Like the country, Walt Frazier had an easier time being great than being good; and a couple of weeks ago, after two droopy seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, that club placed him on waivers: "Dealine for interest is Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1979. "That Tuesday having passed without any other team in the National Basketball Association's picking up his contract, Walt Frazer, Clyde Frazier, Walt, Clyde, All-Defense, All-Star two NBA championships, steal, pass, assist and score-at-will-Frazier must sit out this final year of his contract playing no more basketball, hoping perhaps, in the most romantic and unreasonable regions of his heart, that someone somewhere will take a thumb in the eye or a fallen arch, and the phone will ring: baby, it's you.
Unfortunately, he knows better. For all its brash dependence on public sentimentality, professional sport is about the least sentimental business on earth, after government. The hands are gone, Clyde. (But once you said I could steal the hubcaps off a moving car.) the hands are gone, Clyde and so are the legs. Tell you what: we'll give you a night" sometime. You know -- a scroll from the commissioner, a Chevy Malibu.
Not that tears swamp the eyes automatically when you think of Frazier spending the year in street clothes. For one thing, there's his salary of $400,000, which is paid whether he plays or not. For another, there are the street clothes themselves -- the lids, kicks, knots, along with the goatskin suits and elphant-skin coats, and the Rolls and round bed -- all the stuff and nonsense of Clyde the Cool.
Unless Frazier has pulled a Joe Louis somewhere along the finacial way, his life will forever be abundantly cool. And truth to tell, he never was an immensely likable star, whining in the later years that he wasn't letting up when the fans hollered he was letting up, when clearly he was letting up.
And yet, waivers. Waivers for the third best in history. Waivers for the hero of New York.
I confess, the whole idea of waivers gives me a bone-cold chill, and not just the idea of waivers on athletes, either. The word says whst it does: it is a waving off, a relinquishing of claim, of affection; a cutting loose, a disowning, a setting adrift. The "boat people" were placed on waivers. Old people and children are placed on waivers, too. Much of this country was originally on waivers -- that is, before the green lady in the river told the ever-so-waiving world to give us your poor, hungry, tired, your waifs, that we may extend their deadlines.
It's damn good thing that not all jobs have waiver cluases, that's for sure. Think how many teachers, clerks, lawyers would be put on the block or on the boat; every morning, the papers heaving with announcements that used to be reserved for domestic firings: I am no longer responsible for the debts incurred by my spouse. We of the firm Kafka, Kafka & Kafka are placing on waivers our partner, Kafka. Deadline for interest is Tuesday, Oct. 23.
And of course, it's a stacked deck. Who in his right and socially alert mind is going to pick up the waived Kafka after the other Kafkas have certified he can't cut the mustard? Kafka, Kafka & Kafka may be the dregs of all the law firms, yet their word will be taken because they did the waiving. So it is, in part, for Frazier, whose former Cavaliers, like other things in Cleveland, are running close to last.
Still, a fact is a fact. The hands and legs not what they were. He is 34. At six-foot-five, Frazier was a very big guard when he first came up in 1967, the best rebounding guard Jerry Lucas said he ever saw. Nowadays, six-foot-eight guards are the rage. And even though he's will quite a shot, you've got to get free to shoot -- that's a fact. And a man like Frazier has to play on a team that doesn't run and gun, a team like Seattle, which needs another guard the way Frazier needs another lid. Another fact.
Yet is it not also a fact that if the New York Knicks, who, acting more cavilierly than Cleveland in letting him go two years ago; if the Knicks, for whom he won those two championships, not to mention love, not to mention cash, God forbid, were to pick him up again -- not to start naturally, but to come in for a minute or two when all those tireless, persistently young rookies foul out or fall on their faces -- is it not also a fact that if that were to happen and Frazier were merely to set one white Puma on the court, suddently, instead of the current cluster of 7,000 or 8,000 die-hards, there would be 19,500 sentimental shouters in the Garden again, going hoarse on "Dee-fense!"? And while we're at it, is it not a fact, too, a more solid one, that somewhere in the hands and legs of even a 34-year-old star there is the memory of winning?
Ah, Clyde. Those clowns. They'd run straight at you, thinking you asleep. You robbed them blind.