I was all set to write this column about a new horizon for Syracuse football, but my plan for this column changed when NBA legend Dolph Schayes died on Thursday at the age of 87.
Now, Schayes didn’t play basketball for SU (his son, Danny, did). But he did play basketball in Syracuse for the Nationals, at a time before SU basketball was the SU basketball we know today. If you don’t know the Nationals, it’s because they’re currently the Philadelphia 76ers. Schayes won an NBA title 50 years ago with the Nats in Syracuse.
When people think of basketball in Syracuse, they think of the Orange, and deservedly so. But there was once another team in town.
Back in the fall of 2012, when I was a senior at SU, I wrote a story on the Syracuse Nationals on the 50th anniversary of the Nats’ final season in Syracuse before leaving for Philly. For that story, I talked to Dolph Schayes.
Schayes was a landlord at that time, in his 80s. Think about that. An NBA Hall of Famer. Still working. In Syracuse. And he took the time to talk to a 20-year-old.
I met him in his office in Syracuse. He didn’t appear to be 6-foot-7, though age will shrink you a little bit. I talked with him for an hour. People his age have treasure troves of information. And they love talking about the past, the good ‘ol days.
We talked about the shot clock’s origination in Syracuse, we talked about his upbringing in the Bronx and his college career at NYU. We even talked about what the city of Syracuse was like back in the 50s. We talked about more than basketball x’s and o’s.
He told stories. I listened. He was just a humble, genuine person who thought, “she wants to do an interview? Sure, why not.” As a journalist, it’s probably one of my favorite interviews ever.
Schayes really cared about the game and loved to play it. He was a smart, gifted player.
They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.