Tisdale's Name Takes on New Life

Ben Coldagelli
By Ben Coldagelli
Director of Communications

The names that are given to us become the cornerstone of our identity. They're transformed from what we go by to what we're known for.

Names are at the heart of who we are and how we are remembered through the impact we have on the world and those we come in contact with.

Names can become synonymous with a legacy – instantaneously evoking an emotion, reaction or memory.

Just think of the names that have come through Norman in the past five years alone: Buddy. Baker. Trae. Kyler.

If you ask any Oklahoma fan, there is one name that will always transcend teams, sports and generations.


What makes Wayman Tisdale so memorable was that, similar to the jazz he composed, he was a collection of different layers and rhythms that all came together to form the perfect hit.

There was Wayman the basketball player.

Considered by many as the greatest player in OU men's basketball history, Tisdale was the first college player to be named a first-team AP All-American 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.

He won an Olympic gold medal alongside Michael Jordan and played 14 seasons in the NBA as the second overall pick in the 1985 draft.

There was Wayman the musician.

A contemporary jazz bassist, Tisdale found time throughout his NBA career to also pursue his love of music, recording eight albums. His 2001 album, Face to Face. climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart.

A self-taught lefty, when Tisdale first learned the instrument he could only get his hands on the more common right-handed electric bass guitar. His solution? Flip it upside down and play with the higher-noted strings on top. Later in his career, he continued to play in this unique style, even re-stringing left-handed basses in the reverse order.

There was Wayman the person.

Known for his infectious smile and contagious joy, the 6-9 big man lit up the court, stage and any room he entered with his big personality.

Never meeting a stranger, there are countless stories of the way Tisdale would make you feel like the most important person in the room.

Finally, there was Wayman the fighter.

In 2007, Tisdale was diagnosed with cancer. One year later, a portion of his right leg was amputated due to the disease. Tisdale continued to fight the illness with the joy and fun that defined his life - even donning a personalized crimson OU prosthetic leg.

He was remembered for saying, "cancer might've taken my leg, but it can't take my smile."

Tisdale lost his battle against cancer in 2009. Almost a decade later, his name is taking on new life in his hometown of Tulsa.

During the summer of 2018, the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education recommended name changes for a handful of schools throughout its district. The board's mission was to identify local heroes who were a positive influence on the Oklahoma and Tulsa communities. 

It was through this process that the Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy was born.

"We were looking for people who had made an impact in Oklahoma," said school principal Elaine Buxton. "We were looking for someone with high character who people respected a lot and had done some wonderful things. Out of that, a team of about 15 people voted to name the school Wayman Tisdale."

"I can think of few people, if anyone, who would be a better role model for our kids than Wayman Tisdale."
- Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum

Located roughly 10 minutes from Tisdale's childhood neighborhood, the academy is in its first year under the new name. The school held a special unveiling of the rebranded school in August that included members of the community, the Tisdale family and Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum.

"This is a moment where we're taking one of the best people that's come out of this community and holding them up for future generations of kids," said Bynum during the event. "We want to be holding up those people who are models for our kids today in the 21st century and I can think of few people, if anyone, who would be a better role model for our kids than Wayman Tisdale."

What is equally important to the character and values that Tisdale displayed throughout his life is the fact that he was an Oklahoman and from the city of Tulsa. His life story ties directly into the community the school is a part of.

"It's really important that he's from Tulsa," said Buxton "It shows these kids that someone from right here made it. He set his sights on what he wanted to do, persevered, worked hard and he made it.

"When we had our first back-to-school night, I had so many parents come up to me and say, 'Thank you for your work on changing the name. We are so proud to have the name of this person as a school in our community.' That right there was just amazing and lets us know that we did the right thing."

Forever etched in the history of Oklahoma athletics, music and culture, the name Wayman Tisdale now takes on a whole new meaning. He provides a symbol of perseverance and character to the school that bears his name and the community that embraces his legacy.