November 19, 2012 | 9:33 pm | Print
Above: Walt “Clyde” Frazier at home in St Croix
By Alexander Britell
IN THE LATE 1960s and early 1970s, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was New York. His superb run as a point guard for the New York Knicks, during which he helped bring home the franchise’s only two NBA championships, along with his famous fashion style, made him the toast of the city — and of Madison Square Garden.
And for the last two and a half decades, he’s continued to call the Garden home, teaming with play-by-play man Mike Breen to form the Knicks’ unparalleled television announcing booth.
But for even longer than that, he’s had another, quieter life, one far removed from his “Clyde” persona, creating a retreat in St Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
There, more than 1,600 miles from the Garden, he finds a spiritual escape, biding his time sailing (he’s a licensed sailboat captain), building and designing homes and relaxing.
“I love the fresh air, the laid-back atmosphere, the beauty of the island,” he says. “Whether you go to the north shore, the east side, all over the place — I’ve been on a lot of islands — but I find few islands that are more diversified and beautiful than St Croix.”
The St Croix chapter in Frazier’s story began in 1980, in the final season of his NBA career.
His NBA run was winding down, and he was looking for an environment with fresh air and sunshine.
Northern California was an option, but it was too cold to enjoy the water. He thought about trying to rent an apartment in Los Angeles, a popular haunt of NBA circles.
“All the ballplayers love LA, and I love LA,” he says.
But he decided to take a vacation with his son, and ended up, thanks to the help of a travel agent, in St Croix.
The two spent 10 days there, ending up in the same house in which he still lives today.
And for years after, he would spent his off time in St Croix.
“I was like, hey man, St Croix is where I want to be,” he says. “So I started my expansion of the property, and was going to rent my houses to people.”
While Hurricane Hugo severely damaged the island (and his home), ever since he has repaired, renovated, and then added to the property.
“I got into adding on,” he says. “I bought land, and I built more houses.”
The now-five-acre property has a series of homes (which are offered for rent). Some have Caribbean views; some are one-bedrooms, some are two-bedrooms.
And the property is accented by its lush landscapes.
“I fell in love with the indigenous plants here,” he said. “I have almost two acres of hibiscus, oleander, fruit trees, mango trees — I really got into the plant aspects of St Croix. I just started designing the house myself — I furnished them, I decorated them, I landscaped them.”
Frazier earned the nickname “Clyde” from Clyde Barrow, of “Bonnie and Clyde” fame, in large part due to the bravado of his fashion.
It’s that signature style which he retains in St Croix, but through design — not his famous suits.
“I design every unit myself,” he says. “I select the colors, the fabric — every plant that’s on the property, I selected that plant.”
The property is also unique for having its own well.
“The serendipity for me was that there is a well,” he says. “People cannot believe — people cannot believe I have a well, because it’s so dry [in St Croix]. You can be riding along all the bushes, and then you see this oasis, with coconut trees and palm trees and all of these plants — so the plants seem to thrive with the water I use from that, and that’s how it all evolved.”
The property is also dotted with gazebos, part of the passion for design and construction that struck him in St Croix.
“I have a lot of gazebos — I love hanging out in gazebos and enjoy that type of lifestyle — that’s what I fell in love with,” he said. “When I used to travel with the Knicks, when we’d go to Miami, we’d stay at the Doral, so I used to see the gazebos and ducks on the pond, and I was like, one day I would like to have something like that. So that kind of influenced me — the different four, five-star hotels with the Knicks, it helped me with my decorating.”
But every unit has its own character, he says.
“They’re all different — every one is different,” he says. “I love the beam ceilings, the wooden floors, the rustic type of look — my main house was already built so it was all tiled, but most of my other houses blend in with the garden aspect of St Croix, the wicker furniture, the plants.”
The property is a constant workshop, one with which he is always tinkering.
“I’m out dealing with my plants, watering trees, walking around, that’s how my place evolved,” he says. “I’d be walking and say, ‘man, I need a gazebo there,’ or ‘man, I need some water, man, I need a swimming pool.’ Years and years of just walking in my yard and doing things.”
Frazier has “one more house to build,” he says, and it’s going to be his “all-natural house,” one that will be entirely solar powered and built with decks and trees.
He’s also like to eventually get some animals on the property, to have dogs and cats and perhaps horses to help maintain his clean, natural lifestyle in St Croix.
“That’s why I moved to the islands, because I’m a health and fitness guy, so I didn’t want to be languishing in New York, continuing to be Clyde, partying, going out all of the time,” he says. “So St Croix gave me that — tennis, gardening, horseback riding, so I saw St Croix as a great outlet for that.”
And while, unlike many former NBA colleagues, he hasn’t taken up golf, it might be in the cards, he says.
“I’m about one mile from the Buccaneer [resort], so I used to go there and play tennis — but I’m one of the few guys that hasn’t gotten the golf bug,” he says. “I just don’t have the patience – the few times I’ve played, after nine holes, I’m ready to give it up — but that’s something I’m looking forward to doing, getting more involved with golf.”
FRAZIER REMAINS the in-game analyst for the Knicks’ Madison Square Garden network, his signature wordplay and analysis making him a fixture in the booth.
And for Frazier, his continued success, decades after he retired from basketball, surprises even him.
“I thought I would be retired now,” he says. “I never envisioned my autograph being worth money, that I would be working as a broadcaster for the New York Knicks and going on my 24th year.”
Frazier now even has his own restaurant, called “Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine,” which opened earlier this year on 10th Avenue in New York City.
His schedule in New York remains tight — although he finds time during the All-Star break to head to St Croix —and should remain busy for the immediate future as he negotiates his contract with the Knicks.
“It looks like it’s going to happen, but I’m looking forward to that,” he says.
But St Croix remains in his sights, both for the occasional retreat, and for his basketball future.
“I’ll always want a place in New York, but St Croix is where I want to be,” he says.
SO HAS HE EVER invited Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire or any of the Knicks down to St Croix?
“No, but the guys have asked me about it,” he says. “They’re more intrigued with me being a sailor — they go, ‘man, you go out in the ocean by yourself?’ I say, yeah, it’s fun. So they’re kind of mesmerized by that, but hopefully I can get them to start coming down.”
It would show them a very different Walt Frazier, one a world away from “Clyde.”
“When they hear I’m here, they think I’m like I am in New York,” he says. “But when I go to St Croix, I don’t even dress up – I only wear shorts and t-shirts — I’m the antithesis of Clyde. I rarely go out, and I do most of my own cooking. I just enjoy the environment there — early to bed, early to rise, and like my neighbours say, you can always find me out in the garden, early in the morning, late in the evening.”
And for him, it’s a very different kind of garden.
For more information, visit waltclydefrazier.com.
Below: one of Frazier’s signature gazebos