SLAM: Those instincts are what allowed you to grab so many rebounds without being able to jump very well.
SCHAYES: It was anticipation, and one other thing: I disobeyed a basic basketball rule and never boxed out. I figured that if I had the inside position, I had enough of an advantage to just go get the ball. And coaches left me alone because I got it. The great thing about basketball is it’s a live ball. If someone’s in your way, push them out of the way, go around them or over them, whatever it takes. And my instincts told me where the ball was going from the angle and depth of the shot.
SLAM: Clyde Lovellette has been called the dirtiest player ever. How do you remember him?
SCHAYES: He was a heavy, physical player who used his body, but I don’t know if he was the dirtiest, even of our era. There were guys on the Celtics who gave me fits, like Jungle Jim Loscutoff. He would pull down your pants, stick a finger in your eye and an elbow in your gut. But we didn’t necessarily think of him as dirty. It was a tough game and we developed intense rivalries because there were so few teams. We had tremendous fights with the Celtics all the time, and the fans got involved too, especially in Syracuse. They would run on the court, throw beers on players and all the rest.
One of the most memorable fights happened when Loscutoff lowballed me and I broke my wrist and smashed my face. One of the Celtics said, “He got what he deserved,” which started a huge brawl. My teammate Paul Seymour smashed this guy and wouldn’t let him go; the police had to get him off by grabbing him by his nostrils and yanking. It’s hard to imagine all this stuff happened, but it did. I sure wish we had some decent film footage of the games. But filming was considered an absurd luxury because there was no money.
SLAM: You were a great foul shooter, a skill you honed through an unorthodox practice routine. Can you describe it?
SCHAYES: A basketball diameter is 10 inches and a rim is 18 inches, so I made a 14-inch rim I put in to practice on. Few people could do that because it was so frustrating that it drove everyone but me nuts. That led to me shooting very high, which basic physics tells you is the best angle—the hole is bigger from above than from the side.
And I shot with two hands, which was rare even in my day, because I felt it didn’t make sense to shoot free throws differently from your regular shot, which would limit the benefits of your practice. And so my outside shooting became abnormally high as well. They called them rainmakers because they went through the clouds. So as a coach, I used to challenge poor free-throw shooters to contests shooting 25 shots and said that mine only counted if they swished. I would still win and drive them nuts.
SLAM: Unfortunately, you weren’t able to help Wilt Chamberlain with his free-throw shooting when you were his coach in Philadelphia. He only shot about 51 percent from the line without you.
SCHAYES: I sure tried. When he was traded to the Sixers, Wilt told his sister, “I’m finally going to learn how to shoot free throws from Schayes.” I think the biggest problem was the size of his hands—same with Shaq. It’s impossible to have the ball rest properly on the fingertips of such huge hands. But we worked endlessly, and Wilt did really well in practice, but something psychological went wrong in games. And that had a huge impact, especially at the end of games. We were on the wrong end of the famous “Havlicek stole the ball” play [in the closing seconds of Game 7 of the ’65 Eastern Finals]. That play came about because I didn’t want to do the obvious and toss the ball to Wilt because they would have fouled him and put him on the line.
By the way, I think he’d dominate Shaq. Russell might have trouble with him, but Wilt’s strength would keep Shaq away from the spots from which he kills everyone.
SLAM: Your career spanned a couple of generations, and you ended up playing against Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson, the guys who really started the next great transformation of the game.
SCHAYES: Two amazing players who were the first guys to really hang in the air. You would jump up with Elgin, come down and look up to see him still up there.
And Oscar could do everything—shoot from outside or in, pass, rebound, dribble—and completely dominate a game. They were just amazing talents who had the same sort of tremendously honed basketball instincts we talked about. And again, they came from the ghetto and played a lot of basketball and developed terrific skills to go along with a phenomenal athleticism.