Saturday, November 15, 2008

Brush with Greatness I

I graduated from college in 1989, and my first real job brought me to Syracuse, NY in the late summer of that year. I searched for, and successfully found my first apartment, other than the one I shared with four of my college friends during my junior and senior years at Penn State. It was at 306 Polk Street, right near the line between Syracuse and Dewitt, not far from the intersection of Thompson Road and Erie Boulevard, and only a few blocks from the campus of LeMoyne College.

My new landlord was quite tall, but not freakishly so, about 6'6" or 6'7". I was in his office, paying my security deposit, signing the lease, getting the keys, and all that. I recall my monthly rent was $350 for a decent, but not spectacular, one-bedroom apartment. My neighbors turned out to be really nice, particularly the couple that lived downstairs from me with their two kids, and the guy across the hall who regularly beat me in chess. There was an incident in the parking lot with a curmudgeonly old man who accused me of not parking close enough to the car next to me, but that was the only negative.

But, back to the landlord's office. As he was getting the paperwork together, I was admiring the posters on his walls. There were a few of the current NBA greats: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan (maybe, although he had yet to lead the Bulls to an NBA championship at that time). There was also one of a rather unspectacular NBA big man, who I happened to recognize because I was a Syracuse basketball fan from the days of the Bouie 'n' Louie Show through the under-achieving Pearl Washington and Rony Seikaly years.

"Is that Danny Schayes?" I inquired. "That's my boy!" he responded. "You're Dolph Schayes?" I asked, but I already knew the answer. I must have found the apartment through a rental agent, or it simply didn't sink in if he had introduced himself to me prior to that. Regardless, NBA Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes was my landlord for the next 14 months (I got a 2-month extension on a one-year lease because I thought I was moving to Albany, then actually stayed, but decided to find a new apartment).

He was actually kind of impressed that I knew who he was. Despite being named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all-time, a list was unveiled to celebrate the league's 50th anniversary seven years after our meeting, it seems to me that he was a little less well-known than his contemporaries George Mikan and Bob Petit. Furthermore, the end of his career was greatly overshadowed by beginning of Wilt Chamberlain's.

I never asked him for his autograph, although I believe I still have a copy of the lease in my box of nostalgia. Hard to believe that actually exists, huh? As far as I know, Dolph Schayes, now 80 years old, still lives and owns rental property in Syracuse. I'm also pretty certain that he was the first major sports Hall of Famer whom I ever met.

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