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  • Budd Bailey

Braves' New World: Dale Schlueter

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

Dale Schlueter made the most of his basketball ability, turning an average college basketball career into 10 years in the NBA. He played two seasons with the Braves. While his playing time was limited, no one could have doubted his willingness to back up his teammates when games became physical.

Dale Wayne Schlueter was born in Tacoma, Washington, on November 12, 1945 to Mildred L. and Dean A. Schlueter. Dale grew up in Denver, Colorado, and attended George Washington High School. He had an older brother, Richard. The most notable sports alumni from GWHS is former NBA star Chauncy Billups.

Little is known of Dale’s high school basketball career, but he graduated from the school in 1963 and played well enough to earn a college scholarship. The advantages of height are many. He enrolled at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, about a 90-minute drive north of Denver. Schlueter played on the Rams’ freshman team for the 1963-64 season. He was second on the team in scoring with an 11.3 points per game average for the 6-6 team.

Schlueter began his sophomore season with the varsity, but was not a starter. He came off the bench for his first seven games until he was tapped to start against Fresno State on December 30, 1964. He scored five points. “Dale Schlueter, the tallest man on the court at 6-9, turned in a fine performance in his first starting assignment for the Rams,” reported the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Colorado State won, 84-65. Dale played in 21 of the Rams’ 24 games and averaged 2.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game for the 16-8 squad. Lonnie Wright, a future NBA player, led the team with a 19.7 scoring average.

Schlueter’s game took a significant step forward in his junior year. He was second on the team in rebounding with an 8.0 per game average, only behind future NBAer Bob Rule. He was fourth on the Rams with a 9.2 points per game average. Colorado State finished the season with a 14-8 record. In one of Dale’s best games, he scored 16 points while only missing two shots and grabbed nine rebounds in a 93-84 win over Long Beach.

Colorado State received an NCAA at-large bid in the West Region in 1966. They faced the 21-5 Houston Cougars led by All-American Elvin Hayes. Schlueter played his best game of the season in tangling with the Big E in a losing cause. Schlueter scored 10 points and grabbed 19 rebounds and played outstanding defense against the All-American. “Houston’s ace center, Elvin Hayes, got one of his roughest arguments all season from the Rams, particularly Schlueter. Schlueter was mainly responsible for holding the 6-8, 230-pound Cougar, who had been averaging 27.9 per game, to 18 markers,” wrote Dick Smelser, CSU Sports Information Director.

Dale’s senior year was a disappointment both on a personal and team level. The Rams’ record fell to 13-10 and they did not qualify for a postseason tournament. Schlueter’s numbers fell off as his averages were 6.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He also missed the last two games of his senior season with a dislocated shoulder. Schlueter tangled with UCLA super sophomore Lew Alcindor in a December game that the Rams lost, 84-74. Schlueter fouled out after scoring only four points and securing three rebounds. Alcindor dominated the game with 34 points. The best game of Dale’s senior year was his 16-point output that keyed a 69-57 win over Wyoming.

Schlueter used the phrase “garbage collector” to describe his style of play. “It’s a real challenge to guard the good big men like Lew Alcindor (UCLA), Mel Daniels (New Mexico) and Elvin Hayes (Houston),” he said. “I actually enjoy trying to stop them more than I do offense. The reason I like rebounding so much is that it gives you a chance to let your opponents know you’re around.”

Schlueter was drafted by the San Francisco Warriors on May 3, 1967 in the sixth round of the NBA draft, the 63rd player taken. He was injured in training camp (shoulder) and sat out the 1967-68 season.

He made his NBA debut in the Warriors’ fifth game of the 1968-69 season on October 29. He made one free throw and snared two rebounds in four minutes of action as the Warriors lost to the New York Knicks, 110-97. For the season he played in 31 games while averaging 18.0 minutes, 5.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest for the Warriors (41-41). A highlight came when Dale finished with 16 points and 22 rebounds in a 109-100 loss to Seattle. Schlueter also scored 10 points in a game against the Celtics on March 9, 1969, but the game is best remembered for his skirmish with Jim Barnes of Boston that left Barnes with an ejection and four stitches. “He’s got a big, big heart,” said Warriors head coach George Lee about Dale. “He gets the most out of his ability. He’s proof that all you really have to do in the NBA is hustle all the time.” San Francisco was quickly eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, 4-2. Schlueter played in three of the six games, highlighted by a 13-rebound night in a Game Four loss.

Dale’s number of games played jumped in his second season as a Warrior (63), but his minutes dropped to only 10.9 per game and his scoring and rebounding averages suffered as they fell to 3.6 and 3.7 respectively. The Warriors finished a disappointing season with a 30-52 record and Hill was fired during the season.

The NBA expanded by three teams in 1970 and Schlueter was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Expansion Draft on May 11. Dale joined what turned out to be the best of the three expansion teams in their initial season. Portland was a good fit for Schlueter. He played in 80 games for the 29-53 Trail Blazers. He was second on the team in rebounding with a 7.9 per game average and he contributed 8.2 points per game while playing behind starting center Leroy Ellis.

His second year in Portland was Dale’s best year as a pro. Schlueter produced career highs in points with 947 (11.7 ppg) and in rebounds with 860 (10.6 rbg). He also set career highs in games with 81 and minutes played with a 33.2 average. Dale became the Blazers starting center, but the team dipped to a franchise-worst 18-64 record. The highlight of his season was a 26-point, 11-rebound output in the Blazers’ 127-126 victory over Philadelphia. The poor season led to the dismissal of head coach Rolland Todd.

