Twyman, Stokes story one for ages
PITTSBURGH – One of the great things about sports is the best stories get handed down from one generation to another.
So even if you weren’t around on Oct. 13, 1960, you can still appreciate what Bill Mazeroski’s World Series-winning home run meant.
One of the most uplifting sports stories involves the relationship between basketball players Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, who were teammates on the Cincinnati Royals at a time when the NBA was barely a blip on the national sports radar.
Here’s the short version: Late in the 1957-58 season, Stokes went crashing to the floor during a game and sustained a head injury. A few days later, he suffered a seizure that led to a permanent brain injury that caused paralysis.
Stokes was just 24 at the time.
Twyman took the responsibility of becoming Stokes’ legal guardian and cared for him until Stokes’ death in 1970. Beyond his direct responsibility for Stokes’ welfare, Twyman used his national profile as a network announcer to help raise money for Stokes and other players who needed help.
Their story became a movie in 1973 (“Maurie”) and it’s the basis for the NBA’s annual Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award.
Now their story is also the subject of a first-rate new book, “An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman” by Pat Farabaugh (St. Johann Press, $29.95).
Farabaugh, a Ph.D. faculty member at St. Francis, has exhaustively researched the subject and produced a well-written book that explains how the story evolved.
Stokes and Twyman were both Pittsburgh natives who attended high schools within the city limits – Westinghouse for Stokes, Central Catholic for Twyman.
Stokes turned down Duquesne, then a major basketball school, for the smaller stage at St. Francis. Per the book, Stokes said, “There was something about the friendliness of everyone and the beauty of the place. It was far enough away from home, but not too far.”
Playing at a smaller school didn’t affect Stokes’ pro prospects, and the Royals made him the second overall pick in the 1955 draft. Stokes was rookie of the year, and set an NBA record in rebounding. Who knows how far his career could have gone?
Instead, Stokes was stricken on an airplane and barely survived the flight. When Stokes emerged from the coma, Twyman invented a painstaking communication system that relied on eye blinking. It was the only way Stokes could express himself. Stokes reached a point where he could dictate letters to nurses to send to old friends. Some of them went unanswered. Twyman’s support never wavered, even though he had a family and a career.
This book serves as an excellent introduction to the Stokes-Twyman story, but it’s also detailed enough to serve those who already know the basics. You don’t even have to be a sports fan to appreciate the underlying humanity.
In a sports world currently fouled by too much Donald Sterling and Aaron Hernandez, it’s a reminder that sports sometimes really can foster uplifting and noble behavior.
It’s a great story, and this well-done book does it justice.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org