Jack Twyman died today at the age of 78. Twyman was a star basketball player with the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, but it was his efforts off of the court that left his greatest impression. The invaluable assistance that he provided to former teammate Maurice Stokes, felled by a stroke in 1958, including being named as Stokes’ legal guardian, proved far more important than any of the 15,480 points that he amassed during his NBA career.
Twyman, born on May 21, 1934, attended the University of Cincinnati and then began his NBA career with the Rochester Royals in 1955. The Royals later moved to Cincinnati, and he remained with the team until 1966. He appeared in six All-Star games during his career with the Royals (now known as the Sacramento Kings) and was named to the All-NBA second team in both 1960 and 1962. During the 1959-1960 season, he averaged 31.2 points per game – at that time, the only other player who had ever averaged 30 or more points per game for a season was Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the best player ever.
Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, Twyman’s number 27 has also been retired by the Kings. Following his retirement, he continued his association with basketball, joining ABC as an analyst for “The NBA on ABC”, where he remained until the early 1970’s.
His success on the hardwood, however, is not what cemented Twyman’s legacy. His true contribution, and the actions for which he is remembered most today by many, had nothing to do with his 15,480 points, his All-Star appearances, or his television career. Twyman is best remembered, rather, for the compassion that he showed to a former teammate named Maurice Stokes.
Stokes played for the Rochester Royals from 1955 through 1958. During his rookie season, he grabbed an unthinkable 38 rebounds in one game, averaged 16.3 rebounds per game for the season, and was named the NBA Rookie of the Year. During his second season, he set an NBA record with 1,256 rebounds, an average of 17.4 boards per game. Inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, he played in the NBA All-Star game in each of his three seasons and was named to the All-NBA Second team in each of those seasons. His number 12 has been retired by the Kings.
During the last game of the 1957-1958 season, however, his career was tragically cut short. Stokes fell to the floor and struck his head on the court, knocking him unconscious. He was revived and actually played in a playoff game three days later, scoring 12 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. During the team’s flight to Cincinnati (from Detroit) after the game, however, he reported feeling ill. He later suffered a seizure, fell into a coma, and was left permanently paralyzed. The diagnosis was of post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury which resulted in significant body-wide damage. He would never play basketball, obviously, again.
In 1958, Twyman, who was white, organized two exhibition games which raised $10,000 to help pay Stokes’ expenses. The fact that Twyman did so for his fallen teammate, an African-American , was all the more admirable to many due to the differences in the men’s skin colors. The charity games became an annual tradition, and now takes the form of the “Maurice Stokes/Wilt Chamberlain Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament”, with the proceeds going to assist former players in need.
But Twyman did much more than just organize a charity event. He became Stokes’ legal guardian in order to further help with Stokes’ medical bills. The relationship between the men was later made into a movie, “Maurie”, in 1973. Stokes had died of a heart attack three years earlier. The movie depicting the relationship between white and African-American teammates, much like 1971’s “Brian’s Song” about the Chicago Bears’ running back duo of Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, transcended sports and showed the players in a much more “human” light for their relationships and the love between each set of teammates, regardless of their skin color.
It certainly made an impression on this writer. I was born in 1965, and never saw either Jack Twyman or Maurice Stokes play basketball. When it came time to write my essay for my college applications in 1983, however, I wrote about the remarkable relationship between Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes. I wrote about Twyman, and the remarkable things that he had done for his paralyzed teammate. I marveled at his actions, and wrote that he was a role model; a phrase that we rarely use to describe athletes today.
My feelings have not changed. The world was made a better place because of Jack Twyman. Not because he could put a ball through a hoop, mind you, but because he showed the world what one man could do for another. Stokes’ race did not matter. The fact that his teammate needed assistance was all that mattered to Twyman. And he did so much more than just give assistance to Maurice Stokes. From his initial charity game to today, untold numbers of former NBA players have benefited from his efforts. They will continue to do so, which is far more important than any point scored by Twyman during his career. He was truly a “Hall of Famer”, both on and off the court.
photo credits(1) www.bleacherreport.com(2) www.pickinsplinters.com(3) www.miamiherald.com