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. Most enjoyable season of Sparrow’s career. “That’s directly attributable to Wayman Tisdale,” Sparrow said. Sparrow had been traded from Miami and wasn’t looking forward to moving. His first day in Sacramento, Tisdale “came over, welcomed me to the Kings,” Sparrow said. “Said, ‘You’re with Tizzy now.’” Sparrow spoke eloquently at the service, telling funny stories about Tisdale but also breaking down. “He opened his arms,” said Sparrow, now the NBA’s vice president for player development. “He opened his heart. I knew I had found a home and a friend.” A.C. Green, that great hustler on the Showtime Laker teams of the late 1980s, befriended Tisdale early in their careers. He heard Tisdale was a man of faith, the son of a minister. The NBA fraternity is small. Men of character is an even smaller club. “I had heard about his family, heard about his spiritual upbringing,” Green said. “I was walking on that path.” They became friends, eventually teammates and finally brothers. “He became part of my family, I became part of his,” said Green, now a minister and who Thursday read from Psalm 91 in honor of his fallen friend. Ryan Humphrey followed Tisdale from Tulsa Washington to the NBA. How many men tell you they love you, asked Humphrey, who said that’s what Tisdale did a few weeks ago, the last time they talked. Light. Not walls. “One of the rarest spirits that’s graced the Earth,” said Gattison, who never called Tisdale teammate but called him something greater. “It’s been a blessing and an honor to call him friend.” Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.
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