Wayman Tisdale Passes Away

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

May 15, 2009

NORMAN, Okla. - Wayman Tisdale, the University of Oklahoma's all-time leader in points and rebounds despite playing just three seasons, has passed away at the age of 44 after battling cancer.

Widely considered the greatest player in OU men's basketball history, Tisdale was the first player in collegiate history to be named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons (1983-85).  He was also a three-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and boasted career averages of 25.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, as well as a .578 field goal percentage (second best in school history).  He finished his collegiate career with 2,661 points and 1,048 rebounds.

As a sophomore during the 1983-84 season, Tisdale, who wore No. 23, scored a school-record 61 points against Texas-San Antonio, a record that still stands.

The 6-9 lefty from Tulsa led the Sooners to Big Eight titles in 1984 and 1985.  Those two teams, coached by Billy Tubbs, combined for a 70-11 record (33-0 at home).  OU also won the 1985 Big Eight Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight that season before Tisdale turned pro.  He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers and averaged 15.3 points over 12 NBA seasons for the Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.

The top rebounder on the 1984 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, Tisdale became the first OU student-athlete in any sport to have his jersey retired during a ceremony in 1997.

"Wayman Tisdale is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing," said OU head coach Jeff Capel.  "He had an incredible gift of making the people who came in contact with him feel incredibly special.  His basketball talent and accomplishments pale in comparison to the impact he had on the lives that he influenced by the way he lived his life, and the tremendous character he displayed in his fight with cancer.  Throughout it all, he always had that infectious smile. 

"This is an incredibly sad day as we have lost not only one of the greatest Sooners ever, but one of the all-time best people to walk the face of this earth."

Open to the public, a Celebratory Service of Remembrance will be held Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 11 a.m. at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. In respect to the family, friends are encouraged to assemble by 10:30 a.m. to enjoy Wayman Tisdale's band, as it plays selections in tribute before the family is seated. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Wayman Tisdale Foundation by calling Mr. Paul Samuels at (918) 582-3211, or mailing them to: Morgan Stanley, c/o Paul Samuels, 2200 S. Utica Place, Suite 500, Tulsa, OK 74114.

A talented player in the Oklahoma high school ranks, the signing of Tisdale in Tubbs' second season as the Sooners' head coach returned the national spotlight to Lloyd Noble Center.  Tisdale instantly became a fan favorite and OU's fortunes in basketball soared. In Tisdale's first year, a program that had only produced four NCAA Tournament teams in the previous 75 years began a string of NCAA appearances that stretched to eight consecutive and 21 in the next 24 seasons.
In the early 1980s, college basketball was building an identity and, for many, it was the smiling Tisdale in a Sooners uniform who was a big part of creating that picture. The fact that he was as gifted a person as he was an athlete made him even more popular.

OU became a basketball destination for talented recruits once Tisdale signed on with the Sooners. His college, Olympics and professional career encouraged other outstanding Oklahoma high school players to stay home and play collegiately in state. He helped make Big Eight basketball a national contender. Before "Danny (Manning) and the Miracles" in 1988, it was Tisdale and Tubbs on the national scene. He helped show the world of intercollegiate athletics that it was possible for a Division I program to have success in football and men's basketball and he gave Sooner fans more success to cheer.

When Tisdale called a media conference to announce his intent to turn pro after his junior year, the room was packed with as many fans as members of the media and emotions ran high. His popularity with Sooners fans continued to grow long after he left the Norman campus.  When his jersey was retired, Lloyd Noble Center was packed and the thunderous standing ovation he received when he took the court once again lasted several minutes.

That reception was repeated every time he came back to Norman. The sight of Tisdale coming down the tunnel was enough to generate a standing ovation each time. That support intensified as his battle with cancer became public knowledge.

The feelings went both ways as Tisdale was always visibly moved by the crowd's reaction to his return trips to Norman. His humble reaction usually guaranteed another minute or two of cheering. There were as many autograph seekers in recent years, many too young to have ever seen him play as a Sooner, as there were when he was a player. The younger Sooner fans were joined by those who had seen him and they all got to see his trademark smile.

