Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - NBA exhibition games are a novelty now in Syracuse, but it wasn’t that long ago that professional basketball was a vibrant part of the Salt City’s sports scene.
In the early days of the National Basketball Association, the Syracuse Nationals were right in the middle of the league with some of its most storied franchises.
"It was just a little town, the Green Bay of the NBA,” said Dolph Schayes, an NBA Hall of Famer who played for the Nationals from 1948 to 1963.
Schayes was the star of the team. He was one of the top scorers of his day, playing 15 years with the Nationals and helping them earn an NBA title in 1955. He recalls the time fondly.
"That was one of the beauties of living in Syracuse. First of all, the town was so proud to be part of the NBA, it wasn't as big as it is today, but it was a professional league,” Schayes said.
On the court, the Nationals were one of the more successful franchises. But as the years wore on, it was harder off the court for the team to stay in Syracuse.
In 1963, the board of directors faced a key moment for the franchise and the city.
With salaries going up and attendance going down it was becoming more apparent that the man who saved the NBA with the invention of the 24-second shot clock – Danny Biasone – wouldn't be able to save his own team in Syracuse.
"It was a closed door meeting, so I was standing outside with other reporters, and the doors opened and I saw men, some of them I know, coming out wiping tears from their eyes having made the only decision they could have made,” said Jerry Hoffman, an announcer for WSYR-TV and radio who reported on the meeting.
"Somebody called, I never expected it. I didn't even know negotiations were going on,” said Schayes.
The team had been sold and was moving to Philadelphia.
"It was a very sad night and a sad time for Syracuse,” Hoffman said.
The sting of the move has mostly worn off, replaced by pleasant memories of Syracuse time with the Nats and in the big leagues.