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Once there was a time when the idea of a Jewish NBA player wasn’t a source of amusement.

The Stevenson Collection/Getty

That day is no more. (Israeli exception noted.) And not just because, sadly, Dolph Schayes, an NBA Hall of Fame center for the Syracuse Nationals, has died. (Team, too—in 1963, when they became the Philadelphia 76ers, who currently are not good at basketball.)

As a New York Jew, sort of, and one who grew up playing in its parks and playgrounds and at school, names like Schayes, Larry Brown, and the ever-loving Ernie Grunfeld were fundamental, proof that even though (to quote an old high school ball coach) I “couldn’t dunk donuts,” there was still a reason to be out there playing, and with pride. (And for those of you who call for Amare Stoudemire—sure, why not.)

G_dspeed, Mr. Schayes. We’ll be thinking of you at sunset in my home tonight, when we light the candles.