Additional Quotes on the Passing of Wayman Tisdale

"Wayman Tisdale's genuine and purposeful approach to life exemplified qualities which improved virtually every situation or inspired every person he encountered.  His imposing presence and indomitable spirit were eclipsed only by his enormous heart and selfless humility.   He was authentic and demonstrated a passion in life for truly enriching the lives of others.  On the basketball court, he was the kind of player who transcends time.  He was legendary the day he slipped on an Oklahoma Sooners uniform and he left a legacy almost impossible to emulate.  We are profoundly saddened by his loss and we grieve today with Wayman's family and friends.  We also share with them our sincere gratitude for we are so much better for having known him.  His life's legacy will serve as an inspiration for all of us as we endeavor to be better people ourselves."

Joe Castiglione, OU vice president and director of athletics


"Wayman Tisdale was not only a great athlete and musician, he was above all a great person.  He constantly demonstrated his care and concern for others and was a worthy role model for all of us young and old.  The University of Oklahoma will always be proud of his association with the university."

David L. Boren, OU president


"Wayman, through this fight of his, was the most courageous person that I've ever seen.  He was so positive he almost made you feel he was okay when you knew he wasn't.  It's a shock.  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.  He was obviously, a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that.  He just lit up a room and was so positive.  This is a really hard loss and makes any loss in basketball or any other sport insignificant.  He was a great human being.  I'll miss everything about him."

Billy Tubbs, former Oklahoma men's basketball head coach


"This is obviously a sad day, not just for Sooner fans but for anybody who knows Wayman, knows the kind of person he is, the joy he brings into people's lives and the example he is to everybody.  I was privileged to get to know him over the two years I was at OU.  I spoke with him pretty frequently this past season and he helped me in ways he probably doesn't even know.  He's touched so many lives.  I'm just happy he's going to a better place."

Blake Griffin, Oklahoma forward (2008-09)


"Wayman's one of the biggest reasons why I chose Oklahoma.  I wanted to be part of something special and it made logical sense to go to OU because I wanted to pattern my game after him.  I wanted to be like him.  People used to talk about 'Be like Mike (Michael Jordan),' but I wanted to be like Wayman.  We've lost a special person.  I don't think there will ever be another Wayman Tisdale."

Stacey King, Oklahoma center (1986-89)


"He was my man.  I played with him pretty much all my life, going back to AAU.  He was the reason I wanted to go to OU.  I wanted to play with one of the greatest players to ever come out of Oklahoma.  He was a great person.  He was always positive, he never let the negative bring us down as a unit.  He always smiled and kept us together.  I'll miss him.  He was one of my brothers."

Darryl "Choo" Kennedy, Oklahoma forward (1984-87) 


"The entire Thunder organization is deeply saddened by the loss of Wayman Tisdale. We will forever remember the April night he was honored at a Thunder game. His smile radiated throughout the arena as fans and players on both benches all rose and cheered in tribute. He was a remarkable athlete and competitor, but most of all a tremendous person. His courage fighting cancer and helping others along the way are a lasting inspiration for us all. We extend our thoughts and prayers to Regina, their children and the entire Tisdale family."

Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder chairman


"When I think of Wayman Tisdale I think of one the absolutely most delightful players that we've had in the 24 years I've been associated with this organization. He was certainly one of the most outstanding players and his stats would prove that. I'll take it a step further; there was never a time when he wasn't the most popular player in the locker room. He had no enemies. If he had a bad game, he would never point fingers at teammates and coaches. Wayman was always a stand-up guy. He was a person who knew what he wanted after his playing days were over, hence his preparation in his music career. He knew that being a jazz musician was the direction he wanted to go, and I've always admired that about him. He married his high school sweetheart. His family was great and Wayman always put them first. Again, he was a stand-up guy in every way, a delight to coach and honor to know."

Jerry Reynolds, Sacramento Kings director of player personnel