Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball (2014)

By Dolph Grundman

It's been argued that most Hall of Famers in sports deserve an autobiography, or at least a biography. We should remember more about these people than the mere statistics and honors they leave behind. They've provided too many thrills for so many to be forgotten.

Dolph Schayes almost missed that distinction. Schayes was one of the NBA's all-time greats, but he spent his entire pro career as a member of the Syracuse Nationals (1948 to 1964). Before that, Schayes was an outstanding player at NYU.

Schayes is 86 years old now, and he'll no doubt enjoy being the centerpiece of Dolph Grundman's book, "Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball." As for the rest of us, well, the publication might strike many as being a bit odd and thin.

Just for the record, Schayes' full first name is Adolph. However, someone who was born in 1928 into the Jewish community probably wasn't anxious to use it in its entirety by the time he was 10. His college career ended in 1948, just at the time that organized professional basketball was starting to take shape. The Knicks weren't interested, so Schayes ended up in Syracuse. He's still there.

Yes, such towns as Syracuse, Rochester and Fort Wayne were in the NBA back in the 1950s. The fans were rabid, but there weren't many of them and the buildings were small. Therefore, economics were always a concern. Still, Schayes loved the game, and he could do almost everything on the court except jump. Schayes was an excellent scorer, at one point serving as the NBA's all-time leader in points. He also had a knack for rebounding, had a good outside shot, and was an excellent free throw shooter. That was quite a package for someone listed at 6-foot-7. No wonder he's in the Hall of Fame and was picked as one of the league's 50 greatest players in 1999.

Syracuse's franchise eventually moved to Philadelphia after that city lost its team to San Francisco. Schayes went to Philly too, but the 76ers needed him as a coach. So that's what he did, at least for a couple of years. Schayes also coached the Buffalo Braves, and worked for the NBA for a while. He eventually went back to Syracuse, had a son who played for Syracuse University (and the NBA), and worked in rental property.

If you look at the beginning and ending of the book, this all sounds promising. Grundman, who is a college professor in Denver who has two basketball books to his credit, has a ton of resources listed in the notes section. He also interviewed plenty of people who were around back then, including Schayes. Stories of the creation are generally interesting, and the NBA's story was a colorful one by most accounts.

But Grundman opted not to use quotes from any of his interviews, for whatever reason. OK, some quotes are taken from the odd newspaper account of events. But the technique makes the tale read more like a term paper than a book designed to have some entertainment value.

Without anecdotes along the way, Grundman is left reciting what happened in Syracuse on a year-by-year basis. Transactions, player and coaching, come up, followed by a short review of each season. Then come playoff time, each game is reviewed. Schayes' role in the situation usually is highlighted, since he was usually the team's best player throughout his career. Some perspective is provided about the state of the league and of the times along the way. There's less than 200 pages of type in all, not including sources. My Kindle said reading time was a little over two hours.

One time I described a book by saying it had all of the notes and none of the music. I should have saved that line for this effort, since it describes it quite well.

There's no doubt that Grundman put in plenty of good work while compiling "Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball." The research is fine, and the author succeeds in making Schayes a worthwhile historical figure. It's enough to make the reader coming away wanting more.

Two stars

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