DOLPH SCHAYES RETURNS
...in his glory days
Former NBA star lends class
to sports festival in Israel
All his colleagues at TheColumnists.com congratulate
Maury Allen on receiving the Pillar of Achievement
award at a recent ceremony at the Wingate Institute in Natanya, Israel, during the Jewish Olympics-style event known as the Maccabiah Games. The award is made to individuals who have made significant contributions to sports or to the world community through sports. We are proud to be the venue where the columns of Maury Allen
are read today.
By MAURY ALLEN
He lent class to the event just by sitting in the audience at the Wingate Institute in Natanya, Israel, just outside of Tel Aviv, during a break at the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish Olympics being contested by 64 countries.
Dolph Schayes, 81, was an historic New York sports figure going back to 1944 as a 16-year-old NYU basketball freshman playing on those great Violet teams of Howard Cann alongside Sid Tanenbaum, Don Forman, Frank Mangiapane and a guy who gained more fame later in baseball named Ralph Branca.
Schayes is 6-8, a bit over the 220 pounds he played at, but still a commanding figure in any group on or off a basketball court. He had a brilliant NBA career from 1948 through 1964, leaving the game as the leagues top scorer and being named to the pro basketball Hall of Fame in 1973.
They recently had a poll of the NBAs greatest players, Schayes laughed. I finished 29th but I was still ahead of LeBron James.
Schayes was in Israel from his home in Syracuse, New York as part of the Maccabiah games (he coached a team there in 1977) and to attend the induction ceremonies for the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
A dozen former athletes and sports personalities, including this writer and Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize winner from The New York Times, were honored by the event at Wingate, a sports center that provides recreation daily for more than 5,000 children and adults.
The athletes included Jason Lezak, the swimmer who gave the U.S. the win in the Olympics relay last year in which Michael Phelps gained his record eighth gold medal; famed Olympics gymnast Mitch Gaylord; Donald Spero, the world rowing champion in 1966 and Elias Katz, a 1924 Olympic Gold Medalist from Finland.
Schayes said his Jewish identity was forged when he came to Israel for the first time to coach the U.S. basketball team after his NBA coaching days ended.
In Jewish life I wasnt very tall, Schayes said. I was stunted.
Participating in the Games and seeing Jewish athletes from around the world excel in so many sports gave Schayes a sense of cultural pride he has worn proudly ever since.
I almost made it to Israel in the 1960s when the U.S. State Department sent our champion Syracuse team to the Middle East on a goodwill tour, Schayes said. We played in Lebanon, Iran and Egypt. I wanted our team to go into Israel but we couldnt cross the border from any of those countries.
Schayes said he was walking down a Tehran street with some of his teammates when a local Iranian asked who they were. Schayes said they were the best basketball team in the world after winning the NBA title.
No, youre not, the Iranian insisted, the Harlem Globetrotters are.
Schayes said he has come back every four years to the games and is thrilled that he has been able to watch two more generations of Schayes athletes participate in the games, including son Danny, three volleyball playing granddaughters and a track star grandson.
The Maccabiah Games is such a stirring event when you see all the old clichés about Jews being so weak and unathletic destroyed by world class performances, he said.
Schayes recalls that he attended the Pan Am Maccabiah Games in Santiago, Chile in 2001. A photo was shown of an Israeli athlete slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The athlete was pictured with his baby daughter, Schayes said. Then a 29-year-old girl walked on the stage in Chile. It was that daughter. That brought tears to my eyes.
Wives and relatives of other slain Israelis from the Munich tragedy were introduced at the Hall of Fame induction. There was hardly a dry eye in the Wingate auditorium.
My motto for these games would be to be part of these games and grow up. I know I did, Schayes said.
Each of the newly inducted living Hall of Famers and relatives of those lost legends spoke briefly before an enthusiastic crowd. Ira Berkow reminded the audience, many of whom were traveling Americans, that he is working on a film to be released next year about Jews in baseball.
He spoke of the great Jewish lefthander from Brooklyn, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
I reminded the crowd that Koufax skipped the 1965 opener because the game fell on the highest Jewish Holy Day, Yom Kippur. Don Drysdale was the starter. The Minnesota Twins slugged him for seven runs. When Manager Walter Alston came to take Drysdale out of the game he said, I wish you were Jewish.
Dolph Schayes laughed heartily. He wears his Jewish identity proudly.
©2009 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted July 27, 2009.
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