Wayman Tisdale sat in the OU sports information office one night after study hall, practicing a speech. All these years later, Cindy Cloutier, then an Oklahoma student worker and still a Wayman fan, recalls the details. Tisdale’s speech was about basketball expenses. He referred, in his best polished voice, to money for the “rentation” of Lloyd Noble Center. Wayman’s brother, William, bubbled in laughter, saying there was no such a word. Never fear, Wayman said. “It’s all in the delivery.” Isn’t it the truth? Wayman Tisdale’s delivery never faltered. Always with a smile. Playing hoops or the bass guitar, winning games or friends, losing his leg or dying with grace, Tisdale delivered the rarest of charm, a genuine charisma that started with that world-class smile. Tisdale died Friday in Tulsa at the age of 44, an Oklahoma icon not just because of turnaround jump shots and Jazz melodies, but that magnificent smile that is everyone’s favorite memory of Tisdale. “He reminded me of Magic Johnson,” said another OU basketball legend, Alvan Adams, after learning of Tisdale’s death. “That smile. Most of us when we played were serious, were combative, were competitive. “Wayman and Magic were all those things, but they smiled while they kicked your butt.” Who else in sport is remembered for their smile? Who else played at the highest level, with maximum intensity but such unrestrained joy? Wayman Tisdale lit up a room, even if that room was a coliseum. Basketball is the most personal of games. Fans and cameras get close, unencumbered by helmet or hat. We feel like we get to know basketball players, really know them, and when someone as entrancing and delightful as Wayman comes along, the connection is strong. Strong, and in this case pure. “Truly that smile was just him,” said Jan Warner, president of the OU Tip-In Club during Tisdale’s days. “An unusually bright, loving guy all the time.” The memories flooded Warner on Friday. She was with Tisdale during all those delightful days, first meeting him before OU’s 1982 NIT game at Oral Roberts, when Tisdale was a Tulsa Washington senior, and the fun was infectious even to strangers. At OU, Wayman and William and teammate Chucky Barnett would come over to her house, the Warners supplying hamburgers and the players supplying the hijinks. “It was a three-ring circus,” she said. “Make you laugh till you doubled over.” A few years ago, the Warners went to see Tisdale in concert, after he became a best-selling jazz guitarist, and he charmed music audiences with his talent and smile, same on the stage as he was on the hardwood. “It was so precious to be with him,” Warner said. “I’ll miss him a lot. But he sure did give a lot of people excitement and joy.” The excitement came from baskets made. The joy from smiles delivered. The smile never wavered, even in despair. Wayman sat courtside at the Ford Center 38 days before his death, being honored by the NBA Thunder, and while his body was betraying him, the smile never did. While the San Antonio Spurs interrupted their halftime warmup to shake hands and encourage a comrade, Tisdale talked about basketball and music and how he was doing fine, even though he wasn’t. “Nicest man in the world with the biggest heart and an even bigger smile,” said former NBA star Reggie Miller, an Indiana Pacer teammate of Tisdale’s. “I thank him for befriending me and showing me there is more to life than just basketball.” In the end, maybe that’s what Wayman Tisdale and his smile delivered. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. View/sign the guest book
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