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Schayes, Adolph ("Dolph")

SCHAYES, Adolph ("Dolph")

(b. 19 May 1928 in New York City), one of the fifty greatest players in National Basketball Association (NBA) history.

Schayes was born into a lower middle class Jewish family in the Bronx. Although his parents, Carl Schayes and Tina Michel Schayes, were both born in Romania and came to the United States in 1920, they met in school on the Lower East Side of New York. They subsequently had three sons. Schayes's father was employed by Consolidated Laundries as a truck driver and later as a supervisor. He also moon-lighted as a taxicab driver. Schayes's mother was a homemaker. Schayes's introduction to basketball occurred in the 1930s when he was eleven or twelve and a member of the Trylons, a group of ten friends who became one of the best basketball teams in the Bronx. They were in great demand to play in tournaments, and it was from this experience that Schayes developed his love of the game. Eventually reaching his full growth of six feet, eight inches, Schayes was already tall in junior high school, where he was a good basketball player. He was an excellent player at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he attended from 1941 to 1944. Schayes graduated from high school with an academic diploma at the age of sixteen.

Heavily recruited by such schools as Purdue, St. John's, Columbia, and New York University (NYU), he chose NYU because it was located not far from his home. He received a basketball scholarship in 1945 when NYU had one of the top teams in the country, and at age sixteen he was the youngest player on the team. Among Schayes's teammates at NYU were future NBA players Don Forman and Sid Tannenbaum, and their influence encouraged him to develop his outside shooting and rebounding. Schayes was named All-Metropolitan as a freshman in 1945 and helped lead the Violets to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships, a contest they lost to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) 49–45. In 1948 Schayes was named All-American and won the Haggerty Trophy, awarded to the top player in the New York metropolitan area. During the same season, he set the single season scoring record at NYU with 356 points, as the Violets finished the season 20–3 but lost to St. Louis in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) championship game 65–52. Schayes finished his NYU career with 815 points in 80 games.

Schayes graduated from NYU in 1948 as an honor student with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering. Following his graduation, Schayes was drafted by both the New York Knickerbockers (Knicks) of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the National Basketball League (NBL). The rights to Schayes were obtained from the Blackhawks by the Syracuse Nationals (Nats), and because the Nats offered more money, Schayes signed with them. During his first year in the NBL in 1949 he was named Rookie of the Year after scoring 12.8 points per game. Schayes married Naomi Eva Gross in 1951. They had four children, one of whom (Danny) played professional basketball in the NBA.

The NBL folded in 1951, and the Nats moved to the newly named NBA, a product of the merger between the NBL and BAA. Playing the forward position, Schayes led his team in scoring with a 16.8 points per game average, as his team finished first in the league. The Nats, however, lost to the George Mikan–led Minneapolis Lakers in the NBA finals. During the following year, 1953–1954, Schayes led his team in scoring (17.1 points per game) and in rebounding (12.1 per game), but the Nats lost again to the Lakers in the finals. In the 1954–1955 season, the 24-second shot clock was introduced as Schayes continued to lead his team in scoring. In the NBA finals against the Fort Wayne Pistons, the Syracuse Nationals won their first championship game 92–91.

This was the last time that the Nats returned to the NBA finals, and the team became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963. Nevertheless, between 1950 and 1961, Schayes remained one of the NBA's most dominant players. During these years, Schayes was named to the All-NBA First or Second Team every year and played in twelve consecutive All-Star games. He led the league in free throw shooting in 1958 (.904) and in 1962 (.897), and in rebounding in 1951 (16.4). Schayes was also a durable ballplayer, between 17 February 1952 and 26 December 1961 he played in a record 706 consecutive regular season games as well as in 103 playoff games. When he retired in 1964, Schayes was the NBA's all-time leading scorer (19,249 points), had played more games than anyone else thus far in NBA history (1,059), and was the NBA leader in free throws made (6,979) as well as free throw attempts (8,273). Schayes's lifetime NBA free throw percentage was .844 from the line. His lifetime scoring average was 18.2 points per game. He collected a career total of 11,256 rebounds and averaged 10.6 a game.

During the 1963–1964 season Schayes was the player-coach of the 76ers, playing in twenty-four games before becoming a full-time coach from 1964 to 1966. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 1966 when he led the 76ers to a 55–25 record, the best in the NBA. From 1966 to 1970 Schayes served as supervisor of NBA referees. He returned to coaching in 1970 for the Buffalo Braves, a new NBA franchise, but was dismissed after the opening game of his second season for not disciplining his players enough. Schayes's overall record as a professional coach was 151 wins and 172 losses.

In 1977 Schayes coached the U.S. Maccabiah team, with his son Danny playing, to an upset 92–91 victory over the Israeli team in the championship. Schayes was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973. He is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame. Schayes and his wife live in Syracuse, New York.

Schayes was one of the great basketball players of his time. An excellent shooter and rebounder, Schayes was also an intelligent ballplayer and an athlete who always placed his team ahead of his own personal achievements.

There is no biography of Schayes, but several books about Jewish athletes include information about him, including Joseph Siegman, Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Hall of Fame (1997); Robert Slater, Great Jews in Sports (1983); Peter Levine, Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and the American Jewish Experience (1992); and American Jewish Historical Society, ed., American Jewish Desk Reference (1999). The most important of the very few articles written about Schayes is William Simons, "Interview with Adolph Schayes," American Jewish History 74, no.3 (1985): 287–307. For further information see his profile at http://global.nba.com/.

Jack Fischel

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