Saturday, July 23, 2011

Washington Generals Top Players: Herman Schayes

Schayes (Right) as a Texas Cowboy.
Born in 1933 to Romanian Immigrants, Herman Schayes came from a family of basketball greats.

His older brother, Adolph "Dolph" Schayes, was an NBA great and basketball hall of famer, who played for the Syracuse Nationals (later the Philadelphia 76ers) for 16 years. Dolph's son Danny also played in the NBA for a whopping 18 years.

Some would say with a lineage like this, the 6-3 Schayes would seem a likely candidate for the NBA himself. And while basketball did define his life the same way it did his brother. Fate had different plans for Herman Schayes.

Herman started playing basketball in DeWitt Clinton High School until his senior year, when the city banned extra after school activities. With no team but a desire to play, Schayes and a group of neighborhood boys formed their own team playing in city parks, police leagues, or anywhere else they could.

With the help of his brother, Herman earned a scholarship in 1951 to what is now known as Colorado State University. He eventually transferred to Hofstra University in New York to be closer to home.

During the Summer after transferring to Hofstra, Herman played basketball for upscale hotels in the area. At the time it was common for such hotels to draft college players to play games, as a means of entertaining the guests.

During this time Schayes met hotel athletic director William "Red" Holzman, a friend of Red Klotz. Holzman asked the young player if he was interested in playing against the Harlem Globetrotters.

At the time, as the NBA was still struggling, The Globetrotters were considered the best there was in basketball. So Schayes jumped at the chance to be part of their legacy, even if it was as their opponent and foil. So it was that in 1954 Herman Schayes became the newest member of the Washington Generals.

Schayes played with the Generals from 1954 to 1959. But ironically, his most notable contribution to the team was playing as a member of the Texas Cowboys, one of the Generals many alter egos over the years.

The all white Cowboys persona was invented for a 98 game European tour in 1956. The Cowboys wore leather jackets with fringes and cowboy hats. Playing up the cowboy gimmick for the European crowd.

The team was advertised on the tour as a team equal to the Globetrotters in skill and experience. A team that seldom ever lost in the US, but had never faced the Harlem Globetrotters prior to the European tour. This was in actuality a fabrication, created to build up suspense for the games.

But no matter what the publicity claimed, the Texas Cowboys were still Washington Generals underneath. The Cowboys lost all 98 of their games during the tour, but they did help the Globetrotters bring laughter and an escape to a country still sober from World War II. Because as I said, they were still Washington Generals underneath.

Schayes returned to the states once the tour was over, and shortly thereafter he earned a tryout with the Syracuse Nationals, the team his brother belonged to. Unfortunately, he was drafted into the army later that same year in 1956 and never learned if he was good enough to play for the NBA.

Herman spent most of his time while enlisted playing in the Army's basketball league before returning to the Washington Generals in 1958. The same year Wilt Chamberlain joined the Globetrotters.

Shayes left the Generals in 1959, and took on several jobs; including managing a bowling alley, selling insurance, managing a health and beauty store.

After retirement, the former world traveler found himself feeling restless and took on a job as an athletic director in Springbrook Hospital in Florida. There he deals with patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and schizophrenia. Helping people who, like him and the teammates he once traveled the world with, were wrongfully dismissed as losers themselves.

Herman Schayes never made it to the NBA. But in many ways he was the real winner.

He was part of the Globetrotter legacy at a time when the Trotters were the pinnacle of basketball. And while he may have spent his 6 years on the team as a "loser" on the court, Shayes has said in interviews he never saw himself as a loser in life.

Indeed, Shayes made his mark in the legacy that the Washington Generals and the Harlem Globetrotters have built together. He will never follow his brother into the Basketball Hall Of Fame. But when all is said and done, Herman Schayes became his own kind of superstar.

Related Links.
"Athletic Director No Stranger To Losing" - St. Petersburg Times

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