NBA's Twyman's Great Assist: Caring For Teammate

Former NBA star Jack Twyman has died at the age of 78. Twyman played for the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals in the 1950s and 60s. But it was his friendship and assistance to an injured teammate that earned him the most recognition.

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NBA Hall of Famer Jack Twyman has died at the age of 78. The cause was blood cancer. Twyman was a great player, but he is best remembered for his relationship with an injured teammate, as we hear from NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: An all-star NBA player in the last game of the regular season hits his head on the hardwood, is knocked out, revived, keeps playing, but he is not all right. He falls into a coma during an airplane flight, is paralyzed, never walks again. That was what happened to Maurice Stokes, brilliant forward for the Cincinnati Royals in 1958.

Here is Jack Twyman speaking when Stokes was enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame.

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JACK TWYMAN: Imagine going to bed on a Saturday night at the peak of your game, your future is so bright, and waking up on a Sunday morning totally paralyzed.

PESCA: Twyman didn't have to imagine. A great player in his own right, Twyman and Wilt Chamberlain were the first players in NBA history to average over 30 points per game in a season. Twyman earned a spot in the basketball Hall of Fame among the game's great players.

As a teammate, he was singular. When Stokes took ill - that was how Twyman always phrased it - the season was over. The Royals returned to their hometown, but the hospitalized Stokes was informed that he would not qualify for workers' compensation if he went back to his hometown, Pittsburgh.

Twyman explained the decision he made in a documentary, which aired on NBA TV.

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TWYMAN: I was the only person that resided in Cincinnati that knew what the circumstances were and certain things had to be done and I did them. That's all. It wasn't a big deal.

PESCA: Twyman became Stokes' legal guardian, organizing charity all-star games for his friend and shaming the NBA over the issue of insurance. Stokes died of a heart attack in 1970, having lived his last 12 years in a hospital, but taking Sunday dinner at the Twymans', the highlight of his week.

Twyman never failed to note that whatever kindness he extended to Maurice, Maurice gave back tenfold. And, oh yes, we haven't mentioned that Stokes was black and Twyman white. People other than Stokes and Twyman thought that a notable detail.

When asked to describe his game, Twyman once said he'd be remembered for his shooting, but wasn't much of a passer. Sure. He only delivered what can fairly be described as the greatest assist the game has ever known.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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