Walt “Clyde” Frazier is nothing if not consistent.
The two-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer has been an ambassador for Puma for 40 years, a broadcaster for his former team, the New York Knicks, for 30, and has lived in the same place, St. Croix, for four decades.
And on Aug. 25, Puma will celebrate Frazier in the latest installment of its “For All Time” campaign, where the sports brand — which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year — is looking back on its legacy. So far, the campaign, which kicked off in April under the oversight of basketball and classics creative director Jay-Z, has featured Roc Nation’s Emory Jones, Upscale Vandal’s Mike Camargo and photographer Lenny Santiago. After Frazier, Harlem designer Dapper Dan and Rhude designer Rhuigi Villasenor will be spotlighted before ending with June Ambrose, Puma’s creative director, in November.
In his video for the campaign, the 77-year-old Frazier starts out by ticking off his professional accomplishments and then moves into telling his personal story: he was born in Atlanta, the oldest of nine, at the time of segregation when Black people were told they would “never be anything.” But he listened to his parents who said he could accomplish whatever he dreamed if he had “confidence and a tenacious work ethic.” His goal, he said, was to have his skill in basketball provide him the opportunity to buy his mother a house with a big kitchen, which he accomplished in 1973.
He recalled how early on in his career he wasn’t playing well and hated New York with its unrelenting hustle and bustle, so to “pacify” himself, he went shopping. It wasn’t long until his distinctive style — fedoras, mink coats and wildly patterned suits that he donned as he drove around town in a Rolls-Royce — gave him the confidence he needed to excel on the court as well.
“Once I started to play well, the press started to focus on it,” he said. “And that’s how it all evolved with the fashion and getting into the colors and the Rolls-Royce. That’s the whole personification of the Clyde image.”
That newfound fame also led to him being signed by Puma as the first sports star to serve as a brand ambassador.
“When they first approached me, I was the only guy getting paid to wear a shoe,” he recalled. “And they told me they wanted me to help design the shoe. And that’s what I did.”
The result was the Clyde, a classic sneaker that was released in 1973 and is still popular today. Over the years, he recalled, it was the favorite of everyone from break dancers to those embracing the “retro craze.”
“The shoe has been timeless,” he said. “And people still love it after 40 years.”
Frazier believes the Clyde has had such staying power because “basketball and sneakers are synonymous. At the time, Converse made the only brand that made basketball shoes, but then Puma, Adidas and Nike all started to introduce models specific to the sport, “and I was fortunate enough to be the only guy to endorse a shoe and have a shoe named after him.”
And because the shoes were in suede, they were not only performance-driven but also fashionable, which fit right into his wheelhouse, and they soon became a hit with his fans and followers. “Just in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we sold so many shoes, we didn’t need the rest of the country.”
Today, Frazier says he’s semiretired and only works 65 of the Knicks’ 82 games and is “looking to cut back to maybe 50, mostly home games,” he said. “The only problem I have now is working on the road. That wears on you after a while, so I’ll try to eliminate road games or just go to Philly, Boston or Washington — one-hour flights.”
When he’s on air, Frazier still cares about how he looks. “I still work in television and have to wear a suit and tie,” he said. “And I still try to be very fashionable.”
But when he’s home in St. Croix, he opts for colorful island-inspired Puma shirts and sneakers. “Everything’s very casual,” he said. “I’m always in classic sneakers and Puma shirts. That’s the other side of Clyde — when I’m in the Virgin Islands.”
Frazier said he discovered St. Croix when he brought his son there on vacation in 1980. “I was looking for a place with water, fresh air and sunshine, but never thought of living on an island. I didn’t really like L.A., and I liked San Francisco but it’s really too cold to enjoy the water. Then I was here for 10 days, and decided this was the place for me.”
When he’s working for the Knicks, he’ll stay at his home in Harlem since it’s “a mean to an end for my work. I still like to go back to New York in the fall — that’s my favorite time in the States. But what I’m really looking forward to is my retirement in St. Croix. It’s my rejuvenator.”
He’ll also be in New York for Puma’s return to fashion week on Sept. 13. And although he’s not going to be walking the catwalk that night, he will be front and center, undoubtedly dressed to the nines.
Frazier’s ability to stay relevant even decades after his playing career ended is impressive. And as a successful Black athlete and businessman, he has overcome a lot of discrimination over the years, both on and off the court. And although some progress has been made, there’s more to be done.
“There’s still discrimination,” he said, adding: “Sometimes we let the white guys play. When I came into [the NBA,] it was maybe 60-40 white to Black. Now it’s 80-20 Black to white. That’s the evolution of not only the NBA, but the NFL in terms of players. But when I look at the NFL, they are light years behind the NBA as far as coaches. They have maybe four or five [minority] coaches, but the NBA, with 30 teams, has 15 minority coaches, so they set a path.”
As he prepares to step into the spotlight in the Puma campaign, Frazier hopes to attract a new audience with his ads, especially among the new players in the NBA such as new Puma newest ambassadors Kyle Kuzma and LaMelo Ball.
“These guys have style and pizazz, so hopefully they can be the next Clyde,” he said.