It's starting to sink in: Wayman Tisdale is gone. After a two year battle with cancer, during which he never truly showed how bad the circumstances were, Tisdale passed away Friday, May 15 at St. John's Medical Center.
Accolades aren't the measure of a man, although Tisdale had many: an All-State high school basketball player, three time All-American college player and all-time leader in scoring and rebounds for the University of Oklahoma, member of the gold-medal winning US Olympic basketball team, 12 year veteran of the NBA and renowned jazz musician. Even so, those accomplishments were overshadowed by Tisdale's personality, humility and love for others.
Even after Tisdale broke his leg in Los Angeles in February of 2007 and was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, he immediately rebounded to perform as a headliner for Mayfest just three months later, intent to prove he would march forward.
In the public eye, we never saw Tisdale get down about his circumstances, even after his right leg was amputated above the knee in August of 2008. And when he appeared at an awards banquet to receive the Greenwood Cultural center's legacy award just last month, he was in a wheelchair, yet still insisted that he had beaten cancer with the latest round of chemotherapy. Alas, our gentle giant has fallen.
Even so, that was a perfect example of who Wayman Tisdale was. The son of Rev. L.L. Tisdale learned well from his father and upbringing and was generally a walking example of putting others ahead of himself. Even when battling cancer, Tisdale shunned the attention and assured others he was all right.
Despite having achieved national notoriety as a basketball star and international success as a jazz musician, Tisdale always considered Tulsa his home. This was his haven and shelter; and he was always proud of his hometown. He was also always ready and willing to give back to his community.
I was fortunate enough to meet Tisdale during a lunch a few years ago to discuss his (at the time) latest album and coming performance at the River Parks Amphitheater.
Even with a new record and the prospect of headlining what would be his first local concert on a large scale, he was the star who didn't crave the spotlight.
Proceeds from the concert and much of the attention that day were designated to benefit the Adoption Center of Northeast Oklahoma and the Child Abuse Network, both worthy and needing programs with which Tisdale was involved.
Even though we got to discuss his musical endeavors and a bit of his basketball career, it was Tisdale's easygoing and affable demeanor that stands out to this day. Wayman was a true gentleman who was as excited about his music as he was his basketball, as enthusiastic about giving back to his community as he was his career and more proud of his family than any career successes.
The many images we have to remember him by have one thing in common: the iridescent smile that was always on his face. Amidst all else, that's the one thing most of us will remember best.
A public memorial service will be held at the BOK Center on Thursday, May 21, at 11am.
Words can't properly express out thoughts and admiration, but I feel confident in speaking for Tulsa when saying Wayman Tisdale was loved and will be sorely missed.
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