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The light that was Wayman Tisdale

by Berry Tramel Modified: May 22, 2009 at 10:07 am •  Published: May 22, 2009
TULSA — In a building full of fiery preachers and gospel artists, a jazz guitarist provided the best lesson to learn from the life of Wayman Tisdale.

Marcus Miller, maybe the only man in the BOK Center wearing a hat, offered a simple portrait of Tisdale’s humanity.

Celebrities build a wall, Miller said during Tisdale’s memorial service Thursday. Be they expert at ball or bass, they build a self-preservation wall.

“An invisible wall,” Miller said, “to keep people from taking too much from them.”

Demands are constant for time and money and a piece of your life. “It can deplete you, and you won’t have anything left for you or your family,” Miller said. “I understand the wall.”

Only thing is, Wayman Tisdale never built that wall. Instead of a wall, Miller said, Tisdale had a light.

That light shone in his hometown of Tulsa, which gave Tisdale a virtual state funeral. It shone in Oklahoma, where Tisdale remains an epic hero, 24 years after his final basketball game on these shores. And it shone in the music industry, where Tisdale forged a second successful career.

But maybe that light shone brightest in the hardened world of the NBA.

“He had that rare ability to touch your life without you even knowing it,” said Kenny Gattison, who played nine years in the NBA and became close friends with Tisdale, even though they never were teammates.

Gattison attended the funeral with fellow NBA alum Darrell Walker, who also claimed a kinship with Tisdale, though they never shared a roster during eight years together in the league.

“The commissioner would like to see more guys like Wayman Tisdale in the NBA, how he handles himself on the court and how he handled himself off the court,” Walker said.

Here in Oklahoma, we sort of lost touch with Tisdale’s NBA career. He was mostly in the outposts of Indiana and Sacramento, scoring lots of points but winning few games.

Even now, the theory on Tisdale’s pro career is that he wasn’t as committed as maybe he could have been. Picked up that bass too often and the roundball not enough.

But who knew that in his journey through NBA purgatory, Tisdale was impacting lives? Who knew that he was shining a light instead of building a wall?

Rory Sparrow, a self-described journeyman who played for seven franchises in a 12-year career, spent one season with Tisdale, 1990-91, with the Sacramento Kings, a dreadful team that went 25-57. has disabled the comments for this article.
by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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