimulate you, it will however leave you with a lasting impression of a larger than life personality; an individual who oozed cool and who just so happens to be one of the 50 greatest basketball players of all time.
If you want to learn some pointers for your game, enjoy candid commentary of a trendsetter, or just know how many sealskin coats are in one man’s wardrobe, than this book is for you.
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