|(From left: Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman)|
Jack Twyman died four years ago in May of 2012 at the age of seventy-eight. He's in the Basketball Hall Of Fame but I bet if you had asked my students who are basketball players and fans to identify him, they would all draw a blank. He was a great player- six time NBA All Star and along with Wilt Chamberlain, one of the first two players to average more that thirty points in a season. He went on to a significant career as an NBA broadcaster upon retirement. Those are all nice facts but they don't explain what I saw in a headline of an article posted the day after he passed away:
Remembering Jack Twyman, the greatest teammate in the history of the NBA
Pretty far reaching statement for a league that has been in business roughly seventy years. What kind of career would evoke such a compliment? And what kind of character?
Jack Twyman grew up in Pittsburgh and played basketball collegiately at the University of Cincinnati. Following four years with the Bearcats, Twyman was the second round pick of the Rochester Royals who became the Cincinnati Royals and now are known as the Sacramento Kings. Maurice Stokes also grew up in Pittsburgh and starred at Saint Francis College before his selection in the first round by the Royals in 1955. Stokes was on his way to a Hall of Fame career based on his first three years in the NBA. He remains one of only four professional players to ever record four consecutive triple doubles, or more than 10 points/rebounds/assists, in one contest. Jack and Maurice entered the league at the same time and were teammates for three years until the fateful night, the last game of the regular season in 1958. Stokes took a hard fall, slamming his head into the court, rendering him unconscious. In a delayed reaction, Stokes three days later lapsed into a coma and emerged paralyzed. His brain was clear and he could blink but that was the extent of his ability to communicate. Maurice Stokes would live twelve more years until his death from a heart attack on April 6, 1970. The basketball world was left wondering what could have been?
Here's where that headline about the greatest teammate comes in. The NBA did not have great insurance in 1958 like today and the players had minuscule, by today's standards, contracts. Maurice Stokes, age twenty-four, was single and his family could not financially able to take care of his needs. And so at the grand old age of twenty-three, Jack Twyman became the legal guardian of his friend and teammate. He worked tirelessly to raise funds for Maurice and was with him every step of the way through nine hours of daily rehab. Jack would call out letters of the alphabet and Maurice would blink to spell words. When Maurice improved somewhat, he received a typewriter and laboriously typing, his first sentence was this:
Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?
But Jack felt it was the other way around. Maurice became part of Jack's family with his wife and four children. Twyman organized celebrity events which raised not only funds but awareness of Stokes' condition and his battle to overcome. The names Stokes and Twyman became synonymous in the sports world. And although Maurice Stokes never had a complete recovery, his fight to stay alive and regain any physical ability inspired countless Americans to do the same. He simply never gave up.
Tomorrow, my 8th graders will rewrite Jesus' parable, The Good Samaritan, and put it into their own words and world. You know the story, how a lawyer asked the Savior two questions:
How do I get eternal life and who is my neighbor?
Jesus make the hero of this vignette a Samaritan, who His listeners would have despised. But the unknown hero invests his time and money while putting himself at risk to rescue the unknown victim who scholars believe was Jewish. And on Monday, I will tell my not yet high schoolers about Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman. There are obvious differences, of course, like the pre-existing relationship between the teammates instead of being strangers. But both Jack and the Samaritan put their lives on hold to be the neighbor when another human being needed it the most. Jesus told the lawyer, "Go and do likewise." Jack Twyman did. And that's why the sportswriter called him the greatest teammate in the history of the NBA. My gut feeling is that if the tables were turned, the headline would have read, ''Maurice Stokes, greatest teammate in the history of the NBA." I guess we'll never know but we all have the chance to do what the Samaritan did, even on a small scale. RIP, Mo and Jack. You made the NBA- and the world- a better place. Thanks for showing us how.
Applicable quote of the day:
“I just stood in awe of him. When I would be having a bad day myself, I would go to see Maurice, selfishly, to say, I want to get pumped up. And he never failed to pump me up.”
Here is a video clip of Jack Twyman speaking with footage of Maurice Stokes playing:
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