MIAMI – By the time a team reaches The Finals, it is easy for an NBA player to profess love for his teammates. They all have a common goal and bond. Each has contributed in some way in getting them so deep into the postseason. Besides, in two weeks or less, they’ll be rid of each other after months of mandated togetherness, freed from that locker room to go their separate ways. Love ya, bud. See you in October.
Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes were teammates of a different sort.
That’s why the NBA chose to honor them with an annual award to recognize the league’s “ideal teammate.” The announcement and presentation of the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award will be made before Game 2 of the 2013 Finals Sunday evening at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The winner was chosen from a vote of NBA players. Ballots featured 12 nominees, six from each conference selected by a panel of NBA Legends according to selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players and his commitment and dedication to his team.
Finalists for the inaugural Twyman/Stokes Award were Jerry Stackhouse (Brooklyn Nets), Luke Walton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets), Jarrett Jack (Golden State Warriors), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Chauncey Billups (Los Angeles Clippers), Shane Battier (Miami Heat), Roger Mason, Jr. (New Orleans Hornets), Jason Kidd (New York Knicks), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs), and Emeka Okafor (Washington Wizards).
A point system was used — 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth. Players were not allowed to vote for a player on their own team.
Twyman and Stokes started out on different teams, too, growing up and playing for separate high schools in Pittsburgh. But the two became friends and, as it turned out, rookies together with the Cincinnati Royals in 1955-56.
Both became All-Stars, too, but the Royals were wrapping up a 33-39 season when Stokes fell during a game in Minneapolis. His head injury (post-traumatic encephalopathy) caused him to lapse into a coma days later and left him permanently paralyzed.
Stokes’ family couldn’t provide the care or money he needed, so Twyman took over as his legal guardian. It was Twyman who argued successfully for work-injury compensation to cover some of Stokes’ initial medical bills.
It was Twyman, too, with the assistance of a Kutsher’s hotel and resort in the Catskills (N.Y.), who organized a charity basketball event in his friend’s name, raising $10,000 for more of Stokes’ expenses. He lobbied the league’s biggest stars — Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor — to play in the annual exhibitions. Funds raised after Stokes’ death in 1970 at age 36 were used to help other players in need.
Twyman, while attending to his own family, spent hundreds of hours with Stokes, helping him regain small bits of his speech and limited mobility. Later, he took Stokes, in a wheelchair, to some of the benefit games. In 2004, after years of lobbying by Twyman, Stokes gained his enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Twyman, who was enshrined in 1983, died in 2012 at age 78.
The trophy, which depicts Twyman helping up Stokes, was sculpted by Marc Mellon, who also crafted the NBA’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy award to the league’s Most Valuable Player.