The tryouts for the 1984 Olympic Men’s Basketball Team were held in Bloomington, Ind. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated was just starting middle school when the team’s hopefuls came through his hometown. But he never forgot which player treated him and his friends the kindest.
I vividly remember that there was only one jerk, Patrick Ewing, who wore a perpetual scowl and declared that he would sign no autographs. And I vividly remember that the nicest guy in the bunch was a guy from Oklahoma, Wayman Tisdale. He walked around with a blue-ribbon smile. It was like product placement for teeth. Even among this group of young athletes — yet to become jaded by fame, their lives pregnant with promise — Tisdale was the happiest and the go-luckiest. He sometimes wore a T-shirt with the word “TIS” in ironed-on lettering, not unlike the John Belushi “College” shirt from Animal House. In the lobby of the Union, Tisdale would wait patiently for the pay phone as Sam Perkins (who would later become one of his best friends) talked to his girlfriend. He sang out loud and was happy to sit and talk, once complaining to his audience of 13-year-olds that Knight had yelled at him like no other coach had. “He said I can’t rebound!” He also told us not to worry about Ewing. “He doesn’t talk to me much either.”
If you didn’t catch the special screening of The Wayman Tisdale Story at Power Balance Pavilion a few weeks ago, it airs tomorrow night at 9 pm EST on NBA TV. You can also read my Q&A with the documentary’s director, Brian Schodorf over at SLAM.