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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wayman, We Hardly Knew Ye ...

Wayman Tisdale was one of the more talented players in collegiate basketball when I met him in New York City a few days before the 1985 NBA draft was conducted at the old Felt Forum, a great part of Madison Square Garden. The media attention and all-out fan-fair that year was solidly focused on Patrick Ewing, the soon-to-be franchise player of the New York Knicks and the consensus college player of the year, along with St. John's phenom Chris Mullin.

Tisdale was a top-notch scorer and rebounder who would've been the head honcho of the draft in most years, but he was being overlooked by the parochial NYC media and BIG EAST influened national media to a great degree because of the fact he was from Oklahoma and would be headed to the hinterlands of the Hoosier State and the NBA doormat of the Indiana Pacers.

We witnessed the same thing a few years earlier when ACC star and Sampson vs Ewing goliath in UVa's Ralph Sampson garnered all the attention and Steve Stipanovich was drafted in relative obscurity.

Tisdale's infectious smile and his warm personality were almost as sweet as his mid-range jump shot. I remember watching his form and loving his game. He was selected immediately after Ewing but before the likes of Benoit Benjamin, X-Man McDaniel, Joe Klein, Jon Koncak, Keith Lee and a few others.

Chris Mullin was selected at No. 7 by Golden State, not a bad pick at all. Utah Jazz came away with the biggest prize of that draft when they selected Karl Malone at No. 13 while Detroit did quite well with Joe Dumars at #18. A.C. Green went at #23 and Terry Porter at #24 to close out one of the strongest first round drafts of all-time.

I hate terrible news. The death of a young player is just that, terrible. They always seem to come in threes but this time, they came in fours. It's basketball and the game is played in four quarters, I guess?

Here's to:
Marvin, the Human Eraser, Webster
Chuck Daly
Kevin Duckworth
and... the late, great, wonderfully talented and passionate Wayman Tisdale.

Wayman Tisdale, a three-time All-American at Oklahoma who played 12 seasons in the NBA, died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 44.

Tisdale died Friday morning at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, hospital spokeswoman Joy McGill said.

After three years at Oklahoma, Tisdale played in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. The 6-foot-9 forward, with a soft left-handed touch on the court and a wide smile off it, averaged 15.3 points for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

After his basketball career, he became an award-winning jazz musician, with several albums making the top 10 on the Billboard charts. Last month, he was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and will be honored in Kansas City in November.

"Wayman Tisdale is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said in a statement. "He had an incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special."

Tisdale's death was announced on the Oklahoma Senate floor Friday by Senate Majority Leader Todd Lamb, who led the chamber in prayer.

"Whether you're a Cowboy or a Sooner, Oklahoma has lost a great ambassador," Lamb said. "He was a gifted musician, a gifted athlete and he just wore that well wherever he went."

The famously upbeat Tisdale learned he had cancerous cyst below his right knee after breaking his leg in a fall at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2007. He said then he was fortunate to have discovered the cancer early.

"Nothing can change me," Tisdale told The Associated Press last June. "You go through things. You don't change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life."

His leg was amputated last August and a prosthetic leg that he wore was crimson, one of the colors of his beloved Oklahoma Sooners. He made a handful of public appearances in recent weeks, including one April 7 at an Oklahoma City Thunder game where he received the team's Community Hero Award.

Also within the past month, Tisdale was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in his hometown of Tulsa and presented with the Legacy Award. During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying "In my mind, I've beaten it."

Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in 1971-72. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans: The others were Oscar Robertson, Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Patrick Ewing, Tom Gola, Jerry Lucas, David Thompson and Ralph Sampson. Ewing and Tisdale were the last to accomplish the feat, from 1983-85.

Tisdale played on an Olympic team that sailed to the gold medal in Los Angeles, winning its game by 32 points. The squad was coached by Bob Knight and featured the likes of Ewing, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin.

Tisdale averaged 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds during his three seasons with the Sooners, earning Big Eight Conference player of the year each season.

He still holds Oklahoma's career scoring record with 2,661 points and career rebounding record with 1,048. Tisdale also owns the school's single-game scoring mark, a 61-point outing against Texas-San Antonio as a sophomore, along with career records in points per game, field goals and free throws made and attempts.

In 1997, Tisdale became the first Oklahoma player in any sport to have his jersey number retired. Two years ago, then-freshman Blake Griffin asked Tisdale for permission to wear No. 23, which Tisdale granted. Griffin went on to become the consensus national player of the year this past season as a sophomore.

"His basketball talent and accomplishments pale in comparison to the impact he had on the lives that he influenced by the way he lived his life, and the tremendous character he displayed in his fight with cancer," Capel said.

"Throughout it all, he always had that infectious smile. This is an incredibly sad day as we have lost not only one of the greatest Sooners ever, but one of the all-time best people to walk the face of this earth."

Tisdale is survived by his wife, Regina, and four children.

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