Well before Linsanity (see insertion of Jeremy Lin into the New York Knicks starting backcourt) invaded New York and media headlines, legendary point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier — the original prince of New York City with apologies to Derek Jeter — stole the Big Apple’s heart between 1967-1977. During that run, Frazier led the Knicks to NBA championships in 1970 and 1973, highlighted by his mind-boggling 1970’s Game 7 performance of 36 points and 19 assists against the Lakers.

After the Bulls’ 104-97 win over the Knicks at the United Center last Monday, I caught up with the still stylish Frazier, known for wearing his Borsalino fedora hats and knee length fur coats back in the day, to talk about the Knicks’ other new emerging star on the Madison Square Garden scene, Oak Park native and former OPRF High School guard Iman Shumpert.

“When the Knicks drafted Iman, a lot of fans were hostile and thinking who is this guy,” Frazier said. “Then when they saw him play, they were chanting his name before Lin even showed up. I think Knicks fans like Iman’s style and the way he plays.”

After a contemplative pause, Frazier drew an NBA comparison to former OPRF basketball coach Al Allen’s prized swingman.

“Iman reminds me a lot of myself,” he said. “He’s one of the best defenders in the league, man. He’s got long arms and he’s a strong, intense player. Iman has the ability to steal the ball from guys right off the dribble.”

Despite a draft night chorus of boos that included No. 1 Knicks fan Spike Lee shaking his head, the Knicks may have gotten a steal of their own when they selected the rangy 6-foot-5, 220-pound Shumpert with the 17th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Forty-three games into his NBA career, Shumpert is averaging 9.6 points, three rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He’s also sixth in the league in steals with 1.83 picks per game.

“Iman is real tenacious defensively,” said Knicks guard Landry Fields. “He really helps out our defense because when we need a stop, he’s a premier on ball defender.”

About the only setback for Shumpert so far this season, aside from the Knicks’ disappointing record, was his withdrawal due to a knee injury from the NBA Slam Dunk contest. Rest assured though, “21 Shump Street” is just beginning his ascent as one of the more promising young players in the NBA.

“It all depends on how hard Iman wants to work,” Frazier added. “At 6-5 and 220 pounds, the physicality is obviously there. He’s like Jeremy Lin in that they both have to work on their weaknesses. Iman has the defensive end already down, but he needs to work on developing his midrange jump shot and offense. Then, he can be a dynamic player.”

Unfortunately for Shumpert, his United Center debut performance of six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes went by the boards in a loss to the Bulls, who own the best record in the NBA at 36-9, 18-3 at the UC.

“I had fun,” Shumpert said about his hometown visit. “I got to eat some Giordano’s pizza and see some friends. It was good to be back home and seeing the city again means the world to me. I’ve been watching the Bulls since I was a little kid so it’s nice to be on the [United Center] floor with a jersey on even if it’s the enemy.”

How has the former Huskies hoops star adjusted to life in New York?

“New York is a great city and a great market,” Shumpert said. “The Knicks are a first-class organization. Coming from a big city like Chicago to another one has been good for me. We have a lot of new guys on the team this year so we’re all still figuring it out. I think we’re gonna be alright and start winning games.”

The Knicks’ 19-24 record suggests otherwise; however, with a promising young backcourt like Shumpert and Lin, perhaps things can change … in a New York minute. 

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...