Jack Twyman, N.B.A. Star Known for Off-Court Assist, Dies at 78
Published: May 31, 2012
Jack Twyman was a Hall of Fame basketball player who once scored 59 points in an N.B.A. game. In 1959-60 he and Wilt Chamberlain became the first players to average more than 30 points a game in a season. He went on to become an analyst for the N.B.A. game of the week on ABC and a food company executive who pocketed more than $3 million when he sold the company in 1996.
But Twyman’s greatest fame came from simply helping out a friend. After his Cincinnati Royals teammate Maurice Stokes had a paralyzing brain injury in the final regular-season game of the 1958 season, Twyman learned he was nearly destitute.
So he became Stokes’s legal guardian. He helped him get workers’ compensation; raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for medical care, partly through organizing an annual charity game of basketball superstars; and helped him learn to communicate by blinking his eyes to denote individual letters.
And for decades Twyman pressed the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to induct Stokes, a power forward who once grabbed 38 rebounds in a game. When the Hall of Fame finally did so, in 2004, 21 years after Twyman’s admission, Twyman accepted the award for his friend.
Twyman died in Cincinnati on Wednesday, more than 40 years after Stokes died of a heart attack. Twyman’s daughter Lisa Bessone said her father died of complications of blood cancer. He was 78.
On March 12, 1958, the Royals were playing their season finale, against the Minneapolis Lakers. Stokes went over the shoulder of an opponent and hit his head on the floor so hard that he was knocked out. In those days, teams had no trainers, much less doctors, and scant knowledge of head injuries. He continued to play.
Three days later, Stokes, who was 24, went into a coma. When he came out of it, he could not move or talk. The diagnosis was brain damage. Stokes, whose family lived in Pittsburgh, had to stay in Cincinnati to be eligible for workers’ compensation.
“Maurice was on his own,” Twyman told The New York Post in 2008. “Something had to be done and someone had to do it. I was the only one there, so I became that someone.”
Twyman always insisted that any teammate would have done the same. Others saw something special. On the occasion of Stokes’s death in 1970, the sports columnist Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote that he saw “nobility and grandeur” in Twyman’s actions, likening him to the biblical good Samaritan.
“What gives it a quality of extra warmth,” he wrote, “is the pigmentation of the two principals.” Stokes was black, Twyman white.
John Kennedy Twyman, the son of a steel company foreman, was born in Pittsburgh on May 21, 1934, and grew up playing against Stokes in summer leagues. Twyman went to the University of Cincinnati and Stokes to St. Francis College (now University) in Loretto, Pa. Their teams met in the semifinals of the 1954 National Invitation Tournament, and Twyman outscored Stokes, 27-26.
“I never let him forget about that,” Twyman told The Post.
Both were genuine stars. Stokes, at 6 feet 7 inches and 232 pounds, was the N.B.A. rookie of the year in 1956. The next year he set a league rebounding record, and he became a three-time All-Star. The Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy called him “the first great, athletic power forward.”
Twyman was a skinny 6-6 forward who in 11 seasons with the Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) was a six-time All-Star.
He shot 45 percent over his career, and when he retired in 1966 he trailed only Chamberlain in points scored, with 15,840. In their record-setting season of averaging more than 30 points a game, Chamberlain edged Twyman, 32.1 to 31.2. Twyman’s 59-point game came with the Royals against the Minneapolis Lakers on Jan. 15, 1960.
Twyman sometimes worried that his wife and family might become upset over the amount of time he devoted to Stokes over 12 years, but his daughter said in an interview that they had come to look forward to Stokes’s Sunday visits from the hospital. Twyman’s wife of 57 years, the former Carole Frey, became, with her husband, a co-trustee of the Maurice Stokes Foundation, which was set up to defray Stokes’s hospital costs but grew to help other needy N.B.A. veterans as well.
The charity basketball tournament they began at Kutsher’s Hotel in the Catskills drew stars like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and, of course, Chamberlain.
Twyman, who had an insurance business even while playing basketball, was an analyst for “The NBA on ABC” in the late 1960s and early ’70s, working with Chris Schenkel. In the moments before Game 7 of the 1970 N.B.A. championship between the Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, Twyman saw the injured Knicks center Willis Reed limping toward the Madison Square Garden court. “I think we see Willis coming out,” he told viewers.
Reed’s appearance is credited with inspiring the Knicks to their 113-99 victory over the Lakers.
From 1972 to 1996, Twyman was chairman and chief executive of Super Food Services, a food wholesaler based in Dayton, Ohio. During the 1980s, he quintupled its earnings.
In addition to his daughter Lisa, Twyman is survived by his wife as well as a son, Jay; two other daughters, Julie Twyman Brockhoff and Michele Guttman; and 14 grandchildren.
Years after his accident, when Stokes had recovered enough finger flexibility to type, his first message was: “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?”
Twyman shrugged this off, saying that whenever he felt down, he “selfishly” visited the always cheerful Stokes. “He never failed to pump me up,” he said.