Share this article

print logo

Dolph Schayes, league great and Braves’ first coach, dies at 87

Dolph Schayes, who polished his game on the Bronx playgrounds, played 15 seasons as a professional, was once voted one of the 50 best players to play in the National Basketball Association and the first coach of the Buffalo Braves, died Thursday in Syracuse. He was 87.

His son Danny Schayes, who played 18 seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot-11 center, said the cause was cancer.

At 6-feet-8 inches and 220 pounds, Schayes played the position now known as power forward, becoming a stalwart for the Syracuse Nationals from 1949 to 1963 after earning All-American status at New York University. When the Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963-64, he was the player-coach.

He coached the 76ers for three seasons, the last in 1965-66 when he helped lead the team to a 55-25 record but was let go after they lost in the Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Boston. Wilt Chamberlain was a member of that team, which won the NBA title in 1966-67.

After serving as the NBA’s supervisor of referees for four years, he was hired as the coach of the Braves on March 31, 1970. The Braves began play in the NBA that fall along with two other expansion teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers. Like most expansion teams the Braves did not fare well that season, going 22-60 but had an All-Star player in Bob Kauffman, who died on July 25 of this year.

The Braves won the first game in their history, a 107-92 decision over Cleveland at Memorial Auditorium, then proceeded to lose their next nine. They had three other seven-game losing streaks. One of their biggest wins of the season came at the Aud on Dec. 4, 1970, when they defeated the defending NBA champion New York Knicks, 97-91.

The Braves fired Schayes on Oct. 13, 1971, the day after they lost the 1971-72 season opener at the Aud to the Seattle SuperSonics, 123-90. He was replaced by John McCarthy. That game was also the first of Randy Smith’s NBA career; he scored four points coming off the bench.

Schayes played at a time when the jump shot became the vogue, though he continued to rely on the two-handed set shot. As the NBA Encyclopedia said, “He represented a bridge between the old game and the new one.”

A broken right arm early in his career led him to develop a left-handed shot as well.

“I wasn’t blessed with speed,” he told the New York Times in 2007, “so I developed an outside shot, and if a defender tried to stop it I was able to drive around him and score.”

And score he did. When he retired, he held the NBA career records for regular-season scoring (19,249 points) and games (1,059). He averaged 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. He was voted to the NBA All-Star first team six times and second team six times and was selected for the annual All-Star Game 12 times.

He was also an outstanding free throw shooter, with an 84.9 percent career average. He practiced free throws by fitting a basket 14 inches in diameter into a regulation 18-inch basket.

From 1952 to 1961, he played 706 regular-season consecutive games, 764 including playoffs.

In 1945, as a 16-year-old freshman, he helped New York University reach the NCAA final, where it lost to Oklahoma A&M. In 1948, as a 19-year-old senior, he became an All-American and earned a degree in aeronautical engineering.

The New York Knicks, then a part of the Basketball Association of America, offered him a $5,000 salary to turn pro. Syracuse, of the rival National Basketball League, offered $7,500. As he told the Times years later, “I thought pro basketball didn’t have much of a future, and $2,500 was a lot of difference, so I signed with Syracuse.”

Schayes was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972 and was selected as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996, on the league’s 50th anniversary.