The gray-haired, one-legged man just had to meet Wayman Tisdale.
He knew, of course, that the big fellow sitting in an exam room had been a basketball legend. He probably even knew that Tisdale had become quite the jazz musician.
But that wasn’t the thing that drew him to Tisdale’s room last winter.
Tisdale was a one-legged man, too.
"You’ve been such an inspiration,” the gray-haired man’s daughter said, doing as adult children often do and speaking for her father.
Wayman Tisdale wowed people with his basketball and his music during his cancer-shortened life, but over the past couple years, he did so much more than that.
He inspired people.
He battled cancer. He endured chemotherapy. He sacrificed his leg in an attempt to save his life.
"And it didn’t seem to faze him — ‘It’s not a big deal. I’ll get through it,’ ” said Scott Sabolich, the Oklahoma City prosthetist who got Tisdale back on his feet after his amputation last fall. "Just really strong.
"It gives you strength.”
So often in sports, we talk about athletes playing inspired or about performances being inspirational. Often, those are just flowery words and convenient catchphrases.
The way that Wayman Tisdale lived his life since discovering he had cancer a little over two years ago actually was inspiring.
He never stopped smiling, but more than that, he never stopped thinking about others despite circumstances that would’ve forced most of us into a self-centered cocoon.
He would visit other cancer patients at Houston’s renowned M.D. Anderson cancer center during trips there for his own chemotherapy. He would go room to room offering encouragement and support and smiles.
Who knows how many people drew strength from that?
Then, even after all those terrible, horrible rounds of chemo failed and doctors had to amputate his leg anyway, Tisdale started talking about helping other cancer patients more.