I’d been growing out my beard for a couple of weeks until Monday. Anyone who knows me will tell you that my facial hair is embarrassing at best, and at worst it’s quite off-putting. I’d been letting it grow wild and patchy, but since I was heading into Manhattan for a press conference that morning where I knew I might meet Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez, I wanted to look professional. So much to my chagrin — but to the delight of my family and friends — I broke out the old razor and went clean-shaven off to the West Side.
I didn’t really know exactly what the presser was going to be about; all I knew was that Frazier and Hernandez were going to be there. It was obvious that they were selling something, and it wouldn’t have been rocket science to figure out what. Even so, a trip to Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine to meet two of the great athletes in New York history was worth the trip.
Frazier is greeting people at the door, beaming with pride to show off his immaculately named restaurant. Unfortunately, he’s stuffed in a plain, dark gray suit with a “Just For Men” patch sewn on, just to cement the collective eye roll of why everyone has gathered here. Of course, who am I to complain about why I’m here while I’m shaking a hand with a Knicks championship ring on it, and if I’d reached my left hand out there would’ve been another ring there, too. I walked in alone, and Frazier gave me his undivided attention for a brief moment, even though he must have had 15 people in his immediate area and he felt the need to introduce me to about half of them.
He directs me to the bar to get a glass of water. It’s 8:45 a.m., yet I still feel pretty confident the bartender would’ve put a Jameson in my hand if I had leered at the bottle just a little harder. The first thing to notice from the waiting area by the bar — actually the only thing to notice — is the giant column with a print of a 12-foot Clyde in a bright yellow suit. Notice the lack of a “Just For Men” patch on this one. It serves as a reminder of how disappointing his gray suit is, although he doesn’t seem to care. He’s the coolest guy in the room, impossible not to notice, and impossible not to be drawn to. Everyone there inches closer to him like he has a gravitational pull, and the way he handles the crowd as if he’s having 10 one-on-one conversations at the same time is a marvel.
By contrast, I don’t think a single person noticed Hernandez. Not that he was unrecognizable; you could spot his trademark mustache anywhere. He was just blending in with the wall with his head buried in his phone. I stood next to the chair he was sitting in for a good minute or two before I realized he was there, not because I didn’t know he was Keith Hernandez but because I didn’t notice a human there at all. No offense to Keith, but Frazier could’ve been hiding behind a curtain and the crowd there would’ve sniffed him out like Dorothy ran down the great and powerful Oz.
Eventually the public relations team must have realized Clyde would never tire of entertaining the people, and they ushered us over to a different area for some TV time. They warmed us up with a cheesy poem, in honor of the Keith and Clyde “Just For Men” commercials, and I have to say that the charisma flipped from the great Knick to the great Met. Frazier’s too-cool-for-school attitude just wouldn’t allow him to do anything other than nonchalantly read his prompter. Hernandez sprang to life, owning the stage like a Saturday Night Live cast member bringing a full dose of energy for the cold open.
Side note on the return of the classic Hernandez mustache: he said he started growing it when the hometown Rangers were down three games to one against the Washington Capitals, as his pseudo-playoff beard. His friends and family liked it so he kept it. I’m guessing growing it back was a requirement from “Just For Men,” but the whole Rangers story played well to the crowd.
After the live reading of some of the worst Dr. Seuss impressions I’ve ever heard, we finally got the reason everyone was here at Clyde’s restaurant early on a Monday morning. We were all here to watch a commercial. No worries though, because Keith and Clyde pick up with the rhymes, right where they left off.
The commercial didn’t disappoint, as it started with them heckling a red-and-gray bearded man and ended with the two champions creepily sitting in his bedroom, as the the new, fully-colored beard gave the man the confidence to make the moves on his wife. The bloopers were even better, involving some rhymes with very salty language that would’ve made the Cat in the Hat blush, as well as the inappropriate use of a hot dog, which was Keith’s second-biggest crowd-pleaser after the story on growing back his mustache.
During the Q&A, the reporters and press in attendance tried their damnedest to ask a few questions about the Mets’ midseason surge and the Knicks’ prospects for the upcoming year, but those were dealt with quickly and succinctly before more or less being swatted away in favor of questions about the national ad campaign and the #BeardSpotting contest they were promoting. For the record, I have no reason to believe those questions were planted amongst the public relations staff scattered among the crowd, but I have no reason not to believe that either. Based only on my gut, I’d say they were.
Those wily sports writers couldn’t be beat though, instead asking an uncomfortable-at-this-point Clyde and Keith about the best beards in sports, and the best beards in basketball, and the best beards in baseball, and then the best beards on the Knicks and the best beards on the Mets. For the record, Clyde answered James Harden for the best beard in sports, and then the other four beard-related questions went more or less unanswered, save for maybe a throwaway name that made it pretty obvious neither of these guys really took a survey of who was wearing facial hair or not. They deflected some by giving the history of facial hair being forbidden in team sports, from Frazier’s college coach to all of baseball before the Athletics of the 1970s. Frazier did say that the Knicks needed his help in the facial hair department, because “those beards are a little weird.”
They did happily agree to take pictures with some of the media members in attendance, including a few fun ones with the swag available on the tables in the form of foam fingers and mustaches on sticks. Of course, they were roped into answering a few sports-related questions during this picture time. Frazier particularly was very polite as one reporter turned his photo-op into an extended one-on-one chat, pulling out a recorder and everything. He talked about how the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis was initially disappointing because he’d take a few years to develop, and his relationship with Phil Jackson among other questions asked, but he was visibly annoyed as a line to take pictures with him grew longer.
Frazier did light up when one writer asked him to describe his game, and he must have used the word smooth half a dozen times in his response, while reminiscing about how little physicality he brought to the court. He laughed that back in those days anyone who went into the lane got put down hard, and he wanted no part of that so he focused in on the finesse areas of his game and left the dirty work to his teammates. He had everyone in an earshot smiling on that one. Basically describing himself the way the old guard would describe a current NBA player as soft, and owning our hearts because of it. Only Clyde.
For the most part everything was about staying on message for the stars. They took any chance they could to spin it back to the #BeardSpotting contest and the search for the “Best Beard Ever,” and when they missed an opportunity, a member of the staff was quick to steer them in the right direction. Frazier was able to navigate the situation without losing his street cred.
Right as they decided Frazier and Hernandez had been paraded around long enough, they whisked them away and started handing out bags of swag to take home, thanking us for attending their little marketing campaign. As I walked past Clyde’s smiling face one last time — up 12 feet high on a column, not the real live Clyde — I couldn’t help but think about what just happened. I looked in the goodie bag, and among other items was the “Just For Men Mustache and Beard” treatment brush for fuller, thicker looking facial hair.
The irony of the situation hit me:
- The press conference was even less serious than I thought it was going to be.
- It was essentially about a contest to see who could grow the best beard.
- Outside of the “Just For Men” foam finger, the big giveaway was a product that enhances beards.
Did I really shave for this?