Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects 1.5 million Americans annually, usually through automobile and bicycle accidents, falls, contact sports, and violence. It’s the leading cause of long-term disability in children and young adults. Surprisingly, the top issue facing most people with newly acquired TBI isn’t the loss of their physical or cognitive abilities, but social isolation and loneliness due to being abandoned by friends.
But one person who never abandoned his friend with TBI was NBA legend Jack Twyman, who passed away recently at age 78. What a role model. Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes were Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) teammates in 1958 when 6’7″ Stokes drove to the basket and landed hard on the floor while playing the regular season finale against the Lakers.
“I remember when Maurice fell down,” recalled 81-year-old Don Meineke, Jack Twyman’s 1958 roommate and 1953 NBA Rookie of the Year, in a telephone interview. “He fell to the floor dazed and we assumed he’d hit his head. He continued playing. Then we got on the plane (three days later) to go home after playing in Detroit and Maurice was staggering in the aisle. As we were taking off, he was bleeding through the nose and frothing at the mouth. They had an ambulance waiting at the Cincinnati airport and he never got out of the hospital after that.”
In 1958, NBA teams didn’t have trainers or team physicians familiar with concussions.
According to Meineke, Stokes as a player was comparable to Magic Johnson, the long-time Lakers star. “Maurice went to the basket stronger than Magic,” said Meineke, “while Magic was a better outside shooter.” Stokes set a record with 38 rebounds in one game and was the 1956 NBA Rookie of the Year. His final year, he was second in rebounds in the NBA and third in assists. In 2004, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Stokes was diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy and permanent paralysis and spent the remaining twelve years of his life in a Cincinnati hospital unable to talk or walk.
Immediately after the injury, Stokes had massive hospital bills. His parents couldn’t leave Pittsburgh. He was a quadriplegic and alone. After the playoffs ended and his teammates dispersed to start summer jobs, the only person standing by Stokes was 23-year-old Jack Twyman.