Wayman Tisdale: 1964-2009
Updated: May 18, 2009
Veteran NBA forward-turned-musician Wayman Tisdale once described his personal jazz style as “a happy sound, a happy feeling” – the same feeling that peers and fans alike will undoubtedly forever associate with the former Sun.
The Tulsa, Okla., native lost his courageous battle with cancer early Friday at the age of 44. The born-again Christian leaves behind his wife Regina and four children, as well as an enduring legacy as a tenacious spirit both on and off the court.
Originally signing as a free agent out of Sacramento, he played for the Suns from 1994-97, calling his arrival in Phoenix a godsend.
“It was like I had finally gotten out of purgatory…,” Tisdale told Suns.com in 2004. “Once I got to Phoenix, that’s where I really felt like I was born in the NBA. It was great to finally be respected as a basketball player. I probably wasn’t putting up the same numbers, but that didn’t matter. People knew what I could do. I had to fit into a role, and I feel I played that role once I came to the Suns. I really enjoyed it and the things that went on there.”
Averaging 15.3 ppg, and 6.1 rpg in 12 NBA seasons that also included stops in Indiana and Sacramento, the second overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft entered the league after a standout collegiate career at Oklahoma. As a Sooner, the three-time All-American averaged 25.6 ppg, breaking the career points record of then-future Suns Ring of Honor great Alvan Adams’ 23.7 ppg set 10 years earlier.
Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo adds, “Wayman was a no-nonsense guy who had a great smile, temperament and disposition. He had a great college career and came into the NBA. He played on some poor teams and came to Arizona and had enjoyed his time with the Suns. He was a great teammate and a great contributor.
“You never had to worry about Wayman Tisdale. He was a gentleman and he represented himself the way you’d want all your players to represent a franchise. And he was a multi-talented guy. To have that second career in music, and an outstanding one, it’s a sad day to have a young person taken away like that.”
Suns legend and former teammate Kevin Johnson added, "For three seasons, all of us affiliated with Suns organization were touched by Wayman's magnetic personality, gracious spirit, and electric smile. For those of us who spent time on the road together and suited up with him everyday, we were truly blessed. Wayman was the perfect teammate and consummate professional who left his indelible mark wherever he went.
"Just recently, Wayman tried to bend over backwards to help me celebrate my swearing-in as the mayor of Sacramento. Even though we couldn't work it out, in typical Wayman fashion, he was ready to help wherever needed."
Leaving the NBA in 1997 to concentrate on a full-time music career, Tisdale released eight albums over the next 12 years.
“I got started playing because I was going out and playing in clubs and Suns banquets,” he once said. “Everyone would egg me on to go up and sit in with the band. They would urge me on and I would ultimately sit in with the house band. I started some solos when I was out. I did a demo with seven songs on it. The guys from Motown got a hold of it and they didn’t even know who I was. They liked the material and after that that was what the record turned out to be… my first demo.
“It was a dream of mine. This was my first love. I thought I would be playing music before basketball came along. And then I fell in love with that, so I had to suppress the music for about 12 or 13 years. Then toward the end of my career, at the end of basketball, what am I going to do? I went back to my first love.”
Diagnosed with cancer in his right leg after a fall in his home in 2007, Tisdale continued to perform, even after having his lower leg amputated a year later.
“Through your toughest times,” he once said, “you’re going to find out who you are as a person, and I got to really see what type of person I am.”
On the title track of his final album, 2008’s Rebound, Tisdale explained the lyrics, saying “ ‘I’ve rebounded, and you can rebound also.’ That’s what the message is. If I can do it, you can do it.”
Less than 24 hours after performing at an NBA charity event during 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend in Phoenix, Tisdale was presented with a special Courage Award at the NBA Legends Brunch, and as Colangelo will always remember, “even with his adversity, he had that big smile on his face.”
Former Suns teammate A.C. Green, who presented the award to Tisdale that night, said after the event, “Wayman has been tenacious as a player, and he’s always been like that. To see him as a man and a husband, he’s just been fabulous from that standpoint. From a medical standpoint, (this) hasn’t changed who he is or his character. It only redefines him and highlights the integrity he already has.”
As for Tisdale, whose good nature was as infectious as his broad smile, he was thrilled to be considered, let alone be recognized for his fighting spirit during the festivities.
“To be a part of such a big fraternity and to be honored is big,” he said after the ceremony, “so I’m very humbled by the award and by being considered ‘courageous.’ ”