By Jessica Dortch and Mark Gray, AFRO Staff
Passionate, courageous, and inspiring are just a few words to describe Nathaniel “Nat” Frazier, former collegiate and professional basketball coach, who passed away on Sept. 22 at Howard County General Hospital. He was 84.
Born in Beaufort, S.C., Nat Frazier grew up in the Jim Crow South when sports were seen as a “way out” for African Americans. As a youth, Frazier played basketball with his friends, and soon his love for the game led him to places he never imagined.
As a father and coach, Frazier relied on the “old school” way of doing things to get results. He was not only a great basketball mind and tremendous tactician on the floor, Frazier was a giver of knowledge and opportunity to those who got to know him.
“I basically grew up going everywhere with him,” said Kevin Frazier, the legendary coach’s oldest son in an interview with the AFRO. “I always felt like I was his sidekick so if I had to describe him, I’d say that living life with him was a huge adventure.”
Frazier led the Bears to the 1974 NCAA Division II National Championship with the great center Marvin Webster leading the way and was named National Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.
“I remember them winning the national championship, I was there with him,” the younger Frazier reflected.
He took his Morgan State teams on several overseas trips and also traveled to Africa to help spread the game and train coaches in the Western part of the continent.
Nat also spent a decade of summers coaching overseas in the Venezuelan Special Basketball League where his Carabobo team won the league title in 1973.
Following his first tenure at Morgan in 1977, Frazier went to the NBA as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks. He was part of the ownership team and the general manager in the groundbreaking Women’s Basketball League, the league that would pave the way for what is now the WNBA. He owned a semi-pro team, the Columbia 29’ers, and also served briefly at Bowie State as head coach. Frazier developed into one of college basketball’s best recruiters at Delaware State and the University of Illinois, while becoming part of the group of pioneers who integrated coaches throughout the Big Ten conference, before returning to Morgan from 1986 to 1989, where his coaching legend was made.
“We were running a lot of things that the Bulls ran before it became famous,” longtime athletic administrator and member of the 1974 championship team Joe McIver said to the AFRO. “The only difference was that Marvin [Webster] was at the top of the triangle.”
At Morgan State, Frazier introduced a style of basketball that emphasized intricate offenses and hard-nosed defense. The Bears played a form of the triangle offense that was popularized by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. It proved to be a winning formula that led the Golden Bears to unprecedented success. In seven seasons at the helm of the program, Coach Frazier was the 10th winningest coach in Division II history at the time.
Frazier was more than a role model to his sons, inspiring them to be the best in every way. Each day was a lesson and some of those lessons were learned from his personal mistakes along the way, Kevin recalled.
“Don’t get yourself caught in a trick bag,” said Kevin, of one of the pinnacle lessons of his father’s tutelage. For Kevin, co-host of CBS’s Entertainment Tonight, that meant evaluating situations and making reasonable decisions that he could live with.
“‘[You should] constantly pay attention to decisions that you make every single day or you’ll get caught in a trick bag,’” Frazier continued, reciting some of his father’s guiding words.
In many respects, Frazier was the consummate HBCU lifer, though his basketball acumen gave him the ability to impact the professional game as well. Part of his HBCU coaching DNA was formed during his undergrad years playing at Tuskegee University, where he was twice named an all-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference performer while playing for Golden Tigers. Having grown up in the Deep South, seeing the devastating impacts of racism hardened him, which gave him an edge that many couldn’t understand.
“It was a family, and when you feel your family is being mistreated, you fight for them,” he added. “We were all his kids and when he felt we weren’t being treated fairly he was going to fight for us.”
Nathaniel Frazier is survived by his wife of 57 years, Alice Frazier, and two sons, Kevin and Kenneth, along with their families. Funeral services were held at Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Center on Oct. 1. The Frazier family requests that donations be made, in honor of Nat Frazier, to the Morgan State University Athletic Excellence Fund for student athlete scholarships.
Frazier’s legacy at MSU is often dwarfed by the shadows of legendary football coaches Eddie Hurt and Earl Banks. However, he stands as the only coach in school history to win an NCAA National Championship.
In retirement, Nat developed a passion for another sport. “He was an insane golfer,” said Kevin. “Golf didn’t love him back necessarily, but he loved golf.” Medical complications prevented Nat from playing golf, so, instead, he would workout at the athletic club and play extensive games of rummikub.
Aside from the games, Nat loved when his players would visit and check-in on him, which is something that happened very often. The outpouring of love and condolences from former coworkers, friends, students, athletes, and all those who were influenced by Nat Frazier over the past few decades proved a truly remarkable way to honor a remarkable man.
“I think it makes you understand the impact that he had on so many lives. He raised a lot of young black men and women, too. It is beautiful to see that and to talk to everybody,” Kevin explains.