Posts Tagged ‘Maurice Stokes’

Why Battier’s ‘Teammate’ award matters


Maurice Stokes (right) of the Cincinnati Royals talks over a few things with teammate Jack Twyman while resting in the hospital in 1958.

Maurice Stokes (right) of the Cincinnati Royals talks over a few things with teammate Jack Twyman while resting in the hospital in 1958.

MIAMI – It has sort of a Miss Congeniality vibe to it, the NBA’s Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award that was presented to Miami Heat forward Shane Battier on Saturday.

Except for two things:

  1. The men after whom the award is named, Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, lend a gravity to the honor that should not be taken lightly.
  2. The voting actually couldn’t be more different. That is, the players who spend the most time around the winner and know him best can’t actually vote for him … unlike those, y’know, pageants.

That’s a quirk of the process, which prohibits NBA players from voting for a current teammate as Teammate of the Year. But it might actually lend credibility to the award, rather than reducing it to a popularity contest.

“The beauty of it is I’m a 13‑year veteran, 35 years old,” Battier said, teasing. “I’ve probably played with 250 of the current players that are in the league. But for guys that don’t know me, who only played against me, to look at me and say, ‘You know what, he looks like he’d be a great teammate,’ that means a lot to me.”

Like the inaugural TMOY winner last year, Chauncey Billups, Battier has been around for a while and played for multiple teams (Memphis, Houston, Miami). That means exposure to a lot of players who aren’t on the Heat roster and therefore can vote for him.

Of the top five finishers in this year’s balloting, only Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, who finished third, has spent his entire career with one team. Then again, the Mavericks have had a revolving door recently, so some of Nowitzki’s teammates have moved on, their eligibility to vote for him restored.

In the point system used to determine the winner, Battier finished with 1,322 points and 67 first-place votes. Charlotte’s Al Jefferson was second (798 points, 29 firsts), followed by Nowitzki (784, 28), L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul (754, 40) and L.A. Lakers forward Pau Gasol (753, 36).

As for the first reason the TMOY award means something, Battier wanted everyone to know the tale of Twyman and Stokes, teammates on the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals from 1955 to 1958. Stokes suffered an on-court injury that caused him to lapse into a coma days later, with resulting brain damage that left him permanently paralyzed. Twyman became his legal guardian and supported Stokes – who died at age 36 in 1970 – for the rest of his life.

Twyman, who died in 2012, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, but he spent years lobbying for Stokes, whose remarkable skills were evident before his career was cut short. In 2004, Stokes also was enshrined.

“If you don’t know the story about Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, it’s an amazing story of brotherhood and being the ultimate teammate,” Battier said. “The award represents so much. It’s really a huge honor. It means a lot to me because I’ve tried to be a good teammate my entire life.”

Billups Is Inaugural Winner of Twyman/Stokes Teammate Award

MIAMI – Awards in whatever walk of life typically honor the latest recipients, and if they happen to be named after someone, there occasionally can be some head-scratching and quizzical looks as to who that was and what exactly they did to get a trophy named after them.

A bunch of hockey players, for instance, are grinding out a championship series over the next two weeks for a silver cup named for … Lord Stanley? And the NBA surely gets it that while everyone knows what an MVP is, not everyone knows that Maurice Podoloff – for whom the trophy is named – was the league’s first commissioner.

The Twyman/Stokes Teammate of the Year Award is going to be different, if the league and the players who win it have anything to say about it.

The new postseason award – won for 2012-13 by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups – was created precisely to keep the names Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes alive as symbols of sportsmanship, selflessness and other traits associated with not-just-good-but-great teammates.

Their story – Twyman becoming legal guardian and advocate for Stokes after his Cincinnati Royals teammate suffered a paralyzing brain injury in 1958, helping with his medical costs, sticking by his friend – is one that resonated throughout the league long after Stokes’ death in 1970 at age 36, and even more so after Twyman’s passing in 2012.

“The relationship shared by Jack and Maurice is as profound an illustration of compassionate and unconditional fellowship between two teammates that the NBA has ever seen,” NBA commissioner David Stern said at the presentation ceremony an hour before Game 2 of The Finals Sunday.

“We will get the opportunity to retell the story of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman on each occasion of the award’s being given.”

Billups, a 16-year veteran, directed some of his remarks upon accepting the award to son Jay Twyman and other members of Twyman’s family who attended the event at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I think even older players like myself to the younger guys need to know the story,” he said. “The story is the most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard in sports. And I’m just glad that my name could be mentioned alongside Mr. Twyman.”

At 36, having played for seven different NBA franchises, one could say that Billups was on the campaign trail without ever knowing about it. He was chosen in a vote of all NBA players from a ballot of 12 nominees, six from each conference selected by a panel of NBA Legends. The criteria: 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. Or in his case, teams.

Other finalists included Jerry Stackhouse (Brooklyn Nets), Luke Walton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets), Jarrett Jack (Golden State Warriors), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), 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.

That last part might seem odd for a “teammate” award, but Billups – whose leadership was key to the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship – is known throughout the players’ community as a solid citizen, generous with his time and more.

Noting that he never has had to sacrifice for a teammate the way Twyman did in caring for Stokes, Billups said: “I had to help a few teammates through some really, really tough family situations in a few different ways. … I never thought twice about it because I knew they needed it, and they respected me enough and looked up to me enough to ask me.”

