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IT is difficult to pinpoint the exact time that Walt Frazier’s stylish alter ego known as Clyde more or less ceased to exist. But it might have been the September day in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo threatened to do away with both.

Mr. Frazier, a Hall of Fame player for the New York Knicks basketball team, was relaxing on the living room sofa with a girlfriend, watching football on television, when the first terrifying winds tore the awnings off his vacation home on St. Croix. The television went dark. The large picture windows blew out.

Mr. Frazier and his girlfriend scurried for the bathroom, where they spent the next 12 hours, cowering and praying.

“We sat there all night, in the dark, hungry and cold, water coming from under the door, the wind howling, hearing crashes sounding like freight trains running down the track and thinking, ‘Man, the worst of it hasn’t even hit us,’ ” he said, showing a visitor the same cramped bathroom. “All we could say was, ‘Hold on, house. Hold on!’ ”

Looking for a tranquil hideaway after years as a paparazzi magnet, Mr. Frazier bought the single-level home on a one-acre property for $215,000 in 1979, while visiting St. Croix with his 12-year-old son, Walter III. He was shopping for a condominium, but instead fell hard for a house on hilly terrain with four tentacle-like columns that reminded him of a space ship.

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Mr. Frazier still has an apartment in Manhattan, and indeed was there on Monday night as the Knicks celebrated the 40th anniversary of their 1970 N.B.A. championship at Madison Square Garden. But it is in St. Croix that he has invested much of his broadcasting earnings and put in countless hours of work. He now has a five-acre property with 10 houses, a slice of Caribbean heaven that he believes will eventually net him millions.

From renowned hedonist to home-building horticulturist, he described the personal gain as priceless. “I remember Dave DeBusschere and the other guys on the team used to say that I would have the toughest transition to make going into retirement because of being Clyde and coming down from all that,” Mr. Frazier said, recalling the days when his wide-brim hats and flashy suits inspired comparisons to the Warren Beatty character in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde.”

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“It didn’t happen right away, and it wasn’t easy,” he added. “But I was fed up with New York and that scene, the nightclubs and the cars. I didn’t want to vegetate as Clyde. I was searching for something. I didn’t know what it was until I came here.”

It took a decade to discover that paradise had a dark side. Hugo wrought more than $1 billion in damage on St. Croix, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands, and nearly destroyed Mr. Frazier’s home. When he emerged from the bathroom in the morning, with just enough room to sidestep the refrigerator that had hurtled from the kitchen, he was relieved to find the concrete roof intact. But the rooms were flooded. The furniture was destroyed. The property was a shambles.

“Glass everywhere, things torn apart, lawn mower in the pool,” he said.

Within nature’s mess was one small miracle. Blown out from the living room to the edge of the pool was Mr. Frazier’s wallet — money and credit cards snug in the fold. He took it as a sign to stay on, and keep spending.

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Sleeping in the bathroom for weeks to avoid the mosquitoes in the house, Mr. Frazier shopped for new windows, replaced fixtures and weatherproofed the exterior. While securing the house, he had the urge to expand it. When services on the island were restored, he hired a contractor to expand the living room, install a new floor and add a bedroom, an office and a bath. To his surprise, planning for the expansion and refurnishing the house gave him a purpose and validation he hadn’t felt since he was at the peak of his playing career.

“I began to sense there was something for me to do here, and then I realized doing all this work was what was going to keep me young,” said Mr. Frazier, who will celebrate his 65th birthday next month and remains fit and youthful looking, despite thinning hair. “I look back now and I can see that I was going through a metamorphosis, a change for the better.”

As part of his repudiation of the nightclubbing Clyde, he changed his lifestyle. The lifelong city dweller became a nature lover. He learned to sail, bought a boat and became a licensed captain. And he found the garden calling to him many mornings at sunrise.

On a recent stroll down a shady path about 50 yards from his home, Mr. Frazier stopped by a trio of flamboyant trees, the first of hundreds of plantings and, not surprisingly, his favorite. In bloom, the bright colors mimicked Mr. Frazier’s Manhattan wardrobe, which he still wears when he calls Knicks games for the MSG television network.

The clothes, he said, are the last vestige of Clyde. Mr. Frazier prefers to be in St. Croix, where he spends most of his time from May through September and usually one week a month during the basketball season.

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Entrance room to the Main House, his residence. (ABOVE)

“I can’t remember the last time I was in a nightclub, anywhere,” he said. “Here, I go out to eat, but at 5 or 6 o’clock. Everyone on the island will say, ‘Oh, Frazier, the tree guy.’ ”

As Clyde, Mr. Frazier owned a Rolls-Royce and wore full-length mink coats. On St. Croix, he drives a GMC light truck and wears a baseball cap, a T-shirt or polo shirt, off-white jeans with painter’s pockets and worn Puma sneakers that still sell under the Clyde brand that Puma introduced in the 1970s.

