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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Ex-NBA star Wayman Tisdale built a solid reputation for himself as a jazz bass guitar player.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

New documentary details life, loves of Wayman Tisdale


Posted Nov 10 2011 11:27AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Kings brought in a 32-foot movie screen, anchored it to the floor of Power Balance Pavilion about where the scorer's table normally resides, invited everyone to come in, without charge for admission or parking, and gently played jazz breezes from the loud speakers before the movie showing.

It was like Wayman Tisdale really was back among us, again warming strangers into new friends, his incandescent smile lighting the room as his personal soundtrack swayed in the background. Perfect. Just perfect.

Director/producer Brian Schodorf turned interviews with family, friends, basketball stars, music greats and three conversations with Tizzy himself into a reminder that this was no typical person. To those who never knew him, "The Wayman Tisdale Story" is an introduction to a man with enough talent to be a great college player, a good pro and, after that, a successful bass guitarist. But Tisdale was so much more than his occupations. To those who knew him, the 66-minute documentary that premiered Oct. 19 at one of his three NBA homes will be greeted as a deserving tribute that captured how he lived.

"That was Wayman," said Kings coach Paul Westphal, who coached Tisdale with the Suns.

Tisdale was an indomitable spirit through 12 seasons in Indiana, Sacramento and Phoenix. The No. 2 pick in the 1985 Draft was the hospitable one who invited team members without family over for the holidays, the eternally upbeat one who smiled and remained a believe even in the lowest moments of a season, the diverse one who had no interest in being defined by basketball and always thought a great life was waiting after the NBA.

That great life came, too. Often writing his own material, Tisdale recorded eight contemporary jazz albums, beginning with the aptly titled 1995 debut "Power Forward." His 2001 release "Face to Face" reached No. 1 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and his 2006 "Way Up!" likewise had a positive reception.

"Early on, it was legitimate to wonder if Wayman Tisdale wasn't just a basketball player dabbling with playing jazz bass," read the review in allaboutjazz.com. "'Way Up!' removes all doubt and establishes Tisdale as a seasoned pro in his own right and one of the brightest talents in music today."

Approximately a year later, in February 2007, Tisdale broke his right leg in a fall going down stairs in his home in suburban Los Angeles. The subsequent treatment led to the discovery of bone cancer at the top of the shin and bottom of the knee.

He returned to his hometown, Tulsa, Okla., and underwent chemotherapy that blasted the strength out of him. His energy and appetite went, too, and he dropped 30 or 40 pounds, down to his playing weight of 285 pounds. Tisdale underwent one operation on the joint that put his right leg in a cast for four months and had him on crutches for eight weeks. He transitioned to a cane and continued to tour.

In August 2008, part of the right leg was removed. Tisdale -- a man of deep faith, the son and brother of prominent Tulsa preachers -- released a statement: "I have complete faith that with the Lord's blessings, this surgery will eliminate the cancer from my body." He remained typically upbeat, all the way until his death on May 15, 2009.

Schodorf started the film project approximately six weeks earlier and spent time with Tisdale at home and at a concert stop in Memphis, with one conversation 11 days before Tisdale's passing. The filmmaker interviewed some 20 people in all -- Michael Jordan, A.C. Green, Sam Perkins, Billy Tubbs, Toby Keith, Marcus Miller, Dave Koz -- to merge basketball, music and health into the final product.

"When you look to do a documentary or any program you want people to watch," Schodorf said, "you always look for a story that is captivating and connects with our own life. People want to feel that connection. Here's a guy who was a jazz musician, a basketball star, an Olympic gold medalist [in 1984]. And it was all taken away from him in the blink of an eye. One walk down the stairs. But the way he carried himself with such dignity, even when he was facing death, can be an inspiration to all of us."

The power of Tisdale.

"I think it's the universality of it, the different audiences it appeals to," Schodorf said. "You have music fans, sports fans, people going through cancer. It touches everybody. When you see this guy, when you're around him, you can't help but like him."

The film will be shown in several cities, including at Tisdale's high school in Tulsa and the Noble Center, the home arena when he starred while playing for the University of Oklahoma. It is also scheduled for airing on NBA TV and ESPN.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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