George Kalinsky has been the official photographer of the Madison Square Garden since 1966. He has photographed people from all walks of life: The pope, rock stars, politicians, and of course, athletes.
In Kalinsky’s early years at The Garden, he had the privilege of shooting the 1970 NBA Finals – a series in which New York Knicks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win their first championship. One of the stars of the NBA Finals that year was Hall-Of-Famer and current MSG Network broadcaster, Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Not only was Frazier instrumental in leading the Knicks to their two championship titles (1970, 1973), but he also happens to be one of Kalinsky’s favorite subjects to photograph. Equally important to Frazier’s athletic prowess in the 1970s is his unparalleled style – and Kalinsky has captured both.
On March 29, 2015, Walt “Clyde” Frazier will celebrate his 70th birthday. And to reflect on his great career and style, Kalinsky took a trip into the past to pick out his favorite “Clyde” shots.
THE STYLIN’ & PROFILIN’ PIONEER
During the 1970 NBA Finals, Kalinsky took this photo at a Los Angeles airport.
Here, Clyde can be seen sporting a striped suit, an ornate tie and patent leather shoes. According to Kalinsky, the suit was gray (as is shown here) and the shoes and tie were black-and-white.
For Kalinsky, this type of shot of an athlete was unprecedented.
“This was the first outrageous outfit I’ve ever seen him wear. And everybody was looking at him – they found him to be very unusual because in those days you didn’t see [many] pictures of athletes and what they looked like off the field. This was sort of the beginning. I was shooting shots of what people looked like off the court and there was a tremendous interest in that because nobody ever did that before.”
WHEN WALT BECAME ‘CLYDE’
This photo was taken in 1970 as the Knicks were becoming a big topic of discussion in the NBA. Kalinsky notes that before Walt Frazier became “Clyde,” the pair often spoke about potential alter-egos for Frazier.
On this day, Frazier simply walked into Kalinsky’s office dressed in green from head-to-toe, complete with green alligator shoes. Kalinsky saw an opportunity – one that eventually led to the evolution of Walt to “Clyde”.
“He walked into my office and I said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to say anymore, but let’s go downstairs – this deserves a photo of some sort’. In the next week or two, as the Knicks were really becoming an item and there was a possibility that they might go to the championship, Newsweek magazine called me and asked if I had any pictures of the players.”
“I said that in addition to action shots, I had been taking other kinds of pictures off the court. So I sent that along with the action shot pictures and this picture ran fairly big in Newsweek magazine. Then the Knicks’ office got about three or four hundred requests – mostly from women – wanting to know if they could get an original picture of that shot. I gave him a print, he brings it into the locker room, and for me – this was fun – he shows the picture to Danny Whelan, the Knicks’ trainer, and Danny said, ‘Clyde!’ It just came out. He looked at the picture and said ‘Clyde’ from Bonnie and Clyde – that was the hot movie at the moment. And that’s how Clyde became Clyde.”
THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
This picture documents the day when Kalinsky first met Clyde. Clyde was the star of the Southern Illinois Salukis, while Kalinsky was recently employed by The Garden as its photographer.
In 1967, the Salukis played in the NIT (National Invitation Tournament) at The Garden. The night ended with Southern Illinois winning the championship and Clyde receiving the MVP award – and Kalinsky captured that moment.
“This was the first time I really photographed him with personality and not playing. The ceremony was going on and the reporters were talking to him, so I guess in between reporters, I introduced myself and we started talking and somehow we got into kids. We were talking about interests, etc.”
“He told me that he still really feels comfortable being with kids. Because kids are honest – they’re truthful and he enjoys helping them. Especially those who need help. So I remember that as the first conversation we ever had. It was 10 minutes or 20 minutes after taking the photograph. So he lucked into playing in the NIT at Madison Square Garden, lucked out to win the MVP and lucked out to have his whole career at Madison Square Garden.”
A BOND THAT WILL LAST A LIFETIME
In 1967, Clyde Frazier was drafted by the Knicks along with Phil Jackson, the current president of the franchise. Before Jackson had extreme success as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers (11 rings!), he was also part of the Knicks’ two championship teams.
In this shot, Kalinsky snapped a photo of the pair celebrating shortly after being drafted by the Knicks.
“This is one of the first pictures I took of Clyde as a Knick. He was introduced at a restaurant called Mama Leone’s in the city and this is the press conference for Phil Jackson and Walt Frazier, who were coming to the Knicks. Everybody’s meeting for the first time in their life. So Phil and Clyde – or Walt at the time – were just toasting that they became Knickerbockers. They couldn’t have been more than 22 years old.”
KEEPING HIS COOL UNDER PRESSURE
Kalinsky also photographed the Knicks in their prime and naturally, Clyde found his way into the spotlight. The 1970 NBA Finals were no exception.
Often referred to as “The Willis Reed Game” due to Reed’s sheer tenacity to play despite injury, this night saw Clyde turn out perhaps the greatest Game 7 performance ever, as he scored 36 points and dished out 19 assists.
And while this game was exciting to say the least, Clyde kept what Kalinsky calls his “cool”.
“This is the moment before the ending of the first championship game – Game 7 when they won their first championship. Clyde had the ball and you can see there are 23 seconds left in the game. And Clyde is a person that never shows emotion, all through the years. I feel like the few times we got pictures of him showing emotion would be the few times he showed any. He and Bradley were not rah-rah. And while Bradley is very subdued, Clyde is charismatic in his own way.”
George Kalinsky has taken iconic photos of some of the most recognizable faces in history. Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II, Muhammad Ali, and the Dalai Lama – to name a few. But Kalinsky had a special affinity for Clyde. When speaking about Clyde, Kalinsky’s tone is one of enchantment.
“Clyde still has that happy feeling that a child would have. He still has the creativity to think that there aren’t many hurdles that would be in his way. It’s an unrestricted way of being creative. He seems to always be ‘on’ in terms of looking happy. Even when he walks with his outfits, he walks creatively. So when you photograph him, you’re not photographing the average person that hasn’t been photographed before. You’re photographing someone who really loves and knows he’s charismatic, and loves to be a little different but is honest in front of the camera.”
“I think the word innovative is really good for Clyde because he’s innovative in relation to his style – his color – and he’s proved over the years that he’s done a lot of things – like the Puma, like Clyde itself – to come up with that alter ego – he’s lived creatively.”