Patricia James, who is his girlfriend and helps him manage the property and rental business, said the style fits all occasions. “We’ll be going out to dinner, I’ll have a dress on and I’ll say to him, ‘You’re not going to change?’ ” Ms. James said.

A self-described perfectionist, he is not easy to work for, she said, and Mr. Frazier agreed, noting that he once fired his son, whom he had hired to manage the property during his absences.

Mr. Frazier helps paint the interior of his houses and is obsessed with touching up spots others miss. He chafes at the way his workers clean windows, considering himself a master of the squeegee. Outdoors, Mr. Frazier said, he treats his trees and plants with the same nuanced appreciation he had of his Knicks teammates when he was the playmaker, or catalyst, for their offense.

“I can look at the palms, for instance, and if I see a certain twist, I know they need water,” he said, lifting a hose to some of the many trees that bear mangoes, avocados, apples, coconuts and cherries. Mr. Frazier’s lush property is irrigated by something rare on his side of St. Croix, the east side, also known as the dry side: a well. “Around here, they told me it was like striking oil,” he said.

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An intricate system of cisterns that uses both the well and rainwater serves the 10 houses he has developed, 5 of which are currently rented. Before Mr. Frazier discovered water and his green thumb, his original house was surrounded by unsightly shrubs and weeds. “I’d come back in May after the basketball season and see the red flowers on the flamboyant trees, and I’d immediately want to start planting more,” he said. “I found this gardener, and every morning I’d work with him. He’d pick, I’d shovel. He showed me how to plant. I look around now and think, ‘How did I do all this?’ ”

The more his property bloomed, the more Mr. Frazier wanted to grow. He bought surrounding half- and one-acre lots, most of which had small cottages he was determined to renovate and upgrade. The way he once read word books to improve his vocabulary for broadcasting, he now perused home and garden magazines. He attended home shows in New York at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and in Miami. He scoured outlets for furniture and became a frequent visitor to home appliance stores, buying fixtures for the houses and shipping them south.

A tour of Mr. Frazier’s property comes with a detailed history of his projects. The most recent one started as a deck. “Then I decided, O.K., if I’m going to have a deck, I’ll need a roof. Then I thought, why not put in a bar and entertainment center and make this a clubhouse?”

Nearby, Mr. Frazier’s builder, Michael Wynter, was measuring the area for the entertainment center he will build, with the help of an assistant. “He comes up with the ideas, and I help them materialize,” Mr. Wynter said of Mr. Frazier. “He wants everything to be different and unique.”

Mr. Frazier gives all of his homes names. He and Ms. James live in the Main House. Next door, he is putting finishing touches on Sea View, which has a deck with breathtaking nighttime views of the twinkling Green Cay Marina. There are also the Green House, the Pink House, the Island House, the Pool House, the Deck House and Sea Cottage.

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In his newest houses, Mr. Frazier has embraced a Caribbean flavor, emphasizing decks and terraces, with outdoor cooking facilities and shower stalls. The homes are laden with wood and bamboo in bright, open spaces. He still favors mirrors — years ago he was known for his mirrored bedroom ceiling reflecting a round mink-covered bed — but only on sliding closet doors.

Deanna Davick fell in love with the layout of the Pool House when she joined her husband, Peter Perendy, in St. Croix earlier this month. Mr. Perendy, a kitchen installer, took a job with a St. Croix company when his work dried up in Minnesota. The couple found Mr. Frazier’s property through a local company, Calabash Real Estate.

“We’ve vacationed here for four or five years, so we’re familiar with the island,” Ms. Davick said. “When we moved, we rented our house back home fully furnished. Thank goodness Walt had nice furniture.”

Before the recession, Mr. Frazier briefly flirted with putting the entire property on the market, at an asking price of $5 million. He worries that the maintenance will eventually become too strenuous as he ages. He has no intention of leaving, though. On two empty acres he recently bought farther up the hill, he plans to build an open-air palace of his own, with views of Christiansted Harbor on one side and the Caribbean on the other.

On his property, Mr. Frazier has created a number of places to unwind — or as he said, “just chill.” Recently, Ms. Davick and Mr. Perendy were taking a stroll around the grounds, enjoying the evening sea breeze, when they came upon Mr. Frazier stretched out on the platform of his clubhouse construction site.

“It wasn’t even 7 o’clock,” Ms. Davick said. “He was in a deep, peaceful sleep.”

MORE ON MR. FRAZIER

Walter “Clyde” Frazier is an American former basketball player in the National Basketball Association. As their floor general, he led the New York Knicks to the franchise’s only two championships (1970 and 1973), and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987. Upon his retirement from basketball, Frazier went into broadcasting; he is currently a color commentator for telecasts of Knicks games on the MSG Network. He lives in Harlem with his long-term partner, Patricia James, and they also have a home in St. Croix. He is the father of a son referred to both as Walt Jr. and, later, Walt III. Frazier is a member of the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.  He Co-Owns Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine restaurant in New York. 

