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.