PF | 6-foot-7 | Pittsburgh, Pa. | St. Francis University | #12
1955-56 NBA Rookie of the Year
3-time NBA All-Star
2004 Hall-of-Fame inductee
Friend, former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Jack Twyman once said of Maurice Stokes, “Maurice — he was Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan before those guys came along. Only he was three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. He was the first player to combine strength and quickness those guys had … He would have been one of the five best.”
Stokes entered the NBA in 1955 as the second-overall pick out of St. Francis University. While in college, Stokes averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds en route to becoming an All-American.
From his first game in the League, the powerful forward brandished his uncanny abilities while starting where he left off in college. In his NBA debut, Stokes poured in 32 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He even managed to snare 38 rebounds in a single game. For his rookie season, he averaged 16 points and 16 rebounds per game—securing Rookie of the Year honors.
Following a standout first year, Stokes continued to blaze a new trail for NBA forwards. He set a League record for total rebounds after grabbing 1,256 in 1956-57. The following season, he continued to score and rebound at an amazingly high rate while also dishing more than six dimes per game to rank third in the NBA in assists.
In the final game of the 1958 campaign, Stokes suffered a tragic fall in a game against the Minneapolis Lakers. After hitting his head, he lay unconscious before being revived.
Returning to the court, Stokes complained of excruciating pain during a flight back to Cincinnati. He was taken directly from the plane to the hospital, and later went into a coma. When he awoke, he found himself quadriplegic and bound to his hospital room.
Determined to help in any way he could, Twyman stepped up to assist in the management of Stokes’ medical expenses and personal finances. He ultimately became the legal guardian of his fallen teammate at the age of 23.
Stokes eventually regained some mobility and later an ability to type. Unable to speak, the forward still maintained his brilliant smile. At the age of 36, the legendary forward passed away from a heart attack.
Although his NBA career came to an end before he reached his prime, Stokes left a lasting mark on the League. He’s still third all-time in rebounds per game, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. His No. 12 hangs from the rafters of Power Balance Pavilion – in memory of a gifted basketball player who’s life was forever altered by the game he loved.
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