Text size

Among the familiar guests attending this year's Maccabiah is NBA legend Dolph Schayes. In addition to his illustrious playing career, Schayes coached the U.S. men's basketball team, which included his son and former NBA player Danny, to a gold medal in the 1977 games.

This year the elder Schayes is attending the Maccabiah as patriarch of a clan spanning three generations of participants. Schayes, 77, has three granddaughters on the U.S. women's volleyball squad, a grandson on the U.S. track and field team, and a nephew, Todd, who is coaching the U.S. men's senior basketball team.

This Maccabiah is a special one for Schayes. "It's great for me to come with my grandchildren, watch them compete, and see them learn about their history and heritage."

Schayes has been a Maccabiah regular for a number of years. "I myself didn't come from a strong Jewish background," he says. "Sports are one of the best methods of getting the attention of kids, and the games do an excellent job of spreading the word about Judaism, promoting the Jewish identity and, in short, helping to keep Jewish kids Jewish."

An older generation of sports fans remember Schayes as the NBA's first and only true Jewish superstar when he played for the Syracuse Nationals during the fledgling stage of what developed into the best basketball league in the world.

The 2.03-meter Schayes starred at New York University, a major college basketball power before de-emphasizing the sport in the early 1970s, before entering the NBA.

Schayes became one of the NBA's biggest names in an era when the league was limited to the Northeast and Midwest, and included small cities like Syracuse and Rochester in New York state, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. And with intimate community-based settings like Syracuse's War Memorial Auditorium the norm, as opposed to today's fabulous forums with celebrities at courtside, the NBA was a far different league back then.

All of Schayes' 16 seasons as a player were spent with the Nationals, including his last year, 1964, when the franchise moved to Philadelphia and was renamed the 76ers.

Schayes' game featured a combination of strength and finesse. He was a strong inside player, and one of the league's top rebounders, while possessing a soft touch from outside. He is known for his patented, high trajectory, two-handed set shot, and also led the league in free throw percentage three seasons.

For 12 straight years, between 1950-1961, Schayes was either a first- or second-team all star. The highlight of Schayes' career was his leading the Nats to an NBA title in 1955. When his playing days ended, he was the league leader in five career categories, including scoring. And in 1996, he was named a member of the NBA's 50th anniversary All-Time team.

Schayes made the transition from player-coach to coach when the Nationals moved to Philadelphia. He coached the Sixers for three years, and the team improved each season. In his final year, he was named NBA Coach of the Year.

After that, he was supervisor of NBA referees for four years, and coached the Buffalo Braves for a season.

Schayes has been away from basketball for many years. His main connection with the league was following his son Danny's NBA career, which lasted 18 seasons and ended in 2000.

The member of the Schayes clan who has made the most news in recent years is Dolph's nephew, Todd. As a member of the U.S. delegation in the 2001 Maccabiah, Todd held up a sign saying "Single male, American. Looking for Israeli wife. Contact Todd Schayes at the Tel Aviv Hilton." Todd was instantly besieged with responses and attention from the Israeli media.

Upon returning to the United States, the American media picked up the story, including the New York Times, CNN and NBC. Eventually, as a result of the exposure, Todd found his bride, albeit an American Jewish girl.