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Posted: Friday May 15, 2009 12:12PM; Updated: Friday May 15, 2009 11:42PM

Former NBA veteran Tisdale dies at age 44

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Wayman Tisdale proudly displays his jersey after the Indiana Pacers drafted him in 1985.
AP
Comments on death of Wayman Tisdale
"He was so positive, he almost made you feel he was OK when you knew he wasn't. It's a shock. I don't know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale." -- Former Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs.
"I spoke with him pretty frequently this past season and he helped me in ways he probably doesn't even know. He's touched so many lives. I'm just happy he's going to a better place." -- Former Sooners star Blake Griffin, who received permission from Tisdale to wear jersey No. 23, which had been retired in his honor.
"I was thinking, 'I can't believe this has happened.' I was trying to think of our age difference, and I'm like, 'This man is 44.' I don't know what's old anymore." -- Sam Perkins, who played with Tisdale on the 1984 Olympic team and was best man at his wedding.
"Wayman Tisdale was much more than a superb basketball player and gifted musician. He was an incredible human being who touched the lives of everyone he met. He was always smiling and his love for life, even as he battled a terrible illness, inspired countless people. Basketball has lost a great ambassador." -- NBA commissioner David Stern.
"He changed the whole landscape for basketball in our state, from a fun standpoint and from a production standpoint. We were a football state until Wayman came on the scene." -- Kansas coach Bill Self, an Oklahoma native who played with Tisdale on the same AAU team.
"He was the nicest man in the world with the biggest heart and an even bigger smile. I thank him for befriending me and showing me there is more to life than just basketball." -- Former Pacers star Reggie Miller, who played with Tisdale in the NBA.
"He was truly an inspiration to me, paving the way for an athlete like myself to pursue a passion for writing and performing music. I had the honor and privilege of having Wayman perform on the title track of my new album, and was looking forward to collaborating with him again in the future." -- Musician and former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams.
"He was an All-American player and an All-American person. He lit up the day for us, I remember, at so many practices. We practiced so long and hard and Wayman's smile and whole demeanor made those so much easier." -- C.M. Newton, the manager of the 1984 Olympic team.
"Even in the most challenging of times, he had a smile for people, and he had the rare ability to make everyone around him smile. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known." -- Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, who attended college with Tisdale.
"On the court, he was an offensive machine that could score with the best of them. Off the court, he was grounded in faith and family. He affected lives through the vehicles of sports and music that few others ever will. It's a huge loss." -- Mavericks President Donnie Nelson, who helped coach Tisdale with the Suns.
"His personality, his smile, his laugh and his positive outlook on life were such that anyone who ever came in contact with Wayman immediately loved him. He was a very good basketball player, but an even better human being. He was a much-loved and respected member of the Pacers family." -- Indiana Pacers co-owner Herb Simon.
"We will forever remember the April night he was honored at a Thunder game. His smile radiated throughout the arena as fans and players on both benches all rose and cheered in tribute. He was a remarkable athlete and competitor, but most of all a tremendous person. His courage fighting cancer and helping others along the way are a lasting inspiration for us all." -- Thunder chairman Clay Bennett.
"He had an incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special. 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. Throughout it all, he always had that infectious smile." -- Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
"Wayman was a great guy, a big talent and a person I admired." -- Pistons President Joe Dumars, who played against Tisdale in the NBA.
"Wayman's one of the biggest reasons why I chose Oklahoma. I wanted to be part of something special and it made logical sense to go to OU because I wanted to pattern my game after him. I wanted to be like him." -- Former Oklahoma All-American Stacey King.
"He was a great person. He was always positive, he never let the negative bring us down as a unit. He always smiled and kept us together. I'll miss him. He was one of my brothers." -- Former Oklahoma forward Darryl "Choo" Kennedy.
"Wayman was a great young man to be around, a very good player, and he developed into a respected guitar player. He treated everyone very well and had a huge heart. I will miss him." -- Knicks president Donnie Walsh.
Source: The Associated Press

Wherever Wayman Tisdale went, whatever he was doing, chances were he was smiling.

Tisdale was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s before playing a dozen years in the NBA and later becoming an accomplished jazz musician.

But those who knew Tisdale, who died Friday at a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., recalled not only his professional gifts but a perpetually sunny outlook, even in the face of a two-year battle with cancer that took his life at 44.

"I don't know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale," said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners. "He was obviously, a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive."

Jeff Capel, the current Oklahoma coach, noted Tisdale's "incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special."

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, averaged 15.3 points for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

Gov. Brad Henry attended Oklahoma at the same time Tisdale did and later appointed him to the state's Tourism Commission.

"Oklahoma has lost one of its most beloved sons," Henry said. "Wayman Tisdale was a hero both on and off the basketball court. ... Even in the most challenging of times, he had a smile for people, and he had the rare ability to make everyone around him smile. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever known."

State senators paused and prayed Friday morning after learning of his death.

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 Oklahoma's colors. He attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game April 7 and later that month was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying "In my mind, I've beaten it."

He recently told Tulsa television station KTUL he had acute esophagitis, which prevented him from eating for about five weeks and led to significant weight loss. Among the causes of that condition are infections, medications, radiation therapy and systemic disease.

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 the 1971-72 season. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans. Patrick Ewing and Tisdale were the last to accomplish the feat, from 1983-85.

"On the court, he was an offensive machine that could score with the best of them," said Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson, an assistant on Tisdale's Suns teams. "Off the court, he was grounded in faith and family."

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

"Wayman was kind of a catalyst for people accepting roles," said C.M. Newton, the manager of the '84 team and now chairman of the NIT selection committee. "Michael was the leader of the team but Wayman was special in that way."

Perkins and Tisdale shared a love of music and became friends during the Olympics. Perkins later was the best man at Tisdale's wedding.

"That's a real friend who's got your back and would do just about anything for you," Perkins said. "That smile just gets you."

As a musician, Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, "Rebound," was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and country star and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith.

His "Way Up!" release debuted in July 2006 and spent four weeks as the No. 1 contemporary jazz album. His hits included "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," "Can't Hide Love" and "Don't Take Your Love Away."

"He was truly an inspiration to me, paving the way for an athlete like myself to pursue a passion for writing and performing music," said Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankees star turned jazz musician. "I had the honor and privilege of having Wayman perform on the title track of my new album, and was looking forward to collaborating with him again."

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 records for points and rebounds. Tisdale also owns the school's single-game scoring mark -- 61 points against Texas-San Antonio as a sophomore -- and career marks for 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.

"I spoke with him pretty frequently this past season and he helped me in ways he probably doesn't even know," Griffin said.

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

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
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