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Oklahoma basketball great Wayman Tisdale dies

By John Helsley - Staff Writer Modified: May 16, 2009 at 7:34 am •  Published: May 15, 2009
Wayman Tisdale had a way with making an impression, often initiated with his signature broad smile.

Even in death, Tisdale’s influence seemed to grow through a two-year battle with cancer that ended Friday in Tulsa.

Tisdale, a three-time All-American at Oklahoma who played 12 seasons in the NBA, died about 8 a.m. at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, hospital spokeswoman Joy McGill said. He was 44.

Considered an OU basketball legend, Tisdale’s personality and talents were praised across college and the NBA and later extended to the jazz world, where he was an award-winning bass player. The past two years, he continued to wear his popular smile during a public battle with cancer that eventually resulted in the amputation of his leg above the right knee.

“Throughout it all, he always had that infectious smile,” said OU basketball coach Jeff Capel. “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 from 1983-85. He was also the Big Eight Player of the Year for each of those years.

Despite playing just three seasons for the Sooners, 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.

Following basketball, Tisdale became an award-winning jazz musician, 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 of 2007 that resulted in a broken leg.

A cancerous cyst was discovered, bringing an extended period of chemotherapy and treatment and the eventual amputation of his leg last August, a move doctors hoped would put the cancer behind him.

He made several public appearances since the surgery, attending OU basketball games, and recently, an Oklahoma City Thunder game on April 7.

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,” said Billy Tubbs, Tisdale’s coach at OU.

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