Basketball has long been a popular participatory sport for young people in the borough of the Bronx. Many very good high school, college and pro players learned the craft through playing on the courts in the parks of the Bronx.
One of the greatest players in the history of the NBA was Bronx born Adolph Schayes. Two days prior to his 87th birthday Schayes’ name was added to the Bronx Walk of Fame in a Bronx Week ceremony.
Schayes and several members of his immediate family traveled from Syracuse to his place of birth, the Bronx, to take part in the festivities. In addition to Schayes, Bronx celebrities being honored were Stacey Dash, Malik Yoba and, posthumously, Alfredo Thiebaud, whose award was accepted by his daughter. The honorees were the latest to be added to the on the street listing of Bronx greats that began in 1971.
Schayes was born in the Bronx on May 19, 1928 to a Jewish couple who had emigrated from Romania. He received his schooling in the University Heights section of the borough near where he lived, 183rd Street and Davidson Avenue. He graduated from Creston Junior High School, 181st Street and Creston Ave., DeWitt Clinton High School, Mosholu Parkway, and New York University, campus on 181st Street and University Ave. where the campus of Bronx Community College is presently located.
Schayes was a basketball standout in high school and college, where he was named an All-American and graduated with an engineering degree in 1948. In his final college season, Schayes received the Haggerty Award as the best college player in the New York metropolitan area.
Schayes was drafted by teams in both pro basketball leagues that then existed, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL). Schayes chose to join the Syracuse Nationals of the NBL because they offered him more money than the New York Knickerbockers of the BAA. The two leagues merged to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949-50, Schayes’ second year in the pros.
He remained on the team throughout his 16 year career, including his final season when the Nationals moved to Philadelphia to become the Philadelphia 76ers.
Schayes mentioned often to those who came to the Walk of Fame ceremony of how happy he was to be back in the Bronx, “I’m so happy to be back. It really is like being home. The Grand Concourse is so grand.” He also spoke favorably of his home in Syracuse for so many decades, “It [Syracuse] is a great place to bring up a family.”
His son, Danny, a graduate of Syracuse University and a successful NBA player for 18 years, was one of the close family members who accompanied his father to the latter’s birthplace.
The Bronx native, a 6-8 forward, perfected an excellent outside two-hand set shot as well as strength under the boards as a leading rebounder. He soon became and long remained one of the best players in the NBA. He was named a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star Team for each of 12 straight seasons. He was also voted as an All NBA First Team All-Star for six years and an All NBA Second team All-Star for six other years.
Schayes coached the 76ers for three years including one year, 1966, when he was named NBA Coach of the Year. He spoke to this reporter of the legendary Wilt Chamberlain who he coached in Philadelphia, “Wilt was very nice guy. He always wanted to win. One year he led the NBA in assists as well as points. He was very misunderstood and developed a negative reputation that he didn’t deserve. He left so soon.” Schayes later coached the Buffalo Braves for one season and was a supervisor of NBA referees.
His place in pro basketball history was recognized when he was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary Team in 1970 and the NBA 50th Anniversary team in 1996.
The modest octogenarian, when complimented on his superlative talent, replied, “The game is so different today. The players are very talented and can do more than we did. We did move the ball around quite well.”
After an indoor ceremony at the Bronx Court House on 161st Street and the Grand Concourse in which the honorees spoke, the names of the four were hoisted up on street signs and the inductees, their families and friends traveled to Mosholu Parkway to take part in the Bronx Week concluding activity, the Bronx Parade.