Rest In Peace, Wayman Tisdale
Etan Thomas mourns the loss of one of his heroes.
The morning of May 15, 2009, my mother called me in tears to inform me of the news: Wayman Tisdale had passed away. I couldn’t believe what I heard. My heart sunk. I thought about how he was just honored in Tulsa a few weeks before, and how everyone reported that he was doing well, optimistic and still smiling. I thought about the speech that I heard he gave, and how great it was that he was honored while he was still living.
It is difficult to put into words what Wayman Tisdale meant to the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where both Wayman and I grew up and both went to Booker T. Washington High School. It would have proved impossible that any place short of the B.O.K. Center would be large enough to accommodate the amount of people who desired to pay their last respects to a fallen hero.
What do you say about someone you looked up to your entire life?
What words do you conjure up for someone who you admired not only for his unbelievable talent on the court and off the court as well, but who you admired as a man?
Wayman was and always will be a symbol of pride that every man, woman and child from Tulsa wears with honor.
What made him special wasn’t the fact that he was a three-time collegiate All-American at the University of Oklahoma. It wasn’t that he was the first University of Oklahoma athlete of any sport to have his number 23 retired, and then he allowed Blake Griffin to wear his number. It wasn’t that he was drafted number two in the 1985 draft right behind Patrick Ewing and continued to have a long career of a dozen years in the NBA. Nor was it because in 1984, he was a member of the gold medal-winning Olympic basketball team. It wasn’t even that while Wayman was still playing in 1995 he released his first album, Power Forward which hit number four on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart. Or that his subsequent seven albums each were at one time or another top ten hits, with two of those records — Face to Face (2001) and Way Up (2006) — actually enjoying number one status.
Each and every one of those accomplishments demonstrated how talented Wayman was, but what really made him special was who he was as a man. That was what caused the city of Tulsa to come to a standstill once the news of Wayman Tisdale’s passing was announced. That was the reason there was a line of people wrapped around the block waiting before the church doors opened for his viewing.
I remember it like it was yesterday: I was at Carver Middle School and my sixth grade math teacher, Ms. Nelson, told us that we would be having a guest speaker. Now, back in middle school, I, along with most of my friends, had an attention span of about 5 to 10 minutes, and after those 5 or 10 minutes were over, our minds could and often would easily drift to countless destinations. But when Wayman spoke to us, we were literally hanging on his every word. I remember him discussing the fact that he grew up right here in Tulsa, walked the halls of Carver Middle School and later Booker T. Washington High School, was blessed to be able to play in the NBA and encouraged all of us to always go after our goals. I remember a group of teachers after the assembly asking me and my friends why we wouldn’t listen to them the way we listened to Wayman. They joked that they didn’t have to tell anyone to be quiet, threaten any of us with trips to the principal’s office or to be taken out of the assembly or anything. Why wasn’t it as easy for them to command our attention?
I remember looking at them as if they had said the most absurd thing in the world, and simply replying, “Because you all are not Wayman Tisdale.”
That was the level of respect he commanded. I remember afterward telling my mother how his words had resonated with me.
I remember years earlier, Wayman coming to my elementary school, my mother forcing me to go ask him for a picture (I guess I was a little shy).
Much to my surprise, Wayman approached me, bent down, looked at me with his trademark smile and asked if he could take a picture with me. I remember looking at him like, Are you serious? Can you take a picture with me? Do you know who you are?
I remember my mother thanking him for the picture, telling him that she had been following him since he was younger, and saying, “I want my baby to grow up to be just like you.”
Wayman was more than an amazingly talented human being — he was a great man. Many people accomplish a long list of accolades throughout their athletic careers, but Wayman will be remembered far beyond his athletic or musical endeavors. Hearing different people tell stories after the memorial service, it became very apparent how special he was. Nobody talked about basketball; they spoke of him as a person. How he touched their lives. Something nice he did when he didn’t have to, how they respected his character, or how good he was for the community. It was amazing hearing all of the stories.
He has written his place in history, and will always be remembered as the pride of Tulsa.
Wayman, you will be missed.