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Discovering Dolph Schayes

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | Permalink

Dolph Grundman is the author of Jim Pollard: The Kangaroo Kid, The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: The AAU Tournament, 1921-1968, and, most recently, Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball. He is blogging here today for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

How did a historian who grew up on Chicago's south side wind up writing a biography of Dolph Schayes, the Hall of Fame basketball player for the Syracuse Nationals? Let me take you back to 1954, my freshman year at Chicago's Bowen High School. I was thirteen years old and my parents had named me Adolph after my grandfather who had left Germany in the 1890s. My mother was a Polish-American and we lived in a predominantly Polish neighborhood. As you can imagine Adolph was not a very popularly name in my community and drew a little unwanted attention. In 1954 I was an aspiring basketball player and looking for anybody to identify with named Adolph. There was Adolph Rupp the legendary coach of Kentucky but he was not a player. In 1954 the NBA was struggling to find an identity and some of its games were televised on the weekends. It was then that I discovered Dolph Schayes the star of the Syracuse Nationals. He possessed a great two-handed set shot which was still a popular shot utilized by players of all ages in the 1950s. Dolph was a player with whom I could identify.

After playing basketball at Bowen, I played four more years at Albion College. My first coach started calling me Dolph which has stuck ever since. Eventually I completed a doctoral degree in history and wound up teaching at Metropolitan State University in Denver. One of the courses I created was a study of Sports in America. Between 1935 and 1968 one of the biggest sports events in Denver was the National Amateur Athletic Union's Basketball Tournament. Beginning in 1936 the winner and second place team would play in a tournament that would determine the players and coaches of the United States Olympic team. In 1948 I discovered that Schayes played in the Olympic Trials held at Madison Square Garden for New York University. Although Dolph did not make the Olympic team, he was among the alternates.

My next encounter with Dolph Schayes came in the course of doing a biography of Jim Pollard, a Hall of Fame player with the Minneapolis Lakers, professional basketball's first dynasty. In 1950 and 1954 the Lakers captured the NBA title by defeating the Nationals. By 1954 Schayes had established himself as an NBA star. By 2009 when I did a book signing at the Naismith Hall of Fame, there still was no biography of Dolph Schayes. We met for the first time in 2009, and after visiting him in Syracuse, agreed to work on a book. Five years later Syracuse University is about to release Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball. I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Dolph Grundman is professor of history at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado.

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