Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Lewis College Great Wayne Molis
Jon Teitel: Wayne's nickname was "Big Moe", and he later had a bar in Chicago called "Big Moe's". Who gave him the nickname, and how did he like it?
Todd Molis: That is all he ever went by. He got the nickname in high school because by then he was already 6'8".
JT: He attended Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State) for two years before transferring to Lewis University, where he became an All-American. Why did he switch schools and what did it mean to him to win such an outstanding individual honor?
TM: He broke his ankle after the first game of his junior year, and got an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA before transferring to Lewis. Being named All-American was the highlight of his basketball career. I also played for the varsity at Teachers while my brother was at Lewis, and one time I got put into the game to guard him. He let me get past him for an uncontested layup, and everyone was cracking up because they could tell what happened!
JT: He still holds the Lewis school record for field goals in a game with 20 against Chicago Teachers in 1964. Do you think he might have been out for revenge against his old team, and what made him such a great shooter?
TM: He was not out for revenge. He just wanted to play basketball. What is amazing is that he not only holds the Lewis record for points in a game, but also holds the Teachers record for points in a game...which he did against Lewis before ending up there! He later went to the weddings of some of his old teammates at Teachers because he remained friends with them.
JT: In the summer of 1965 he was drafted in the 10th round by the Knicks, but was released soon after that. Was he thrilled to realize his dream of getting drafted or disappointed that he did not make the team?
TM: He was definitely disappointed, but ended up playing amateur ball because he just wanted to keep his skills sharp.
JT: He played amateur basketball for one year before returning to the Knicks. How did he like amateur basketball, and how did he feel about going back to New York?
TM: He played for the Jamaco Saints under owner Jack Mathis, and the Knicks asked him to come back the following year. He also played with an Argentinian team in a tournament in Spain.
JT: In 1967 he made the playoffs with the Knicks before losing to Boston. How big a deal was it for him to make the playoffs, and did he make it sound like there was a big difference between the regular season and the playoffs?
TM: He often said that playing with the Knicks was the high point of his life, despite making a whopping $14,000 per year. He did not get on the court a lot, so it was a big deal to make the playoffs because the bonus was around $750 per player! He saw Philly warming up before a game one night, and saw Wilt stretch out with his feet on the ground and touch the rim. He said Wilt must have been at least 7'4"! One year he had us come to St. Louis and sit opposite the TV cameras in the front three rows so that it would look like there were actually people at the game!
JT: In the summer of 1967 he switched to the ABA for its inaugural season. Why did he make the change, and was he nervous about joining a brand new league?
TM: Oakland drafted him from the Knicks, but after their coach told him to rebound instead of shoot Oakland released him and he went to Houston. He was a great outside shooter, and had never been asked to spend all of his time hitting the boards.
JT: He later suffered a career-ending knee injury while working over the summer as a Bedford Park firefighter (although he continued to be a firefighter for the next eight years). Did he feel frustrated that he could not go out on his own terms, and how did he like bring a firefighter?
TM: He really liked being a firefighter after bouncing around a couple of other jobs. When the chance came to buy the bar, he did. He loved being a bartender because he could talk sports with his customers all day.
JT: He went back to college and earned a degree in history from Lewis in 1971. How important were academics to your family, and what did he end up doing after getting his degree?
TM: He used the degree to be a substitute teacher on his days off from the firehouse, but did not really enjoy teaching. My family grew up during the Depression, so my dad had to leave school early to get a job to support the family. It was important for me and my two siblings to finish our education and graduate because my parents did not get the chance to do so themselves.
JT: His son Brian played basketball at Colorado before transferring to Northern Illinois and having to deal with a number of physical and emotional challenges (arthroscopic knee surgery, surgery for a bone chip in his left ankle, a cracked tibia, then his mother/grandfather dying later that year). How hard was it for Wayne to see everything that Brian had to go through, and how supportive was your family during that time?
TM: My brother and I went to a lot of Brian's games, and Brian was basically living to watch his brother Derek play basketball, which was the greatest thing. Derek played basketball at Fordham, but transferred to Loyola after getting homesick. Derek set a bunch of three-point shooting records at Loyola despite only playing there for two years, and he now has a basketball school called "The Athlete Within" and runs several AAU teams. Brian is now a very successful salesman, so they all turned out okay.
Molis is also on Jon's list of best pro players in Great West history.
Chicago State: Wayne Molis (1967)
Houston Baptist: EC Coleman (1974)
NJIT: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
North Dakota: Phil Jackson (1968)
South Dakota: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Texas Pan American: Lucious Jackson (1965)
Utah Valley University: Ronnie Price (2006)