As Schlueter had more success it was attributed to his increased courage and toughness. “I decided I wasn’t going to back down from anybody,” he said. “I became an aggressive-type of player. I draw picks, fight for position. I hold my spot on the floor – because I’ve got my rights to my spot. This leads to a lot of contact, physical contact, and it upsets some players.”

New coach Jack McCloskey and the Trail Blazers traded Schlueter on October 2, 1972, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Dave Wohl. The team was making room for center LaRue Martin, who was selected by the Blazers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft. Martin turned out to be one of the worst first overall picks in NBA history, but at the time, they didn’t know that.

Schlueter meanwhile went to one of the worst teams in NBA history, as the 76ers finished with a 9-73 record. Schlueter averaged 5.4 points per game in 14.6 minutes of action, well down from his minutes in Portland. Years later Schlueter said he had no idea what he was getting into. “No clue whatsoever,” he said. “Really, it was a pile of crap. The coach (Roy Rubin) knew absolutely nothing about how to coach in the NBA. He had no clue how to handle adults. He had been around college kids. We had some veteran players, but it was like a revolving door. We didn’t lose by tremendous points, but it got to a point where (opponents) said, ‘There’s no way in the world you’re going to beat us.’” Rubin was fired after the team posted a 4-47 record and was replaced by Kevin Loughery who was not all that much better at 5-26. It is the most defeats for any team in NBA history for a single season.

Luckily for Schlueter, he was traded on April 18, 1973, to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Don May (an original Buffalo Brave). He lasted one season with the Hawks as he saw limited playing time behind starting center Walt Bellamy. Dale played less than 10 minutes per game while scoring less than three points per contest for the 35-47 Hawks.

On August 29, 1974 his rights were sold to the Buffalo Braves. He joined a Braves team that was coming off its first playoff season. Buffalo general manger Eddie Donovan was looking to add some toughness. “Dale showed me what he’s made of a long time ago,” Donovan said after acquiring the 6-10 big man. “One night in the Garden, when I was with the Knicks, he squared off with Willis Reed – and I want you to know he’s one of the few guys in this league who has ever chosen Willis.” During a tussle in the game, Reed climbed over Schlueter’s back trying to snare a rebound. Schlueter elbowed Reed and knocked him to the floor on the next sequence. Reed yelled at Dale, “Hey, fella, do you have the equipment to back up something like what you just did?” Schlueter responded, “Yes, I think I do.”

Dale backed up McAdoo and as the Braves’ 1975-76 media guide said, “Schlueter became a fan favorite of the Braves fans because of his toughness and courage. He saw considerable playing time when forwards Jim McMillian and Gar Heard were sidelined. He proved to be a good defender, set some bone-rattling screens and took good percentage shots.” In all he played in 67 games for coach Jack Ramsay and his .517 field goal percentage led the team. He also displayed adept passing for a big man with 103 assists in his 12.7 minutes per game average. The Braves finished that season with their best record ever (49-33), but lost a hard-fought playoff series to the Washington Bullets in seven games. Schlueter played in six of the seven playoff games but was only on the floor for 40 minutes as McAdoo averaged an incredible 46.7 minutes per game.

Schlueter backed up McAdoo again in 1975-76, at least in theory. Dale’s minutes were curtailed further, as he played only an average of 10.9 minutes. His scoring average fell to 2.5 points per game and he grabbed 3.2 rebounds per contest. The Braves finished with a 46-36 record and qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive year. They defeated the 76ers in a mini-series, 2-1. Schlueter contributed off the bench in each of the three games. The Braves lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Boston, 4-2. Dale played in five of the six games, but was on the floor for only 28 minutes.

Buffalo waived Schlueter on October 20, 1976 after the team acquired Moses Malone. Dale was signed by the Phoenix Suns about six weeks later, and he played in 39 games with a career low in scoring at 1.8 points per game. Phoenix traded him to Portland for a draft pick in the summer of 1977, as he was reunited with Ramsay. The Blazers cut him on September 28, but a wave of late-season injuries forced the team to call Schlueter and see if he was interested in a comeback. He was indeed, having been playing for a Portland city-league team named “Claudia’s” that won the state’s AAU championship. Dale only played 10 games for the Trail Blazers before retiring on April 24, 1978. In his 10-year career he played in 586 regular season games and he scored 3,130 points and grabbed 3,034 rebounds with an outstanding .497 field goal percentage.

After his retirement, Schlueter was very active with the Blazers’ organization in their community relations department. He organized Blazers’ appearances by ambassadors and alumni as well as fan visits to the arena among other responsibilities. Those charity appearances raised about $2 million over 25 years. Dale also went into the real estate business for a while, followed by selling boat parts and then by working in financial management.

Dale was married twice. First, he married Debbie C. Arnoult on March 12, 1969 at Grace Lutheran church in San Mateo, California. She was an American Airlines stewardess from New Orleans, LA. They had at one daughter, Kirsten. The couple divorced on August 6, 1980. His second wife was Jennifer Jo Kaufman who he married on March 31, 1984, and they were together until his death. He died July 24, 2014, of cancer in his home in Portland, Oregon.

"He was one of our original players, which affords Dale a special place in Trail Blazers history," Trail Blazers Founder Harry Glickman said in a statement. "For the vast majority of professional athletes, one of the best rewards is personally knowing when you've done your very best. Dale gave his ultimate effort every time he played. He was a great Trail Blazer."

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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