As someone who never got to see Dolph Schayes play—his career spanned 16 seasons (1949-1964), during which he averaged 18.5 points, was selected to 12 All-Star teams, and won 1 NBA championship (1955)—perhaps one statistic stands out the most: Schayes was the first NBA player to reach 15,000 points.
Schayes, who played for the Syracuse National (a franchise that became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963)—competing in the same (shot clock) era as Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, George Mikan, Bill Pettit, and Wilt Chamberlain, whom he later coached in Philadelphia—was described as “a bridge to modern basketball” by The New York Times.
Dolph Schayes was… best known for his two-handed set shots at a time when jump-shooting came into vogue, and was a top rebounder. The NBA Encyclopedia called him “a bridge between the old game and the new one.”
Schayes died from cancer in Syracuse, NY, on Thursday. He was 87.
At 6′ 7″, Schayes, born in the Bronx to Romanian immigrants, was drafted in 1948 (into the BBA, the precursor to the NBA); the Syracuse Nationals offered him a $7,500 contract, and he eventually adopted the city as his home. Schayes once played 706 consecutive regular-season games from 1952 through 1961 and was selected to “six All-NBA teams—that is, for six seasons, sports journalists voted him the best at his position,” wrote Tablet contributor Marc Tracy in Jewish Jocks. Schayes told Tracy—who called him at his job in real estate—that he “selfishly” pictures himself as a cager who played like Dirk Nowitzki, who will soon pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the all-time NBA scoring list. “He’s a much better post-up player than I was; I think I was a better rebounder.”
In 1977, Schayes—who coached in Philly for 4 seasons (in 1963 he was a player-coach), and later served as a supervisor for NBA referees—also drew up X’s and O’s the U.S. team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, where they won a gold medal.
He is survived by his wife, Naomi, sons Danny (who also played forward and center in the NBA for 18 seasons) and David, two daughters (Carrie Goettsch and Debra Ferri), and nine grandchildren.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.