During a practice of the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team, coach Bob Knight stopped the proceedings and, feigning amazement, handed forward Wayman Tisdale a pen and a piece of paper. Knight had him write, "Today Wayman Tisdale hustled," and then the coach signed the note. Tisdale was a frequent target of Knight's ire, but he never let the abuse get to him. He just went about his business (he led the gold-medal-winning team in rebounding) with the same grace, optimism and good humor that were on display throughout his life, which was cut short last week by cancer. Tisdale—whom Knight later described as "one of the finest young men I've ever dealt with"—was 44.
The son of a Tulsa preacher, Tisdale was so highly regarded in high school that Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs agreed to move the Sooners' Sunday practice to the evening so that Tisdale could attend services at his father's church, where he played the bass. (He had been playing since the third grade, when his father bought him a Mickey Mouse guitar.) At Norman, Tisdale became the first—and still only—player to be named first-team All-America as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Tisdale then turned pro and averaged 15.3 points with three teams over 12 NBA seasons, then retired to pursue his other love: music. His first album—he described his style as "church slash gospel slash country slash funk"—was released in 1995 and sold a quarter of a million copies. His most recent, 2008's Rebound, was inspired by his battle with cancer, which was diagnosed in 2007 after his right leg snapped as he walked down the stairs in his home. Doctors found a cancerous cyst and had to amputate the leg last August. Tisdale refused to be slowed: He got a prosthetic limb in Oklahoma crimson-and-cream and returned to his music. "Nothing can change me," he said last June. "You don't change because things come in your life. You get better because things come in your life."