Wayman Tisdale, 44

Former NBA player, Oklahoma Sooner great and accomplished jazz musician dies at the age of 44 after a two-year battle with cancer.
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wayman Tisdale, who scaled the heights in two high-profile careers as a professional basketball player and a chart-topping recording star, died May 15 of cancer at a hospital in Tulsa. He was 44.

Mr. Tisdale first gained renown in the 1980s as a three-time All-American basketball player at the University of Oklahoma. As a 6-foot-9 power forward with a soft left-handed shot, he was practically unstoppable during his college career, averaging 25.6 points a game.

In 1984, he was a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, which included Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. Mr. Tisdale was a first-team All-American and the Big Eight Conference player of the year in each of his first three years at Oklahoma before leaving the university in 1985 to enter the NBA draft. The Indiana Pacers selected him as the second player in the draft, after Georgetown University's Ewing. He and Ewing remain the last college basketball players to be three-time All-Americans.

Mr. Tisdale was the first Oklahoma athlete in any sport to have his uniform number -- 23 -- retired at the school. He later granted permission to Blake Griffin, the reigning collegiate player of the year, to wear his number.

In the NBA, Mr. Tisdale had a solid 12-year career with the Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. He recorded his best season in 1989-90 with Sacramento, when he averaged 22.3 points a game. His career average was 15.3.

His teammates sometimes kidded him about playing his electric bass on buses and in hotel rooms, but Mr. Tisdale had been playing music since childhood.

"I actually started playing music before I started playing basketball," he said in 1997. "Then I grew to 6-foot-9 and my values started changing."

In 1995, when he was still an active player, he released his first album, "Power Forward," which rose to No. 4 on Billboard magazine's contemporary jazz chart. Most of his seven subsequent albums were Top 10 hits, and two of them ("Face to Face" in 2001 and "Way Up!" in 2006) hit No. 1. His best-known singles included the No. 1 hits "Can't Hide Love" and an instrumental remake of the 1979 disco hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," by McFadden & Whitehead.

Mr. Tisdale stepped to the front of the stage with his five-string electric bass, borrowing elements of funk, R&B, gospel and jazz to create his signature sound. Like his musical idols Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller, he used the bass as a melodic solo instrument rather than as thumping background accompaniment.

Describing his dual career in 2007 to the Kansas City Star, Mr. Tisdale said: "They are the two parts of myself. Basketball taught me a work ethic. And even though music comes from a different part of me, I work just as hard at it."

Wayman Lawrence Tisdale was born June 9, 1964, in Fort Worth and moved to Tulsa as a child. He became interested in bass after watching musicians accompanying the choir at his father's Friendship Baptist Church in Tulsa and was entirely self-taught.

"I thought they were the coolest cats," Mr. Tisdale once said. "They got to stand and do their thing in the back. I'd watch their fingering and how they played."

He practiced on a toy guitar his father gave him, but when his height shot up in junior high school, he turned to another form of play. After some initial reluctance, he soon became a basketball standout, and before he graduated from high school, he was one of the most highly recruited players in the country.

After his basketball career, Mr. Tisdale toured the country with his band and performed or recorded with such musical stars as Jonathan Butler, Dave Koz, David Sanborn, Everette Harp and Toby Keith.

"Four years ago," he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 2001, "you could never tell me I'd be on tour with the top cats of jazz, on stage with Michael McDonald, Stanley Clarke, George Duke. To become successful and to become a chart guy is baffling to me. It was a gift. I can't even read music. I couldn't tell you what key I'm playing in."

In 2007, Mr. Tisdale inexplicably broke his right leg while descending some stairs in his home. After two months, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor behind his knee. His leg was amputated a year later.

He remained optimistic, recording the upbeat album "Rebound" last year, and he continued to make concert appearances until a few months ago.

Survivors include his wife, Regina Tisdale of Tulsa, and four children.

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