Type 2 Diabetes: NBA Legends Frazier and Monroe Team Up

For basketball fans, the 1973 New York Knicks are the stuff of legend. That year, not only did they compile a record of 57 wins and 25 losses en route to becoming NBA champions, but they also boasted a starting lineup of players all of whom are now members of the NBA Hall of Fame.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe—the famed backcourt duo of that Hall-of-Fame Knicks lineup—are once again on the same team. This time, however, they are not working to bring home another NBA title but to educate the public, especially African-Americans, about type 2 diabetes, heart disease and insulin resistance.

Frazier and Monroe are serving as spokespersons for the American Heart Association’s campaign, The Heart of Diabetes: Understanding Insulin Resistance, which is sponsored by Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Actos. Both Frazier and Monroe have a family history of type 2 diabetes. Monroe’s father died from complications of the disease, and he, his brother and sister have all been diagnosed with it. Frazier has many close family members with type 2 diabetes.

Because African-Americans are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes as other ethnic groups, Frazier and Monroe are spreading the word about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease. By working with the AHA’s Heart of Diabetes campaign, Monroe and Frazier hope to motivate people affected by type 2 diabetes to become physically active and further modify their lifestyles to help control the disease.

The legendary duo recently spoke with Diabetes Health:

Could you describe the extent of your involvement with the AHA campaign? Why was it important to you to get involved?

Frazier: This is our second year of being the spokesperson for the Heart of Diabetes program. I do it because diabetes is rampant in my family. I’ve lost loved ones to the disease, and I’m just trying to educate the public and let them know that if they have diabetes, it is something that can be controlled by diet and exercise. I want them to know that it can be prevented, as well. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. That is why Earl and I have teamed up. Teamwork is essential in helping to fight against type 2 diabetes.

Monroe: For me, I have type 2 diabetes, and my father passed away from complications of type 2 diabetes. I think that people need to know there is a serious connection between diabetes and heart disease and stroke. If you are an African-American, you’re twice as a likely to get type 2. So being at greater risk, I think it is important that we get this message out to everyone, that they need to go to a doctor and get regular checkups. They need to exercise regularly, and they need to eat healthy foods and take their medications at the right time.

Can you speculate on why there is such a high incidence of diabetes in the African-American community?

Monroe: The only thing I can say is that African-Americans don’t really get to the doctor for regular checkups. So, a lot of times, things like type 2 diabetes go unnoticed. As it is, over three million African-Americans are suffering from diabetes, and about a third of us are walking [around] and don’t even know we have type 2. So, that’s why it is important that we go and see a doctor and get diagnosed.

Mr. Monroe, could you tell me about your experience with type 2? When were you diagnosed, and how have you controlled it?

Monroe: When I first got diagnosed a few years back, I didn’t go [to the doctor] to get diagnosed. I just went for a regular checkup and found out that I had type 2. It woke me up to the type of bad foods I was eating and to the lack of regular exercise I was getting. I learned quickly that I needed to change my lifestyle. A lot of times, as an athlete, you think you’re not vulnerable to anything like diabetes, but I found out that this was something that I could control through diet and exercise. Being diagnosed has changed my lifestyle for the better. My cholesterol has always been pretty good, but my sugar is under control now with diet and exercise. I still test several times per day.

What resources and information do you think type 2s have today that your father’s generation lacked?

Monroe: Just the simple fact that someone is coming on the radio and TV and talking about diabetes is something he didn’t have. Back when my dad developed diabetes, information wasn’t readily available, which is why Clyde and I are out here. As former athletes, people have heard of us, so they might listen to some of the things that we say. Taking control of diabetes is a choice that you have to make.

Mr. Frazier, you have a family history of type 2 diabetes. What steps are you taking to keep yourself from developing type 2?

Frazier: Being a former athlete, I have always been into my health. And I think vanity plays a big part of it, too [laughing]. It would be expensive for me to gain weight; I would have to get all new clothes. Plus, I like working out. I work out about five or six days a week. As a broadcaster for the New York Knicks, my job is very conducive to that. I have an opportunity to stay fit, and it’s something I really relish. In retrospect, because my family has an obesity problem, I was always cognizant about gaining weight. And I did gain weight once when I retired from the game, but I just didn’t like it, so I diligently started working on it. Now I can maintain my weight very easily through my diet and exercise.

