Walt Frazier on Brooklyn vs. Broadway

"Clyde" speaks from other side of Nets-Knicks rivalry
11/02/2012 10:20 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Walt Frazier remembers playing Dr. J and the then-New York Nets before the NBA-ABA merger. ( File Photo)
The NBA’s postponement of Thursday’s Nets-Knicks game due to Hurricane Sandy means that fans will have to wait until the rescheduled date of Monday, Nov. 26 to get their first taste of the now intra-city rivalry in the regular season.

But with the Knicks set to battle Miami Friday night at MSG and the Nets to open the season Saturday against Toronto at Barclays Center, there will still be a lot of smack talk – on the streets, at the water cooler, everywhere – between fans if one wins and the other loses.

And that’s a good thing, according to Knicks television analyst Walt “Clyde” Frazier, because it means people are invested.

“Rivalry is dictated by the fans, so the fans are going to make this a heated rivalry,” Frazier told in an exclusive interview prior to the Nets-Knicks preseason finale on Oct. 24. “Right now, Brooklyn fans feel that the Nets are on par with the Knicks, so that will make it even better; they’re proud so they’re talking trash, and Knicks fans are talking trash, so that will make it a very heated rivalry this year at least.”

The current generation of NBA fans likely best knows “Clyde” as the snazzily-dressed, smooth-talking color commentator who sits beside Mike Breen on Knicks telecasts. But back in the 1960s and 1970s, Frazier was one of the premier guards in the league, and he was in his last season with the Knicks in 1976-77 when the then-New York Nets were absorbed after the ABA-NBA merger.

As intense as the rivalry between the once-again intra-city rivals may become in 2012-13, it was just as intense back in Frazier’s day, if only because it extended to the players.

“The rivalry was heavier because (the Nets) were in the ABA. When we played them, they wanted to kick our butts and prove they were equal, so it was always very competitive,” Frazier recalled. “I remember playing against Dr. J (Julius Erving) before they came in (to the NBA), out here (at Nassau Coliseum) in the NBA-ABA games before we merged. We didn’t have respect for them because the games would be like 135-129, and we thought they didn’t play defense.”

Things would get worse for the Nets, vis-à-vis the Knicks; after paying $3.2 million to join the NBA, the Nets were forced to pay $4.8 million for the right to “invade the Knicks’ territory” – a move that rendered owner Roy Boe unable to give Erving, who had led the Nets to two of the last three ABA titles, a new contract. Erving held out, and Boe was forced to sell Dr. J to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he would win a title in 1982-83.

“It killed me to have to think about doing it (selling Erving),” Boe told the Newark Star-Ledger back in 2002, “and then it really killed me, after I did it.”

And so, the Nets, who had been an ABA powerhouse, went into their first NBA season without their star. They finished the season just 22-60, but they did show up the Knicks somewhat by defeating their intra-city rivals twice in the four games they played and competing hard in the two losses.

“I was very impressed because we barely won, so we started to gain a little more respect for them,” Frazier said.

A year later, the Nets left Nassau Coliseum for New Jersey, leaving the Big Apple as a technical one-team town until this week. According to Frazier, after the move, the Knicks and Nets were still big rivals because of the divisional alignment and geographic proximity – but as Deron Williams told the New York Post last week, even though the Nets are now back in Brooklyn, the players themselves might not have all bought into the “Grapple for the Apple” mentality just yet.

“It’s just another game,” Williams said last week of the scheduled opener. “This rivalry with them, it’s getting blown up by the media. But internally, we haven’t talked about it any. We haven’t said anything about it. We’re looking forward to playing those guys (and) forming a rivalry, but it’s not there yet.”

No matter what either team’s record ends up as, that budding rivalry will surely intensify every time they step on the court together – and Frazier, for one, feels that the spectre of one team overshadowing another can only make the competition better, especially in a city where every sport has multiple options.

“The Knicks are like the Yankees right now; with the Yankees and Mets, it’s always the Yankees who get more attention, and the same with the Giants over the Jets,” Frazier told Fishbowl NY earlier in October, “so we’re still going to cast a shadow over them – but I think the competition is good, and now the Nets have to prove they can live up to the expectations.”

In the interim, there may be many fans who convert from Knicks blue and orange to Nets black and white – but as Frazier says, once that novelty wears off, all that will matter is the level of basketball being played at Barclays Center.

“Brooklyn’s got a new arena, so they’re going to accumulate some new fans, and on paper I think they’re one of the most talented teams in the league,” Frazier said, “but can they live up to those expectations?”

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