Not long ago, Milton Schoon was sitting in his home in Janesville, Wis., when
Calumet wrestling coach Jim Wadkins called him and told the 77-year-old that he
was being inducted into the CHS Hall of Fame.
The former NBA star didn't buy at first what he thought was the 20-pound bag of
"When he called me I thought it was one of my buddies," Schoon said. "We'll all
call each other and give each other a good line of B.S. But when he mentioned
my high school coach (Chuck Morris), I knew maybe there was something to it."
For Schoon, a legendary Region basketball player that many local historians
forget about, when he speaks of buddies, it could be one of several from across
the country. Schoon's shoes have traveled more than Michael Jordan's in his
He played on a legendary college basketball team at Valparaiso University
dubbed, "The World's Tallest Basketball Team," and he guarded the well-known
George Mikan and held the game's first great big man to nine points in VU's win.
After his junior year with the Crusaders, Schoon played with the professional
Anderson (Indiana) Packers under an assumed name "to make a few extra bucks."
Someone noticed him and his collegiate days were over. So he played five more
years -- from 1946 to 1951 -- in the NBA and NPBL. In his final season with the
Denver Frontier-Refiners of the National Professional Basketball League, he
scored 64 points in a single game that would stand as the professional mark for
almost a decade. Elgin Baylor scored an NBA record 71 in 1960 and Wilt
Chamberlain scored his time-tested 100 in 1962.
The fiery Schoon's contract was sold to the Philadelphia 76ers. But he quit the
game he loved so much. And why?
"I hated the East Coast," Schoon said. "I didn't like Boston. I hated New York.
So I quit and went to work for International Harvester. I worked there 30 years
and then retired."
When asked for details of his early days in pro ball, Schoon's colorful
character came forth.
"Hell, I don't know, that was 50 years ago," he said. "I have enough trouble
remembering what I had for breakfast this morning."
The parents of the 1940 Calumet grad were vegetable farmers -- in Gary. In a
less-populated time, Schoon was a giant 6-foot-3 center for the tiny Warriors.
Calumet lost to Whiting in the Hammond Sectional, and the Oilers went on to
play this faceless, 12-6 team from Hammond Tech in the sectional finals. Out of
nowhere Tech's Tigers went on and won the 1940 state championship, the Region's
"At Calumet, we played on a floor that had three feet between the baseline and
the wall on one end and a stage on the other end," he laughed, when hearing
that Calumet now has the 30th largest gymnasium in the United States.
Schoon played a year at Tri State before enrolling at Valparaiso. He had
thought about Kentucky, but the Crusaders slick-talking coach, Lauren Ellis,
made a move that would've made Fonzie proud.
"He was a silver-tongued orator," Schoon said of Ellis. "My mother was
bedridden at home. On about the fourth visit, he told her if she ever needed me
I could be home in about an hour. So that settled it. I went to Valparaiso."
At VU, Schoon played with Chesterton's Bob Dilley, LaPorte's John Janisch, Gary
Tolleston's Alvin Schmidt and Tolleston's Albert Schmidt. Ellis was a "shrewd
operator," according to Schoon. In an age when college basketball was a
circus-like show, VU's tent was pitched from coast to coast. Valpo went 44-6
over a two-year period and Schoon averaged 12 points per game. But the win over
DePaul -- over Mikan -- that was Schoon's biggest thrill.
After his brief stint in Anderson, Schoon got his degree and signed with the
Basketball Association of America's Detroit Falcons, a precursor to the NBA.
After one year, the Falcons folded and Schoon was picked up by the Flint
Chemics of the National Basketball League. In 1948, the two leagues joined
together to form the 17-team NBA.
And once again, Schoon went to another team, this time the Sheboygan Redskins.
In those early years Schoon's contract fluctuated between $3,500 and $5,500 a
year, which wasn't bad coin at the time. But unlike other players who thought
it would go on forever, Schoon saved his money and worked during the offseason.
"There were too many guys who spent the offseason hunting and fishing and spent
all their money," he said. "Just like today. Only now they spend a million
dollars in the offseason."
The pro teams traveled by car, train or plane or whatever. Each team played 84
league games, and the cash-strapped owners would schedule exhibition games
against local all-star teams as often as possible in small, rowdy towns in
between the gardens of Boston or Madison Square. But in those tiny crackerbox
venues, Schoon saw the beginnings of what is now Fan-tastic.
"The crowds were enormous," he said of the exhibitions. "Small gyms and elbows
from the local boys wanting to look good against the pros. You'd finish and go
into the shower, it was 10 feet square. Man those were rough nights. You had to
love the game to play in those days."
To this day, Schoon gets calls from NBA fans and just lovers of the game. And
like Wadkins, they want to pick his brain about the genesis of today's NBA and
the players that set the table for today's stars.
"I don't know where they get my name or my address," he said. "They'll call and
ask, 'Would you be so kind to send me your autograph?' And I always do. These
modern yokels today would tell them to send them $100 first."
This Saturday, Schoon will have a pen in hand for anyone interested in his
signature. And in honor of the way he played the game, the autograph will be
free of charge.