- Last Updated: 4:22 AM, June 1, 2012
- Posted: 2:04 AM, June 1, 2012
This was the summer of 1994, and there was talk of trying to bring some star power back to the Maurice Stokes charity basketball game up in the Catskills. By then, generations of basketball fans had already grown up with barely a passing knowledge of Stokes, which was terrible. That meant even fewer knew about Jack Twyman.
And that was criminal.
Because if you’ve ever had a friend — if you’ve ever been a friend — then Jack Twyman was the one who taught you — without ever trying to teach you — what that splendid, unbreakable bond is all about. There was a time when the Stokes Game, up at Kutsher’s, drew every bold-faced basketball name alive, Cousy to Wilt and everyone in between, mostly because Jack Twyman asked them to come.
Because Jack Twyman — who died Wednesday at 78 after battling blood cancer — was maybe the best friend anyone ever had.
“Let me ask you something,” the voice on the telephone said that day. “If you had a friend who was hurting, wouldn’t you try to do something to help? I appreciate that people think I did something special with Mo, but I didn’t. I was just being a good friend. I think everyone would do the same thing.”
Stokes and Twyman were teammates on the Cincinnati Royals in 1958 when Stokes suffered a fall in the last game of the regular season, then took ill on a plane trip, falling into a coma and suffering from encephalopathy. He was one of the NBA’s bright young stars but would spend the final 12 years of his life in a wheelchair.
The whole time Twyman was his benefactor and his best friend, caring for him, helping to raise money for him. He did this away from the spotlight as much as possible, even as Twyman himself had a fine career, once averaging 31.2 points in the 1959-60 season. He later became a TV announcer; the tape of the Knicks’ Game 7 win over the Lakers features Twyman excitedly telling Chris Schenkel — and the rest of the nation beyond New York, where the game was blacked out — at the start: “I think we see Willis coming out!”
Few people knew the heavy heart Twyman carried that day; Stokes had finally passed only 32 days earlier.
“A piece of me died with Mo,” Twyman told me in 1994.
But a larger piece survived, because anytime friends share small kindnesses with each other, anytime they respond to 3 a.m. phone calls and frantic e-mails, every time they exchange cards and handshakes and bro-hugs, that friendship is a testament to the kind of love Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes had for each other.
“They were brothers,” Wilt Chamberlain once told me, “more than most real brothers are.”
Twyman was always quick to insist he was no saint. He enjoyed telling me about a night at the Garden when he got into it with Richie Guerin, and suddenly he was being pounded by the Knicks … until his father-in-law came out of the stands, all 5-foot-6 of him, and started wailing away, Twyman’s wingman.
“The rest of my career,” Twyman said, “Richie always asked, ‘Hey, is your father-in-law gonna take a swing at me tonight?’”
Really, he was right. If you’ve ever had a friend - if you’ve ever been a friend - you’d like to believe you would be what Jack Twyman was to Maurice Stokes. And what they were to each other.Follow @NYPostsports