A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Waymon Tisdale: 1964-2009
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 Pacers, Kings, and 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 basketball, he became an award-winning jazz musician, with several albums making the top 10 on the Billboard charts. “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.”
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.” 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.”
The famously upbeat Tisdale learned he had a 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 made a handful of public appearances in recent weeks, including one April 7 at an Oklahoma City Thunder game. 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 the 1971-72 season. 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. 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. He had a great work ethic. He loved to play and was just fun to be around.”
Perkins and Tisdale shared a love of music and became fast friends during their Olympic experience. 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.” Tisdale said he didn’t think his music career had much to do with his basketball-playing days.
“It’s so diverse. It’s so different,” he said. “You can’t make people buy your music if they don’t like it.” 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. “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.