Dolph Schayes, a Hall of Fame basketball player for the old Syracuse Nationals franchise of the NBA, who later coached the team in its subsequent incarnation as the Philadelphia 76ers, died Dec. 10 in Syracuse, N.Y. He was 87.
The cause was cancer, his son, Danny Schayes, told the Syracuse Post-Standard.
The 6-foot-8 Mr. Schayes was a seminal figure in the history of basketball. With a deadly two-handed, high-arcing set shot that he stubbornly used well into the era of the jump shot, he helped redefine the role of the big man in the NBA.
“Dolph Schayes was one of the most influential figures in NBA history,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He helped the NBA grow from its earliest days, emerging as one of the game’s first stars and displaying the kind of passion for competition and commitment to excellence that has come to define our league.”
Mr. Schayes was a 12-time All-Star with the Syracuse Nats and was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He revolutionized the post position by being in constant motion away from the ball instead of just planting himself near the basket.
After winning NBA rookie of the year honors in 1949, Mr. Schayes led the Nationals in scoring for 12 straight seasons and was the finest player on Syracuse’s NBA championship team in 1955. He was the first player in NBA history to score 15,000 points and averaged 20 points a game six times.
He had perhaps his finest season in 1957-58, when he averaged 24.9 points per game, second in the NBA after George Yardley of the Detroit Pistons. A deadly free-throw shooter, he led the NBA in free-throw percentage three times. For his 16-year career, Mr. Schayes averaged 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds a game.
Adolph Schayes was born May 19, 1928, in New York’s Bronx borough. As a child, he delivered laundry with his father, who was a truck driver.
By the time he was 11, Mr. Schayes had already grown to 6-foot-5, and he played basketball constantly on playgrounds and at DeWitt Clinton High School.
“When we played basketball, I did everything,” he once said. “I passed, I dribbled, I played outside.”
He was 16 when he became the starting center at New York University, from which he graduated in 1948 with an engineering degree.
The New York Knicks chose Mr. Schayes fourth in the 1948 Basketball Association of America draft and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks picked him first in the National Basketball League before trading his rights to Syracuse. (The two leagues merged in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association.)
“Dolph is a legendary figure in Syracuse,” said Jim Boeheim, the longtime basketball coach at Syracuse University. “He was an all-time great, great player. His camp had a big influence on me.”
When the Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia in 1963, Mr. Schayes was named player-coach of the 76ers. He retired as a player after that season, but stayed on as coach for three more years. He was named NBA coach of the year in 1966, when his players included Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham.
The 76ers bested the Boston Celtics in the NBA’s Eastern Division but lost to the Celtics in the playoffs.
From 1966 to 1970, Mr. Schayes was supervisor of NBA referees. After coaching for one year with the Buffalo franchise of the American Basketball Assocation, he went into real estate in Syracuse, his adopted hometown.
In 1970, Mr. Schayes was named one the NBA’s 12 best retired players, and he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972. He also was a member of the U.S. National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1996, he was selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, as one of the league’s 50 greatest players.
His son, Danny Schayes, starred at Syracuse, then played 18 years in the NBA.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 63 years, Naomi Gross Schayes; three other children; and nine grandchildren.