In the 1950’s and early 60’s, Jack was a perennial National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star player for the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings). His teammate and close friend was Maurice Stokes, the 1956 NBA Rookie of the Year and like Jack, an all-star.
The date was March 12, 1958 and the Royals were ending their season, playing the Minneapolis (now the Los Angeles) Lakers, when Maurice came over the back of another player and fell on his head hitting the hardwood floor so hard, he was knocked unconscious.
After Maurice was revived, he went back in the game, for in 1958, head injuries were something players played through. And there were no team doctors or trainers or paramedics nor was there team paid for medical insurance.
On the flight back to Cincinnati, 24 year old Maurice got terribly sick on the plane, had a seizure and fell into a coma. A day later when he awakened, he could not move or speak. The diagnosis: a severe brain injury.
Today, people think of NBA all-stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, who play in luxurious sports arenas for many millions of dollars a season.
But in 1958, the NBA paid so little to even its top players that a superstar such as Jack ran an insurance business in the off-season to make ends meet. Like most players then, Maurice lived paycheck to paycheck and he was soon broke.
Maurice’s Pittsburgh based family had no money to help him. To collect worker’s compensation, Maurice needed to stay in Cincinnati and that was when Cincinnati residents 23 year old Jack and his wife Carole decided to help him.
“Maurice was on his own,” Jack told The New York Post in 2008. “Something had to be done and someone had to do it. I was the only one there, so I became that someone.”
In 1958, the U.S. racial color line was strongly in force across America. But Jack who was white became his black friend Maurice’s legal guardian.
Jack and Carole organized the Maurice Stokes Foundation and established fundraisers in part by appealing to other NBA players, who played in unofficial all-star games to help raise funds to pay for Maurice’s hospital care and other bills.
For the next 12 years, Jack was his brother’s keeper, staying actively involved with Maurice until in 1970 at the age of 36, Maurice died of a heart attack. During those 12 years, Jack and Carole and their four children made Maurice an extended member of their family and they brought him to their home each Sunday for dinner.
They would laugh; talk politics and current events and discuss the books Maurice and the rest of his Twyman extended family were reading.
After his playing career, Jack was elected to the NBA’s Hall of Fame and he campaigned to have Maurice elected to the Hall of Fame as well. Following decades of campaigning he accomplished that feat in 2004. And on behalf of his friend, Jack accepted the award and spoke for him.
Into the 1970’s Jack was a television basketball analyst but much more importantly, he became a top businessman who for 24 years ran a successful food service company.
But on May 30th, 2012 Jack passed away from blood cancer complications at the age of 78. He is survived by Carole, his wife of 57 years and their four adult children and 14 grandchildren. Jack is also survived by the many people he employed in the food service company.
But one of the greatest moments in Jack’s life related directly to Maurice. According to The New York Times, long after the accident when Maurice recovered enough finger movement to type, his first message was: “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?”
Jack shrugged off this message, claiming whenever he felt down; he “selfishly” visited the always cheerful Maurice. “He never failed to pump me up,” stated Jack, who claimed the Twyman family received more from Maurice than he got from them.