Let's take a moment to put 6 ft. 11 in., 245-pound rookie center Danny Schayes of the Utah Jazz into perspective. He's the only player in the National Basketball Association with an invisible albatross hanging from his neck.
Danny is the 22-year-old son of Dolph Schayes, who played 15 years in the NBA with the old Syracuse Nationals and the Philadelphia 76ers and later was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
In the 36-year history of the NBA there probably weren't more than half-a-dozen forwards who were better than Dolph, and those who played against him probably would argue that he deserves to be placed even higher. Even today he rates as the league's 11th all-time scorer.
The mental burden young Schayes carries is the fact that people who remember Dolph are going to compare Danny with his father and expect the same kind of statistics. Naturally Danny can't win, because at this point in his career the style, the brilliance, and the longevity are all on Dad's side.
''I was maybe five years old when my father stopped playing pro basketball, so it's a side of his life that I never really knew much about,'' Schayes explained. ''When I was older and got to see game films of the Syracuse Nationals, it wasn't difficult to understand why so many people had told me how great he was as a shooter and rebounder. In one film a couple of guys go by him and score, so I've always kidded him about his defense, but actually he was good at stopping other people.''
''One thing my father never did was push me to play high school, college, or pro basketball,'' Danny continued. ''I discovered basketball for myself when I was a kid. But it wasn't until late in my college career that I thought about turning professional. When I was growing up and my father did talk about the NBA at the dinner table, it was mostly to tell a funny story about some guy who had played in the league during the same period (1949-1964) that he did.''
Young Schayes says that team defense is the strongest part of his game and that to him getting a key rebound is more important that scoring a basket, the theory being that everybody in the NBA can score. Getting a clutch rebound, on the other hand, is much tougher physically and usually requires more skills.
''If you're looking for Dolph Schayes in Danny Schayes, you're not going to find him,'' said Tom Nissalke, who brought the youngster along through training camp and the first quarter of the season until he lost his own job as head coach last week in a management shakeup. ''I think it would be great if people realized this, didn't expect him to play like his father, and just let Danny be himself.
''We made him our No. 1 pick in last June's draft because we felt he could help us some right away, but mostly because he's just beginning to take advantage of his skills,'' Nissalke continued.
''This is a big, strong kid with a great attitude who works hard, who passes the ball well, who can shoot from outside, and who can be a factor on the boards. He's on a weight program that projects out to maybe 275 pounds, and eventually this kid is going to take up a lot of room in the middle. Once he gets set for a rebound, not many players are going to be able to move him.''
While this might be stretching things just a little, the current Utah Jazz offensively are a lot like the old Los Angeles Lakers who had Elgin Baylor at forward and Jerry West at guard. Between them they controlled the ball maybe 70 percent of the time.
Utah's answers to Baylor and West are forward Adrian Dantley and sophomore guard Darrell Griffith. Dantley led the NBA in scoring last season with a 30.6 average and offensively is the best small forward in the league. Griffith, also known as Dr. Dunkenstein because of his ability to mail the ball through the basket from in close, averaged 20.6.
''A kid like Schayes is ideal for a team like the Jazz that doesn't rely on its center for a lot of scoring,'' Nissalke explained. ''He can play a high post , where you can run plays off the pivot, take advantage of his passing ability, and make use of the fact that he shoots well from outside.
''Danny is probably always going to be a steady player rather than a spectacular one,'' Tom continued. ''He's not a leaper but a position-type rebounder who is also going to be able to block opponents off the boards. Basically I'd compare the way he plays to Dennis Awtrey, except that Schayes can do more things, and although Awtrey was never a star in this league and got traded a lot, people forget that he had 11 years in the NBA!"