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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Boxing Ambitions of Carl Schayes

"My father was 6'4". He was a boxer. Well, he was not a boxer," recalled Dolph Schayes, perhaps the best Jewish basketball player in history.

A Hall of Famer, Schayes was voted all-NBA 12 times in 15 seasons. He played 14 with the Syracuse Nationals and one with Philadelphia when the franchise moved and became the 76ers. Standing 6'8", Dolph averaged 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in 996 career contests. His son Danny, at nearly 7', was an excellent role player for 1,138 NBA games over 18 years.

Dolph's dad, Carl, once dreamed of becoming heavyweight champion of the world. Carl loved boxing and took his three sons, Herman, Fred and, of course, Dolph to Madison Square Garden, the Polo Grounds, and Yankee Stadium to watch the great pugilists of the 1930s and 1940s.

Carl Schayes was an imposing figure, even to his gigantic sons. "If you shook his hand, your hand was lost," remembered Herman, who at 6'3" played basketball for the Washington Generals, the eternal patsy of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Carl was born in Durohoi, Romania, in 1901 not far from the birthplace of his future wife Tina, who was born the same year and eventually would top out at just 4'11". Carl immigrated to the United States in 1920 and Tina followed the next year. They were married in 1923. Fred came first in 1927, then Dolph the year after. Herman was six years younger. The family paid $40 a month to rent a one bedroom apartment at 2275 Davidson Avenue in the Bronx.

"When he came to this country, he was very, very strong, " Dolph said of his dad. A boxing manager named John the Barber told Carl, "Boy, you are a real strong guy. I would like to make a boxer out of you."

Dolph explained, "My father told him that his feet were frostbitten during the First World War. John the Barber suggested that he get an operation on his feet so he could become more agile, because you had to be pretty agile in the ring.

"He got this operation. However, the operation was quite painful, and a cast was put on his feet. It became so painful that, with a cast on, it restricted his movement so much that he broke the cast by smashing his foot against something hard and this left his feet in bad shape. So because of that he never pursued a boxing career."

If he had not had the foot injury, Carl may have been a successful heavyweight. "My father was very strong and got into a lot of barroom brawls and came out victorious," Dolph said. "At least, he told me."

Instead of becoming heavyweight champion, Carl drove a laundry wagon. He was often bitter. "He got into a lot of scrapes," Dolph recalled. "As I said, he drank a little bit. He would get into a lot of fights in the local bar on Jerome Avenue."

Looking back, Dolph figured Carl's injured feet might have been responsible for his own athletic greatness. "This was the early twenties and Jack Dempsey was at his height, and had my father fought Jack Dempsey maybe I never would have been born."

By not fighting Dempsey, Carl lived to see his son Dolph's incredible Hall of Fame basketball career.

George, Justin. "He knows that losing isn't all that there is." Tampa Bay Times. Mar 15, 2004.
Stark, Douglas. When Basketball Was Jewish. 2017.
1930 U.S. Census.

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