Wayman Lawrence Tisdale passed away on May 15, 2009, from cancer.
He was a big man with a bigger smile. Great athlete. Better person. A cool jazz man who was maybe the best slap bass guitarist of his era. A man of faith. Deeply committed to his family.
Having lived a few years in Tulsa, I knew he and his family cast a huge shadow over that city. His father was pastor of the Friendship Church for 28 years. When he passed away in 1997, one of the local expressways was renamed the L.L. Tisdale Parkway. Wayman’s older brother, Weldon, is now senior pastor at Friendship.
A high school basketball star at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Wayman went on to Oklahoma University where he was the first college basketball player to be named first team All American his freshman, sophomore, and junior years. He still holds the records at OU for points and rebounds. He played with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and other luminaries on the 1984 US Olympic team that was dubbed the ‘Dream Team.’ The 6′ 9″, 240 pound power forward played 12 seasons in the NBA, averaging more than 15 points per game.
He didn’t grow up with a dream of playing basketball in college or the NBA – music was his first love. His music career began while he was still in the NBA with a Motown record called, appropriately, Power Forward. He recorded seven more albums, including Face to Face, which hit number one in sales for the contemporary jazz chart. His final album was Rebound and reflected his belief that he was not going to be defeated by cancer.
Wayman was diagnosed with cancer on the knee (osteosarcoma) in February 2007, when he fell down the stairs at his house and broke his leg. Chemotherapy that spring didn’t work and in August 2008 he had his right leg amputated. Tisdale kept his strong faith and never lost his trademark smile.
Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma said of Tisdale:
“Oklahoma has lost one of its most beloved sons. 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.”
As a c-jazz lover, I was a bigger fan of Tisdale’s music than I was of him as a basketball player – he never played for ‘my’ team. But most of all I’m a fan of him as a man of persevering faith and and as an example of a resilient joy and hope exhibited and proven under all circumstances.
Anytime someone dies ‘before his time’ it is a sad story. Particularly for his wife, Regina, and their four children, along with a loving extended family. But his music is a joyful reminder of a life well lived and where he is now. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that his number one hit was his take on the standard, Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.