Below you will find a newsletter by Travis Daughtery about being a great teammate. As we finish up the fall season and as we go into the winter seasons after fall break we often need reminded the importance of being a great teammate on and off the Field/Court/Mat/Pool/ETC. Take a minute and read this article and subscribe to this weekly newsletter that often gives me motivation to be a better parent/coach/teacher/AD.

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This week the NBA handed out its annual Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award, which recognizes “the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.” This year’s winner was Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans. I love this award. I love everything it stands for, and I love that in a league driven mostly by individual achievement, the NBA recognizes just how important it is to be a great teammate.

Being a great teammate is so important because it’s a role each one of us will be playing our entire lives. In sports, in relationships, in marriage, in parenting, as friends and as professionals, the commitment we make to uplifting and empowering those around us not only makes them better, it makes us better, too. It’s an important part of achieving success, and an important part of becoming our best.

There is perhaps no better example of what it means to be a great teammate than the two men whose names the NBA attached to its award. Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes were different players from different backgrounds who both entered the NBA as rookies with the Cincinnati Royals in 1955. Neither could have anticipated the connection they’d create.

Both were Hall of Fame players in their own right. Twyman (Hall of Fame class of 1983) was the first player (along with Wilt Chamberlain, who achieved the feat the same year) to average 30 points per game in an NBA season. He was a six-time all-star. And though Twyman was a great player, Stokes (Hall of Fame class of 2004) was considered even more special.

He was voted to three straight all-star games to start his career and was, at that time, unlike any other player to come into the league. He was a 6’7”, 240-pound power forward who could do it all – shoot, pass, and rebound. In his rookie year, Stokes finished the season ranked in the top ten in the league in points, rebounds, and assists, easily earning Rookie of the Year honors. Long-time Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most once said, “His quickness, passing ability, and court awareness were just unbelievable. When I first saw Magic Johnson play, it brought back memories of Maurice.” Maurice Stokes was on his way to becoming an all-time great.

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But tragedy struck the life and career of Maurice Stokes. The Cincinnati Royals’ final game of the regular season took place on March 12, 1958 in Minnesota against the Minneapolis Lakers. During the game, Stokes drove hard to the basket, where his legs got tangled with a defender and he crashed to the floor, head first. He was immediately knocked unconscious. Today, a player with such an injury would be stabilized and carted off the floor. Instead, Stokes was administered smelling salts, given a minute to collect himself, and inserted back into the game.

Three days later, he scored 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Royals opening round playoff game against the Detroit Pistons. On the return flight from Detroit to Cincinnati, Stokes suffered a series of seizures, connected to his fall a few days before, that left him in a coma.

Upon landing the plane, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy. The part of his brain that controlled motor function had been significantly damaged by the fall in Minneapolis. He awoke permanently paralyzed and unable to speak.

The NBA’s services to players as we know it today didn’t exist during that time. One writer stated that “the Royals were obscenely quick to remove Maurice and his $20,000 salary from their payroll. There was no pension or medical plan for NBA players back then, which left Stokes and his family unable to endure medical bills that would approach $100,000 a year.” Maurice Stokes had fallen hard. His teammate, Jack Twyman, would be the one to pick him up.

Maurice Stokes had fallen hard. His teammate, Jack Twyman, would be the one to pick him up.

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Twyman, a 24 year-old white man in 1958 America, applied for and was granted legal guardianship of Stokes, a 25 year-old black man, in a court of law. “There was no defining a person by the color of their skin,” Jack’s son, Jay Twyman, later said. “He basically adopted Maurice.” Twyman organized an annual game of NBA stars that served as a fundraiser for Stokes’ medical bills. He worked tirelessly, while married with four kids of his own, to cut through the red tape of Ohio law and earn Stokes workman’s compensation for his injury.

Even more than his financial support, Twyman cared for his teammate by visiting him and supporting him relentlessly through extensive physical therapy that eventually led to some movement in Stokes’ upper body. After years of communicating only through a system of blinks, Stokes eventually regained the ability to use a typewriter. His first message was to Twyman. “Dear Jack,” he typed, “How can I ever thank you?”

Maurice Stokes lived under the care of his teammate for 12 years until he died of a heart attack in 1970, at the age of 36. Twyman went on to have a successful career in business and television, but he will forever best be known as the man who literally saved the life of his teammate. When it came time for the NBA to name the annual award they created for the league’s best teammate, the conversation probably didn’t last long. No one represents what it means to be a great teammate more than Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes.

I want to challenge and encourage you today to do what champions do – to do what Jack Twyman did – and be a great teammate. Recognize that no matter what team you’re on, uplifting and empowering those around you not only makes them better, it makes you better, too. It’s an important part of achieving success, and an important part of becoming your best.