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 Walt Frazier Is Still Living the Penthouse Life. The former New York Knick  NBA 2x Championship Winner, grew up with seven sisters and a brother, but he says he got his famous sense of fashion from his father.When I joined the New York Knicks in 1967, the team put me up at the New Yorker Hotel near Madison Square Garden and picked up most of the bill. After our first championship in 1970, I rented a penthouse at 220 E. 54th St. near Third Ave. I also rented two parking spaces in the basement garage. I didn’t want my Rolls-Royce to get scratched.

The penthouse was cool. The furniture and baby grand piano were black and the shag carpeting was red. But there wasn’t any sunlight.

After the Knicks won their second championship in 1973, I was making real money. I moved to an apartment on the 45th floor of the Excelsior at 303 East 57th St. in Sutton Place. The garage parking spots were wider, so I leased just one.

Mr. Frazier in 1974, with his Rolls-Royce. The NBA legend was known for his focus on fashion.
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(ABOVE) Mr. Frazier in 1974, with his Rolls-Royce. The NBA legend was known for his focus on fashion.

I loved my Rolls. It was a previously owned Silver Cloud III. I paid $20,000 for it, but I wasn’t happy with how it looked. A Silver Cloud III always came in black then, with the sides and hood painted gray. These colors were ghastly, so I had the car painted antelope with a burgundy hood and sides. Then I added whitewall tires, and it was perfect.

New York was overwhelming when I arrived from Atlanta in ’67. I had grown up with a brother and seven sisters. We lived in a duplex in the Fourth Ward at 539 East Ave. My father’s parents lived on one side and we lived on the other.

I loved it. We were two blocks from my grade school and 10 blocks from the high school, which meant I could walk. But deep down I wanted to be like the other kids and ride the bus to school.

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My father, Walt, worked for the Atlanta Paper Co. on the assembly line making boxes. My mother, Eula, was a homemaker.

I shared a bedroom with four of my seven sisters. I slept on the top of a bunk bed, with two sisters below. The twins were in a bunk bed on the other side of the room. There was a rollaway bed and a hideaway bed in the living room for my other sisters and little brother.

With so many sisters, I knew how to sew, cook, clean, burp babies, change diapers and iron. But each morning it was like a tornado had hit the house. There were only two bathrooms.

I learned to play basketball on a dirt court in a neighborhood playground. All those pebbles, gullies and bumps forced me to dribble hard to keep control of the ball.

My Uncle Eddie introduced me to sports when I was 8. He bought me my first pair of Converse sneakers and my first suit. He taught me to drive and to be a man. He was a tremendous mentor.

But my passion for fashion started with my dad. He was a big clotheshorse. In college, I wore a suit and tie to every game. My role models were the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Miracles.

I bought my first brown velour wide-brim Borsalino hat in ’67 in Baltimore, when the Knicks were playing the Bullets. I wore it to the locker room and everyone laughed. They hadn’t seen anything like it.

When “Bonnie and Clyde” became a hit film that fall, my teammates began calling me Clyde, since Warren Beatty in the movie wore a similar hat playing Clyde Barrow. The press picked it up.

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My suits were tailor-made by Pagano of Italy on 57th Street, just west of Fifth Avenue. Let me tell you, it was expensive being Clyde. But I didn’t have any bad habits. I didn’t smoke, gamble or drink. My only vice was clothes.

My catalyst for playing pro basketball was my mom. I always wanted to give her a big house with a big kitchen. In 1973, I bought her a home in a terrific neighborhood in Atlanta.

Over time, my hats disappeared. My nephews went through everything and took what they wanted. And the Rolls I sold some years back. My lifestyle was changing.

Today, I live in a five-bedroom penthouse in Harlem with my long-term partner, Patricia. As Mentioned earlier in the article, we also have a home in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. I bought a single-level house down there on an acre in 1979. Now I have a main house and more than 10 rental properties.

In New York I co-own a restaurant and drive a Nissan Pathfinder, but I’m looking again for a used Rolls. Hey, Clyde is still working and needs motivation.

Career information
High school David T. Howard (Atlanta, Georgia)
College Southern Illinois (1963–1967)
NBA draft 1967 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5th overall
Selected by the New York Knicks
Playing career 1967–1980
Position Point guard
Number 10, 11
Career history
19671977 New York Knicks
19771980 Cleveland Cavaliers
Career highlights and awards
Career statistics
Points 15,581 (18.9 ppg)
Rebounds 4,830 (5.9 rpg)
Assists 5,040 (6.1 apg)
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com
 
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006