The Greatest Person in the History of Sports

The link above allows you to hear the person I consider the greatest person in the history of professional sports. It is Jack Twyman giving the 2004 Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech for his teammate, the late Maurice Stokes.

As a player Jack Twyman  is deservedly in the Hall of Fame himself. He led the National Basketball Association is scoring and was among its all time leaders in field goal percentage. But in that elite company he was not the greatest player of all!

But he was the greatest human being

In 1958, Twyman’s Cincinnati Royal’s teammate Maurice Stokes, a budding superstar (the great Bob Cousy described him as Karl Malone with finesse), suffered a severe injury after a fall during a game. His injuries were more than career-ending. Maurice Stokes remained a quadriplegic for twelve years needing round the clock care until his death in 1970.

Mr. Twyman became Mr. Stokes’ legal guardian and assumed responsibility for all of his expenses. Mr. Twyman organized an annual Maurice Stokes benefit game played during the summer at Kutsher’s, a noted Catskill Mountain resort at the time. The game was a must on the schedule of every NBA star of the day. They came at their own expense to participate.

Jack Twyman was white, and Maurice Stokes was black. That might not seem like such a big deal today, but in the 1950’s before the Civil Rights Movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King altered prevailing American attitudes about race, it was huge.

Jack Twyman was a man of great humility. He often said that Maurice Stokes’ courage and determination did more for him than he did for Mr. Stokes.

When I studied in Cincinnati at Hebrew Union College in the summer of 1968, I visited Mr. Stokes several times. He was a patient at Good Samaritan hospital, which is right next door to HUC. There I had the privilege of meeting Mr Twyman and telling him that he was my hero.

Jewish tradition has always affirmed a belief in afterlife although we are very non-specific about the details.

I personally believe—at the very least I fervently hope— that goodness is rewarded and true evildoers receive punishment. Yes, that IS what I believe and HOPE.

At the same time I KNOW that we all live on-–for better or worse–-in the way our deeds affect those who live after us.

Our tradition strongly affirms that, “the righteous among the gentiles receive the same reward in the world beyond this one as the righteous Jew (B. Sanhedrin 105A).

Based on these ideas, Mr. Twyman a devout Roman Catholic, who died in 2012, stands on the highest rung of reward that heaven offers. By his side I see a whole and healthy Maurice Stokes with that huge smile on his face that was his trademark both before and AFTER his devastating injury. Perhaps the two engage n a vigorous game of one on one.

Yes, that is what I hope! But I know that the selfless example of Jack Twyman continues to influence and inspire me. I hope you will watch his speech and that he will inspire you as well.