Wayman Tisdale kept delivering that big, broad, toothy smile. Through the devastating news. Through the chemo and the pain and, eventually, the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Always providing the bright side to his two-year battle with cancer — a battle lost Friday — Tisdale played his signature smile in a public display of courage and inspiration. The Tulsa native, University of Oklahoma legend, NBA veteran and renowned jazz musician died Friday morning at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa. Few behind Tisdale’s tightest circle saw it coming, as he carried his smile and his fight out in public. He was 44. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Biglow Funeral Directors in Tulsa. A date and time for services have not been set. "It’s a shock,” said former OU coach Billy Tubbs, who recruited and coached Tisdale. "I don’t know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more beloved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale. "He was obviously a great, great player. But Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive.”
He stayed positiveEven as he neared the end. Tisdale attended OU basketball games. He sat down for interviews, freely sharing the details of his treatment and the amputation and his adjustment to getting around on a prosthetic leg. While the prognosis of cancer, especially the kind that wracked Tisdale, can be grim, Tisdale charged on with optimism. As recently as April 7, he attended a Thunder game. "I told myself, ‘Whatever this is, it ain’t gonna take me out,’” Tisdale said in an ESPN interview in November. Each step of the way through what had to be a trying journey, Tisdale left an impression initiated with his calling card: that wide smile. "Throughout it all, he always had that infectious smile,” OU basketball coach Jeff Capel said. "This is an incredibly sad day, as we have lost not only one of the greatest Sooners ever, but one of the all-time best people to walk the face of the Earth.” Tisdale played three seasons at OU, becoming the first player in NCAA history to be named first-team All-America by The Associated Press for his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, spanning 1983-85. He also was the Big Eight Player of the Year for each of those years. Despite staying just three seasons at OU, before jumping to the NBA, he remains the school’s all-time leader in points and rebounds. During an NBA career spent with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, Tisdale averaged 15.3 points. He also played on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Just last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
A ‘courageous’ fightAfter basketball, Tisdale embarked on a musical career that saw him become an award-winning jazz musician and touted bass player, with albums rising into the Top 10 of the Billboard charts. Tisdale, survived by wife Regina, three daughters and a son, first learned of the cancer after a fall in his house in February 2007 that resulted in a broken leg. A cancerous cyst was discovered, requiring an extended period of chemotherapy and treatment and the eventual amputation of his lower leg last August — a move doctors had hoped would put the cancer behind him. Throughout his struggle with cancer, those who knew Tisdale best talked of how he inspired others through his trials. "Wayman, through this fight of his, was the most courageous person that I’ve ever seen,” Tubbs said. "He was so positive he almost made you feel he was OK, when you knew he wasn’t.” In February, Tisdale received the NBA Courage Award during an All-Star Game legends event. Tisdale was weak and struggling, yet positive the April night he was honored by the Thunder at the Ford Center. "The entire Thunder organization is deeply saddened by the loss of Wayman Tisdale,” Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett said. "We will forever remember the April night he was honored at a Thunder game. His smile radiated throughout the arena as fans and players on both benches all rose and cheered in tribute. "He was a remarkable athlete and competitor, but most of all a tremendous person. His courage fighting cancer and helping others along the way are a lasting inspiration for us all.” Tisdale’s death was announced on the Oklahoma Senate floor Friday by Senate Majority Leader Todd Lamb, who led the chamber in prayer. "Whether you’re a Cowboy or Sooner, Oklahoma has lost a great ambassador,” Lamb said. "He was a gifted musician, a gifted athlete, and he just wore that well wherever he went.” Wore it in his smile. "Wayman Tisdale is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing,” Capel said. "He had an incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special. "His basketball talent and accomplishments pale in comparison to the impact he had on the lives that he influenced by the way he lived his life and the tremendous character he displayed in his fight with cancer.” View/sign the guest book
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