One-on-One: Dolph Schayes

by Max Rappaport Writer

On October 14, the Sixers and Knicks will square off in a preseason showdown at the Carrier Dome on the campus of Syracuse University. It will be the second time in three seasons that the two teams face one another in Syracuse, the first home of the 76ers, who were originally established as the Syracuse Nationals in 1946 before moving to Philadelphia and changing their name in 1963. 

In honor of the Sixers' roots in Syracuse, caught up with Nationals legend Dolph Schayes, who spent 14 seasons in Upstate New York and three in Philadelphia (one as a player, two as a coach) between 1949 and 1966. Schayes was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972 and resides today in Syracuse, where he's involved in a real estate business.


Sixers.comHow does passion for basketball compare in Syracuse to other cities around the country? 

Dolph Schayes: Syracuse is one of the great basketball cities in America, or the world really. The pros did well here but when the league went to the West Coast and expenses rose, the players’ salaries rose. Syracuse was the 40th-biggest TV market in the country, so the NBA looked at Syracuse and said, ‘We would like to move you guys to a bigger city.’

Syracuse University basketball dominates the sports pages, and they have been tremendously successful, they average between 20 and 30 thousand people a game and are probably top five in the country in on-campus facilities. Now that they joined the ACC they will get even bigger because they get the Dukes and North Carolina’s into it. For a basketball, junkie Syracuse is still a great place to be.

SC: What played into your decision to go the NBA and not the BAA, despite being drafted by teams in both leagues?

DS: At that time, it was strictly about money in a way the Knicks offered $5,000 and Syracuse offered $7,500. Because this was 1948, where a $100 a week was a hell of a good salary. So I figured they want to pay me for a game I love to play, so why not? I was only going to play for a couple of years and I figured why not make a few extra bucks. But then basketball all of a sudden took off. We had a very good team in Syracuse even though we were a small market.

SC: How did you find out the Nationals were moving to Philadelphia? 

DS: It was interesting. It was probably around May sometime, and I had just had my leg operated on and was recuperating. I was reading the paper and it said that the Nationals had been sold. So we traveled to Philadelphia and rented a home, and ended up living in the City Line area. 

The fans were great… Very knowledgeable. To this day, my wife and I miss Philadelphia. We go once or twice a year to catch a few games.

SC: What was it like coaching Wilt Chamberlain and where does he rank amongst the game's best ever? 

DS: Wilt is on the short list for top-five players all time, but it’s very subjective because there are so many different eras. Wilt Chamberlain today would dominate. He would have numbers that would be out of this world.

He was a good person and when we got him from Golden State it was one of the greatest trades ever. We gave up some decent players, but to get a player of Wilt’s caliber was special. He really took the next step and became a team player in 1965-66, my last year with the Sixers, and if he played today he would be a top five player. He was an amazing athlete.

SC: How much has the league changed since you were drafted in 1949?

DS: I could never have imagined this kind of success. When I joined, the average salary was $15,000 to $20,000, and a lot of the growth has to do with television and the exposure that television gave to the league. Also, the marketing of the league, in the old days guys grew up with the game, and players were hard, scrappy guys. Today’s players are incredible athletes compared to our day. We played more of a passing game then it is today but the rivalries were unbelievable, like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, which was one for the ages. Marketing is really what has made the game so popular today.

The three-point shot has become very important in today’s game. Years and years ago, I asked for us to have a three point shot because of how hard it is, and I thought a dunk should count for one point because it’s so easy. I actually think eventually there will be a four-point shot because of the strength and size of the players we need to spread the court out even more. The game is played by the greatest athletes in the world and has become a world game. Now there is a lot of one-on-one, especially down the stretch in the last several minutes of the game. In our era, we had more passing and pure basketball you might say, but guys like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and so on are tremendous athletes. What really changed the game was when David Stern took over and you had guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. Each couple years, a new great player entered the stage.

SC: The 1954-55 Nationals team that won an NBA Championship doesn't get talked about much. Why do you think that is? 

DS: That Finals series was played in a closet. The World Championship was played between Fort Wayne, Indiana and Syracuse, New York, and I don’t think they were televised, so nobody knew about them. We were the two smallest markets in the NBA.

What made those Finals so significant was that was the first time the 24-second clock was used. We were 15 points down at halftime in one game, and had the shot clock not been added, we wouldn’t have been able to fight back from the deficit. The skills our players really came to fruition with the shot clock.

SC: You broke your wrist early in your career and actually played a number of games with a cast on your shooting hand. What was that like? 

DS: It was an incomplete fracture of a small bone in the wrist, so they were able to put a lightweight cast on it and seal it with a rubberized cover that allowed me to play. My game, I was a scorer and had a good outside shot. I would hit a few shots on the outside and then drive to the basket, but that was all mostly righty. When I broke my wrist, which was my shooting hand, I decided I would become a lefty, and played left-handed for six weeks while the thing healed.

When the cast was taken off I was able to be ambidextrous, and that increased my efficiency 1000%. I guess you could say that when I broke my wrist, it was a good break for me because of what it added to my game.

SC: You're one of the best free-throw shooters in league history in terms of big men. Did you do anything special to hone that skill?

DS: I used to have a skills camp, and I would practice at the camp all summer long on a rim within a rim. Regulation rims are 18 inches in diameter, while the basketball is 10. So I crafted a 14-inch rim and attached it inside the normal rim. All summer, I would shoot on the smaller rim, which made me concentrate more and learn to aim for the very middle of the basket. When I took the 14-inch rim away, the normal rim seemed huge. That increased my foul shooting by at least 10%.

SC: Being from Syracuse and following the Sixers, what were your thoughts on Michael Carter-Williams' rookie season in Philadelphia?

DS: I was surprised. He is a very quick player, and as a rookie proved that he can score. He fits in well with the Philadelphia system, which is more of a running game. In a way, Carter-Williams is similar to my career. When I came to Syracuse, they needed a power forward so I played right away. Carter-Williams came to the Sixers and low and behold they really needed what he was able to give them. 

As a rookie, he played a lot of minutes, which aided his development. A lot of ballplayers have trouble coming out of college because they land in the wrong situation, but in Carter-Williams’ case it was the perfect situation!


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