Last column, I featured 1958 Cincinnati Royals teammates Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes. Both were NBA All-Stars. Stokes passed and rebounded better than anyone except Wilt Chamberlain. In the Royals (now Sacramento Kings) 1958 regular season finale in Minneapolis, Stokes hit the floor hard and had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He continued playing. Three days later, he ended up comatose in a Cincinnati hospital room and after waking was permanently unable to walk, talk or pay his mounting hospital bills.
Usually, people experiencing a TBI lose their friends and often have to overcome loneliness along with their physical and mental challenges. In the midst of Stokes’ difficulties, up stepped 23-year-old teammate Jack Twyman to help.
“Jack and Maurice weren’t the best of friends before the injury,” said 81-year-old Don Meineke, Twyman’s 1958 Cincinnati Royals roommate, in a telephone interview. “But Jack did a great thing. (Maurice) didn’t have anyone there for him because his family was in Pittsburgh. Jack saw him in the hospital every day for years. It was the Christian thing to do. Maurice needed help and Jack was always there for him.”
Continued Meineke, “I’d go see Maurice in the hospital and we would reminisce. I’d get him laughing so hard the nurses had to pull me out of the room saying I couldn’t upset him. They were worried about the consequences of getting him too excited. Even though Maurice couldn’t talk when I visited, he’d open his mouth and have that big grin on his face.”
Twyman became Stokes’ legal guardian. Stokes had to stay in Cincinnati to keep getting worker’s compensation benefits and was never able to visit his hometown of Pittsburgh before dying in 1970. The relationship between Twyman and Stokes, men of different skin colors, was captured in the 1973 film Maurie.
Primarily through an annual charity basketball game, Twyman raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Stokes’ medical bills. He taught his friend to communicate letter-by-letter by blinking his eyes as Twyman spoke the alphabet. Twyman, an NBA Hall of Famer himself, lobbied many years for Stokes’ induction, which occurred in 2004. Stokes had been the 1956 NBA Rookie of the Year and a three-time All Star. Old-timers compare him to Magic Johnson.
According to Twyman’s New York Times obituary, this was Stokes’ first typed message after years of physical therapy: “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?”