Wherever Wayman Tisdale went, whatever he was doing, chances were he was smiling.
He was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma in the mid-1980s before playing a dozen years in the NBA and later becoming an accomplished jazz musician.
But those who knew Tisdale, who died Friday at a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., recalled not only his professional gifts but a perpetually sunny outlook, even in the face of a two-year battle with cancer that took his life at 44.
“I don’t know of any athlete at Oklahoma or any place else who was more loved by the fans who knew him than Wayman Tisdale,” said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners. “He was obviously, a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive.”
After three years at Oklahoma, Tisdale played in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. The 6-foot-9 forward, with a soft left-handed touch on the court, averaged 15.3 points for his career. He was on the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.
Tisdale learned he had cancerous cyst below his right knee after breaking his leg in a fall at his home in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2007. He said then he was fortunate to have discovered the cancer early.
His leg was amputated in August and a prosthetic leg that he wore was crimson, one of Oklahoma’s colors. He attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game April 7 and later that month was honored at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. During the ceremony, he spoke about his cancer, saying ,“In my mind, I’ve beaten it.”
Last month, Tisdale was chosen for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American since freshmen were allowed to play again in the 1971-72 season. He was also one of 10 three-time All-Americans.
As a musician, Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, “Rebound,” was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and country star and fellow Oklahoma native Toby Keith.
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