This day in Jewish history / An NBA all-star player and coach is born
Dolph Schayes, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, was named one of the NBA's 50 best players ever in 1996.
May 19, 1928, is the birthday of Dolph Schayes, longtime NBA player and coach, who during his 16 years in the league was selected 12 times to play in the All-Star Game and six times for the All-NBA First Team (the five starters chosen by journalists at the end of the season as the best players of that year).
Adolph Schayes was born in New York and raised in the Bronx, where he attended and played for DeWitt Clinton High School. Both his parents were Jewish immigrants from Romania. Schayes studied engineering at New York University, where he was an All-American basketball player. In the 1948 draft of the BAA (the Basketball Association of America, which the following year became the National Basketball Association), he was offered contracts by both the New York Knicks and the Syracuse Nationals. He went with the latter team because it offered him $7,500, which was 50 percent more than his hometown team.
Schayes began his professional career at six foot six, but soon grew to his eventual height of six foot eight. In his first season, he was named league Rookie of the Year. In 1952, he suffered a fracture to his shooting hand early in the season, but, amazingly, he continued to play with a cast on his arm. A few years later, he broke his left wrist, and also kept playing, later telling a reporter: “My advice to all young players is to break their wrists and develop the feathery touch that casts make necessary.” In 1957, he led the team to the NBA championship.
Schayes’ career overlapped with the NBA decision to switch over to a “shot clock,” a rule, still in use today, that required a team to take a shot within 24 seconds of taking possession of the ball. This accelerated the game significantly, but also changed its demographics, as Mark Tracy noted in his essay about Schayes in last year’s “Jewish Jocks,” as faster players, many of them black men, began to enter the league. Still, Schayes made the All-NBA first team as many times after the rule took effect as he did prior to it. “I didn’t adjust, I just played! I developed quicker moves, quicker offense,” he told Tracy.
Schayes spent his entire career with the Nationals, who moved to Philadelphia in 1963, changing their name to the 76ers. During that last season, 1963-64, he served as player-coach. He retired from play after that season, but continued as the team’s coach for three more years.
Between 1952 and 1961, Schayes played in 706 consecutive regular-season games, a record at the time. During the latter year, he became the first player in NBA history to rack up a career total of 30,000 points plus rebounds and assists. Over the course of his career, Schayes came in second in the league for points scored per game (24.9). Not surprisingly, he was selected, by a jury of players, coaches and journalists, as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players ever in 1996.
Following his retirement, Schayes worked as the NBA supervisor of referees for several years, before moving into the residential real estate business in Syracuse, where he lives to this day. (He likes describing his work to journalists in the following way: “I own a lot of toilets.”)
In 1977, Schayes coached the American team to victory in the Maccabiah Games, in Israel. The squad included his son Danny Schayes, who later went on to play for the NBA between 1981 and 1999. That was Dolph’s first visit to Israel, but he’s returned for the Maccabiah several times since, and has also seen three of his granddaughters play for the U.S. volleyball team and a grandson run (and win) in the 4X100 relay in the competition.
In Israel for the Maccabiah in 2009, Dolph Schayes told Steve Klein, of Haaretz English Edition, that his family had not been religiously observant when he was growing up, and that he did not celebrate his bar mitzvah. “In Jewish life I wasn’t very tall,” he said at the time. “I was stunted.” For him, attending the Maccabiah in Israel was an important milestone: “I grew up as a Jew. Every time I come, I grow up even more.”