Kobe Could Add to Career-Ending List

Basketball is a game of split-second decisions and lightning fast moves, giant leaps and great falls.

As Kobe Bryant himself said in a post on Facebook, it was a move he has made “millions of times.”

With a torn Achilles tendon, the question is whether the 34-year-old All-Star will become the latest to join a list of NBA players who have had their careers ended by horrific injury?

MAURICE STOKES — He was the 1956 Rookie of the Year with the Rochester Royals, averaging 16.5 rebounds and pulled down 38 rebounds in a single game. A three-time NBA All-Star as the franchise moved to Cincinnati. On March 12, 1958 at Minneapolis, in the last game of the regular season, Stokes drove to the basket, drew contact, fell to the floor, struck his head and lost consciousness. He returned to the game and three days later scored 12 points with 15 rebounds in a playoff game at Detroit. On a flight following that game, he suffered a seizure, fell into a coma and was left permanently paralyzed. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor-control center. Stokes died 12 years later at age 36. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2004.

BILLY CUNNINGHAM — The Kangaroo Kid was a four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA first teamer and 1967 champion with the 76ers. He was also the ABA MVP with the Carolina Cougars in 1973. On Dec. 5, 1975 in a game against the Knicks in Philadelphia, he was driving down the left side of the lane with Butch Beard challenging. Halfway down, Cunningham pulled up short, his knee locked, and he fell to the floor in a heap, having torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. In 11 pro seasons, Cunningham averaged 21.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. He was 32. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1986.

CHARLES BARKLEY — The 11-time All-Star and 1993 MVP was averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his 16th NBA season as a member of the Rockets and had long seemed indestructible as a he carved out a career as one of the great power forwards of the game despite standing only 6-foot-6. Barkley was in Philadelphia, the city where his NBA career began, positioning himself for a rebound barely eight minutes into the first quarter on Dec. 8, 1999 when he collapsed to the floor, rupturing the quadriceps tendon in his left knee. Typical Sir Charles, as he was being carried off the floor, said: “Just what America needs, one more unemployed black man.” Refusing to let the injury become the last image of his career, Barkley returned on April 19, 2000 in Houston for a game against Vancouver long enough to grab a signature offensive rebound and score a put-back basket, then walked off the court. He was 35. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

ISIAH THOMAS — Perhaps the greatest little man ever to play in the NBA, he was a 12-time All-Star and led the Pistons to back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990 and was the MVP of The Finals in 1990. Thomas averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists in his 13-year career. Already bothered by an assortment of injuries including a strained arch, broken rib and hyperextended knee, he tore his right Achilles tendon with 1:37 left in the third quarter on April 19, 1994 in a home game against the Magic. “I felt like I got shot with a cannon,” he said. “When I did it, I thought it was my Achilles. I had no control of my foot. I don’t know exactly what happened.” The career-ending injury also kept Thomas off Team USA for the 1994 World Championship. He was 11 days shy of turning 33. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2000.

DIKEMBE MUTOMBO — The eight-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time rebounding champ and second-leading shot blocker in NBA history played 18 seasons with six different teams. The great rim protector who made his finger-wag at opponents following a blocked shot his signature, was playing with the Rockets when he collided with the Blazers’ Greg Oden in the second quarter of Game 2 of a first-round playoff series at Portland on April 30, 2009 and fell to the floor. Mutombo had ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his left knee. “It is over for me for my career,” he said that day. He was 42.

YAO MING — The 7-foot-6 center from Shanghai was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft by the Rockets and an eight-time NBA All-Star. He’d been plagued by an assortment of foot and ankle injuries and it was originally believed to be just a strained tendon in his left leg when Yao had to leave the court just six minutes into a game at Washington on Nov. 10, 2010. An MRI later revealed a stress fracture in his ankle. “You hope this is the last surgery for him,” teammate Shane Battier said. “Good lord. That guy’s seen more hospital beds than Florence Nightingale.” But Yao never played another NBA game and announced his retirement in July 2011 at age 30.

JAY WILLIAMS — The 6-foot-2 point guard led Duke to the NCAA championship in 2001, national college player of the year in 2002 and was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Bulls. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists as a rookie in Chicago. On the night of June 19, 2003, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight on Chicago’s North Side. He was not wearing a helmet, was not licensed to drive a motorcycle in Illinois, and was also violating the terms of his Bulls contract by riding a motorcycle. Williams’ injuries included a severed main nerve in his left leg, fractured pelvis and three torn ligaments in his knee including the ACL. He required physical therapy to regain use of his leg and never played another game in the NBA. He was 21.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL — At 7-foot-1, 325-pounds-plus, the 15-time All-Star, four-time champion, three-time Finals MVP and two-time scoring champ appeared undentable and unbreakable during his 19-year NBA career. Playing for his sixth team, O’Neal was bothered by foot problems throughout the 2010-11 season in Boston. He returned to the lineup on April 3, 2011, but played just six minutes before limping down the court on a Celtics possession in the first minute of the second quarter. “The doctor thought it was very minor. Scary more than anything,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But we’ll see.” Shaq returned to play just 12 minutes in two games in the second round of the playoffs against Miami and announced his retirement on Twitter in June. He was 39.

The Real Greatness of Jack Twyman

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.