So, Bill Bradley, Phil Jackson, Willis Reed, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Jerry Lucas & Walt “Clyde” Frazier walked into SIRIUS yesterday for an in-depth interview that will air this month on a special edition of Bradley’s SiriusXM show American Voices.
At the SiriusXM studios in New York City, the legendary athletes discussed the ingredients that made their 1973 group a winning team, including: versatility, “dual intelligence,” color blindness, leadership and having the experience to know how to navigate and win a game playing on a team filled with stars.
In addition, Frazier offered insight into his relationship with Monroe, explaining why the hype surrounding Monroe’s move to New York from Baltimore and pairing with him on the backcourt “proved that the writers don’t really know the nuances of the game. Because what they overlooked between Earl and I was the mutual respect that we had for each other from being opponents.”
Bill Bradley: “So [Monroe] came to New York [from Baltimore] and everybody said, ‘You’re going to need two balls for this backcourt of Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier.’ Didn’t turn out that way. In fact, plenty of people think—and they’d be right — that there was never a better backcourt in the history of the game. So why didn’t you need two balls?”
Willis Reed: (joking) “Wait a minute, I know what happened. There was a meeting…and Clyde told Earl, it’s my ball but I’ll let you play with it.”
Walt Frazier: “It proved that the writers don’t really know the nuances of the game. Because what they overlooked between Earl and I was the mutual respect that we had for each other from being opponents. And I remember my friends used to say to me, ‘Clyde, what do you guys say [to each other]?’…and I said sometimes Earl [would] say ‘Clyde, that was a great defense,’ and I’d say ‘Earl, that was a fantastic shot.’ That was the essence of what we would say…[there was] never any trash talking. The respect was there. Earl knew if he got 30, he worked for every one [of those points].”
On why they won:
Bill Bradley: “Why did we win?”
Phil Jackson: “Versatility. Willis [Reed], at our team dinner [this week]…brought up the idea that I think there were seven of us who scored double figures—you don’t see that in basketball. You might have three or four but very rarely do you see that in basketball, where seven players score double figures, and Walt led us with what 19-9, 19-8? I don’t think he scored [an] average of 20 a game that year.”
Willis Reed: “I think he averaged…23.”
Earl Monroe: “The championship season? Maybe 20, 21. I think also…teamwork personified our team.”
Phil Jackson: “Everybody could bring the ball up the court…[the team had]…versatility…so many guys could rebound and push the ball up the court and then in my talks about basketball I say that [coach William] Red [Holzman] had two things [he] taught [us]: hit the open man on the offensive end…everything will work out if you hit the open man—which we believed in—and see the ball on defense, which was his other maxim.”
Bill Bradley: “…there was a third one. It was hit the open man, back up on defense and the third was, the hotel bar belongs to me.”
Phil Jackson: “…he always kept [the game of basketball] very simple [and would] say, ‘Hey, this isn’t rocket science.’ We were taught to support each other defensively, and I think that that aspect of it played a big role in how we played, because…obviously the Celtics were a great offensive team at that time—except for Paul Silas who hit the long jump shot against us in…Game 5…”
Bill Bradley: “First one ever.”
Phil Jackson: “For that team and the Lakers and also Baltimore…I mean the original team that we went up against… they were all offensively-minded teams…they had a lot of offensive players so our defense had to shine, and…Red took particular interest in that aspect of the game.”
Earl Monroe: “…I try and tell people about how a team is structured, and one of the things I try and let everyone know is that everybody on your team is a star. You’ve got your star rebounder, you have your star defensive player, you have your star playmaker…if you go down from man-to-man…everybody has his place. And I think that the important thing in that instance is that everybody understands where their place is and they go out and they make it happen. And when you do all that conjunctively it makes the team and that makes you a winner. A lot of times when things go off it’s because those guys went away from what they knew they could do. And I think we all knew what we could do. We were a veteran team…and understood not only how to play, but how to win and how to close out games.”
Walt “Clyde” Frazier: “What about leadership? Starting with Red, starting with the captain [Reed]...”
Jerry Lucas: “I think this team had a dual intelligence. Not only were the players…intelligent people—a Rhodes scholar, Phi Beta Kappa [members]…we had IQ intelligence [and] we had a knowledge of the game, and an intelligence. We understood the game [and] how it should be played….all of us…[had]…a natural intelligence [and] used our minds to be better basketball players, and that let us understand the game better than most other teams would, and apply those things in a way other teams couldn’t.”
Walt “Clyde” Frazier: “What about black and white? We were color blind. Everybody on that team was color blind...that was the other thing that brought the cohesion on that team.”
It was a great reunion. Later, the team was at MSG to share its magic with fans at the Knicks / Milwaukee matchup.
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