A lot of athletes, whether professional or amateur, seem to gain weight quickly when they stop being athletic. Have you noticed that in fellow NBA alumni, and if so, what do you tell them about the dangers of developing type 2?

Frazier: A lot of them are not aware of it. That’s why Earl and I, hopefully, by being the spokesmen of this campaign, might get through to them about the problems related to weight gain and high blood pressure and stroke and eventually heart attacks that can happen from having type 2 diabetes.

Monroe: When you finish being an athlete after having been active for so long, it’s a real chore to go and work out again. That’s why it’s good to have someone to work out with. Clyde and I still work out. We can go jogging. We can shoot some hoops together. Anything to stay active. Because you’ll find out that if you are active, your sugar levels will always come down.

There’s a kind of invincibility you feel when you are young, and the next thing you know, you’re in your 30s or 40s, you’re 50 pounds heavier, your cholesterol is out of whack and you don’t know how it all happened. What would you tell younger athletes today about staying healthy when the day comes that they are no longer at their athletic peak?

Frazier: Well, Earl and I are parents, so we talk to kids as well as adults about the dangers of type 2 diabetes. Lots of kids have really poor diets and don’t get any exercise at all. It seems they’re always on the computer and never outside. Obesity is a real problem, not just in adults but in kids as well. They’re in the danger zone just as much as adults.

Monroe: And the schools are cutting back on physical education programs. Kids go home and go straight to their rooms. They’re active, it’s just that they’re active playing computer games and eating fast food. So these are the things that we want to get them to stop doing. If we can get them started on a course right now, preparing themselves for a better lifestyle, then we think our mission is accomplished.

Walt Frazier

March 29, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia

Southern Illinois University (1963-1967)

NBA New York Knicks (1967-1977)
NBA Cleveland Cavaliers (1977-1980)

Pro Career Highlights
NBA All-Rookie Team (1968)
All-NBA First Team (1970, 1972, 1974, 1975)
Seven-time NBA All-Star (1970-1976)
NBA All-Star Game MVP (1975)
NBA championships with the New York Knicks (1970, 1973)
In 825 NBA games, averaged 18.9 points per game
Member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team (1996)
Enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame on May 5, 1987

Earl Monroe

November 21, 1944, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Winston-Salem State (1963-1967)

Holds Division 2 single-season record for most points in a season (1,326 total, 41.5 points per game) in 1967

NBA Baltimore Bullets (1967-1971)
NBA New York Knicks (1972-1980)

Pro Career Highlights
NBA Rookie of the Year (1968)
All-NBA First Team (1969)
Four-time NBA All-Star (1969, 1971, 1975, 1977)
NBA championship with the New York Knicks (1973)
Member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team (1996)
Enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame on May 15, 1990

The AHA’s Heart of Diabetes campaign encourages people with type 2 diabetes to get regular physical activity, eat a healthful diet and manage cholesterol levels to reduce associated risks and prevent the development of cardiovascular disease. The program includes a variety of free resources. One of them, The Game Plan to a Healthy Life, is a journal that offers a plan for physical activity and lets participants track glucose and cholesterol levels, weight and blood pressure to help them make healthful choices every day.

The Heart of Diabetes offers several basic strategies to help people with type 2 diabetes gradually make beneficial changes, such as:

  • Learning new ways to begin and increase regular physical activity
  • Increasing the amount of time and intensity of physical activity
  • Learning how to choose healthful foods that work best for a diabetic eating plan
  • Finding new, local opportunities and resources for getting physical activity

Source: The American Heart Association

If you are interested in participating in The Heart of Diabetes program, call (800) 242-8721 or visit the AHA Web site at www.americanheart.org/diabetes. Participants receive free materials, including the Game Plan to a Healthy Life journal, plus an educational brochure on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.

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