July 23, 2024
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Dolph Schayes: Farewell to an NBA Legend

On the eighth day of Chanukah, two Englewood residents—my father, Leo N. Klein, an attorney and real estate developer, and Dr. Allen N. Sapadin a renowned dermatologist known to many in Bergen County—traveled to Syracuse, New York, to attend the funeral of Adolph “Dolph” Schayes. The funeral was to take place at the Temple of Concord, in Syracuse. Dolph was a Top 50 NBA Legend and Hall of Famer. He was one of professional basketball’s early superstars and certainly the greatest Jewish player.

Although one would be remiss not to mention Dolph’s most distinguishing on-court stats, both my father and Dr. Sapadin would tell you that stats had nothing to do with their decisions to attend the funeral. Their long drive and overnight stay in Syracuse was to pay their final respects to a dear friend and consummate mensch. Knowing they would see his devoted wife Naomi and offering comfort to Dolph’s son Danny, wife Wendy and grandson Logan, would make the trip meaningful.

My father warmly remembers Schayes. “I was introduced to Dolph by Raanan Katz, a partner in the Miami Heat, about 22 years ago. We had breakfast at the Rascal House. I saw Dolph almost every year thereafter at the NBA All Star Game or Legends Brunch. My friends Burt Ury of the Bulls and Hal Foonberg from Beverly Hills always looked forward to seeing Dolph. Spending time with him was often the highlight of our weekend. Through the years when in New York, Dolph would invite me to several basketball functions of interest, and attending with him was not only fun but a true honor. Having known him after his playing days, what resonated most was not his stellar career stats, but seeing his love for his kids and grandkids, his love for Israel and his pride in being a Jewish father and grandfather.”

My father further recounts, “While in Israel that summer with Sol Merkin, Dolph not only coached the 1977 U.S. Maccabiah Games Basketball Team, which won the gold medal and featured his high-school-aged son Danny, he continued to support Maccabee Basketball his whole life. Dolph loved telling this famous Maccabiah story about his nephew Todd. While coaching a team in Israel during one of the games, Todd, who was single, carried a poster around the tournament. Written on the poster was, ‘MEDAL OR MAIDEL.’ Dolph, who was staying at Todd’s hotel, said, ‘If I start getting calls from strange women, I’ll be in big trouble with Naomi!’ Luckily it worked, and Todd eventually met his wife because of that poster.’”

The best story is probably Dr. Sapadin’s favorite. He paraphrased Dolph as follows: “Towards the later days of Dolph’s career, he was a player/coach and had the opportunity to coach the late great Wilt Chamberlain. Although Wilt would have over 90 percent shooting accuracy taking free throws in practice, in a real game he was a terrible free throw shooter. Dolph said if they went to a local park to practice, he’d shoot over 90 percent. Both Dolph and the team management got Wilt to agree to see a professional—a psychologist or psychiatrist to help him. After some time in therapy, there was still no improvement. In telling the story Dolph would always set you up with a sad and frustrated face and say nothing helped: he continued to be a horrible free throw shooter. The only good thing to come from it was that the shrink became an excellent free throw shooter!”

When visiting our family in Englewood, Dolph loved going to Dr. Sapadin’s house to see his personal basketball memorabilia collection, specifically relating to the Top 50 NBA Legends, which Dolph was voted into in 1996. He returned to our home in awe, and was always anxious to revisit at another time.

Coincidentally, just a few weeks before Dolph’s passing, Dr. Sapadin had called Dolph asking him for his correct address. He sensed by the sound of Dolph’s voice that he might not be well and he sent Dolph a framed photo of him and Nate “Tiny” Archibald taken at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Dolph took great pride in traveling each year to Springfield to attend the annual induction ceremony. Upon returning to the office on Tuesday, the day after the funeral, Dr. Sapadin’s son in law informed him that something had come in the mail for him. It was a handwritten letter from Dolph:

“Dear Allen: What a surprise! Hearing from you out of the blue. The picture with Tiny Archibald is precious. I got a kick out of the bubble wrap. Stay well… Regarding a charity, you can donate to your favorite charity in my name. My best to your family, always. Regards to Leo. My family’s best wishes to a special family. Dolph”

At the end of a most dignified and spiritual service with heartfelt eulogies by his children and grandchildren, my father and Dr. Sapadin approached Dolph’s son Danny. “Your father was a shining gem of humanity,” said Dr. Sapadin. “It was a great honor to know him.” My family echoed these sentiments.

So on the eighth day of Chanukah, as the lights on our Menorah diminished, signaling the end of the holiday, so did the brilliant light and life of our giant of a friend, Dolph Schayes, flicker into eternity.

Dolph is survived by his children Debbie, Cary, David, Danny and nine grandchildren.

By Michael E. Klein, Senior at SAR High School

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