When Barry Kramer suggests that scoring a lot of points is a bit easier now with the 3-point shot than it was in his day, serious basketball fans understand there is little room for argument.
A former Linton High and New York University standout who also played professionally in both the NBA and ABA, Kramer knows something about scoring points.
Fifty years ago today — Jan. 10, 1971 — Kramer scored 63 points playing for the Schaefer Brewers in a semi-professional game at Little Falls High School against the Connecticut Explorers. It was a season filled with many memorable moments for area basketball fans, and while Kramer provided quite a few of them himself, he can’t recall any of the details about his scoring outburst that particular night in central New York.
“I don’t remember anything specific about that game at all,” said Kramer, who in June 2009 was selected as the top player of the past 50 years by the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame, earning the distinction over such big names as Shaker’s Sam Perkins and Phillip Schuyler’s Ticky Burden, as well as fellow Linton High alumnus Pat Riley. “But I do remember scoring 42 points against Georgetown at Madison Square Garden, and doing it again at the Garden against Illinois two weeks later. And I can tell you, without the 3-point shot, it was a lot tougher to score a lot of points than it is in today’s game.”
As a member of the Schaefer Brewers, Kramer was the best player on a team loaded with basketball talent. In a game earlier during that 1970-71 season, his teammate, Phil Schoff, had scored a team-record 60 points. In the game at Little Falls when Kramer had 63, Schoff, a St. Johnsville native who played at Syracuse University, added 40 points, and former Mont Pleasant High coach Dave Bleau contributed 38 in a 187-135 win.
“There were great teams and so many great players from this area that played with the Schaefer Brewers,” remembered Kramer, “and some of the teams we played against had guys still playing Division I ball. We played against all-star teams with college guys that were on their way to the pros, and we won most of those games.”
There was plenty of great college and high school basketball going on in Schenectady 50 years ago, but with former Union Star Sports Editor and promoter Al DeSantis bringing in players such as Austin Carr, Artis Gilmore and even Julius Erving to play against the locals, the Brewers were far from a third wheel. And on Sundays, with the colleges and high schools idle, the Brewers were the only game in town. DeSantis’ son Warren, reached recently at his Florida home, remembers his father coming up with the idea of a semi-pro team to entertain a basketball-hungry community in the early fall of 1965.
“I can remember him sitting at the table and saying, ‘There must be something to do in Schenectady on a Sunday night,’ ” remembered DeSantis, a Linton High grad who was general manager at Saratoga Raceway from 1987-1994. “ ‘I know, I’ll start a professional basketball team right here in the city.’ He knew he had a lot of good players right here in the Capital District, guys who played at the Division I level.”
And the best of them during that fall of 1965 was Kramer, who after graduating from NYU, had played with the San Francisco Warriors and the New York Knicks during the 1964-65 season.
“Barry was the cornerstone of the whole idea,” remembered DeSantis, whose father passed away in 1991. “He had some great talent, and in Barry, he had an iconic college all-star.”
DeSantis was absolutely right. Originally the Wedekind Pros in their first two years, the Brewers packed 1,000 fans into the Bishop Gibbons gym their first year before eventually attracting nearly 3,000 people to games at Linton High and other larger venues. New York State Senator Jim Tedisco, who was an outstanding player at Union College from 1969-73, was entering high school at Bishop Gibbons when the Brewers made their debut back in 1965.
“I had never seen Barry play in high school or college, so when I saw him play the first time for the Brewers, I thought he was the greatest player I had ever seen,” said Tedisco, who used to usher at the games played at Bishop Gibbons. “When I got older, I ended up playing with him in a few games, and he was just a joy to play with.”
At 6-foot-4, Kramer played both shooting guard and small forward, and according to Tedisco, was a very unique player, as well as extremely talented.
“He had great body control, could jump and could hit a shot from outside or drive to the hoop,” Tedisco said. “What he also had, which you don’t see much of today, is a mid-range game. Nobody stops at the foul line and takes a jumper now. Now you get there and then step back and take a 3. What Barry had was this wonderful mid-range shooting ability.”
Kramer grew up just off of Eastern Avenue and began crafting his basketball talent at the nearby Elmer Avenue School playground, as well as Central Park. With some prompting from his friend Joey Loudis, who went on to coach high school basketball for years at Cohoes and Mechanicville after helping Schenectady win the Little League World Series in 1954, Kramer started playing all over the city.
“Elmer Avenue had a full basketball court, so I played there mostly as a kid, but then I started heading over to Central Park and Grout Park School with Joey Loudis,” remembered Kramer. “We were schoolmates and stayed friends all through high school, but I ended up going to Nott Terrace and Joey went to Mont Pleasant.”
A new high school named Linton replaced Nott Terrace in Kramer’s sophomore season, and he was good enough as a sophomore to earn a starting spot on the Blue Devils’ varsity team. He became the school’s first 1,000-point scorer and led the team to a 33-1 record in his junior and senior seasons. He was a 1960 Parade Magazine All-American as a senior playing for legendary Linton coach Walt Przybylo, and earned an athletic scholarship to NYU, where he was a first-team All-American selection following his junior season.
In Kramer’s three varsity years at NYU, the team went 55-20. His best season was his junior year when he averaged 29.3 points a game and 12 rebounds as the Violets went 18-5.
Following his senior season at NYU, he was the sixth overall pick in the NBA draft, selected by the Warriors. He played part of that year with Wilt Chamberlain before being traded to the Knicks, where he got to line up alongside Willis Reed.
“I had the chance to play with Wilt Chamberlain and Willis Reed, so that was a great experience,” said Kramer. “But I just ended up on the wrong team. The Warriors kind of beat the hell out of me, and then they traded me to the Knicks, where I fit in better and felt like I played better.”
At the end of the 1964-65 season, however, Kramer never returned to the Knicks and began pursuing a legal career. Over the next three years he played with the Wedekinds and the Schaefer Brewers while also graduating second in his class at Albany Law School in 1968. In the fall of 1969, he joined the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association, but was put on waivers after playing in just six games.
Although the Nets weren’t interested in Kramer as he approached 30, he still had plenty of basketball left in him. By 1972, however, the Brewers had played their final game and semi-pro basketball had lost much of its luster.
“I think it ran its course as far as the public demand for it,” said DeSantis. “Barry was the real deal. He could have kept playing in the NBA. But in the early ’70s, he was getting older, as were the other players, and the ABA was getting stronger, so all the good college players were going there if they didn’t go to the NBA. That diluted the group of players you could use. It was a phenomenal success for that period of time, and the community loved it, but things were changing. The newness of it was gone.”
Kramer put together a few all-star games of his own in the early 1970s, but a busy legal career and minor foot injury signaled the end of his playing days, at least at that level. While he doesn’t regret his long and distinguished legal career as a State Supreme Court justice, he does question his decision about leaving the NBA after one season.
“I would have liked to make my mark in the NBA, so I do think about it,” said Kramer. “When I was with the Knicks, I realized that I could play in the NBA, but I was thinking about law school. I think starting with the Warriors hurt me. They didn’t really want me, and I guess I didn’t really want them. So that part of it is frustrating to me.”
These days, his basketball playing is limited to trading jump shots with a grandson.
“We spend a lot of the summer in Lake George, and I have a basket up on the garage,” he said. “I’ll shoot the ball, and that’s about it. I don’t want to tear anything.”