HANG TIME WEST – I have a new regret. I never met Jack Twyman.
Knew about the career of 11 seasons and six All-Star appearances while representing the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals, culminating in his 1983 induction into the Hall of Fame. Knew about the friendship with Maurice Stokes and how friendship does not do Twyman justice. But not until Twyman died Wednesday at age 78 of complications from blood cancer and the stories were told by many who knew him best did the real magnitude of his life come through.
Stokes and Twyman were Cincinnati teammates when, in the last game of the 1957-58 season, Stokes hit his head on the court in Minneapolis. He later had a seizure, slipped into a coma and was permanently paralyzed.
Twyman, 11 months younger, eventually became Stokes’ legal guardian and remained a teammate of another kind until the end. For 12 years, he helped Stokes learn to adjust to his new life, organized exhibition games with NBA peers to raise money for Stokes and later for other needy ex-players, and came to define friendship until Stokes died in 1970.
Paul Newberry of the Associated Press had it right in in his moving tribute following Twyman’s passing:
Twyman ignored the ugly racial times that were the 1950s and ‘60s to dole out perhaps the greatest assist in NBA history.
He stood up when many wouldn’t, becoming the legal guardian and the best of friends to Maurice Stokes when his stricken African-American teammate needed him most.
It’s a life everyone should know about.
It’s a story worth telling again and again.
“Maybe this is a little learning opportunity for everyone who plays professional sports,” Newberry quoted John Doleva, the president of the Hall of Fame, as saying. “Jack didn’t look for accolades. It was just the right thing to do. That’s what made him a very, very special man.” We all know that a lot more now.