- An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman by Pat Farabaugh
If this were a movie, it would be a three-hankie film. This book has all the elements that one would expect in such a film—a heroic young man who overcomes discrimination and economic deprivation to become a model for others and a respected and active student at his formerly all-white college. After starring as a basketball player at his little college, tucked into the mountainous backwoods of Pennsylvania, he goes on to unexpected greatness in professional basketball, only to be struck down by a mysterious illness in his third year of professional stardom. With mounting medical bills, he is “saved” by the generous spirit of a teammate who becomes his legal guardian, manages his affairs, and supports him through the hours of agonizing therapy as he struggles to learn to talk and function as best he can, once again. For twelve years, the young athlete endures before finally passing away at the age of thirty-six, after inspiring thousands with his story of eluding death for so many years and thriving in his greatly reduced capacity.
Sadly, this is not a screenwriter’s creation, but the life of Maurice Stokes and his teammate Jack Twyman, stars for the Cincinnati Royals from 1955 to 1958, after which Twyman went on to a continued Hall of Fame career, even while caring for his friend Maurice Stokes. Stokes was born and raised in western Pennsylvania, a twin to his sister Claurice, the last of four children of Terro and Myrtle Stokes. Maurice was raised in Homewood, an African American community in Pittsburgh, and attended Westinghouse High, where he starred in his junior and senior years, making Honorable Mention AllState before choosing to attend St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Stokes was the first of his family to attend college and was one of the first African Americans to attend St. Francis. He was one of three on campus and also one of the few non-Catholics at St. Francis.
It was a mixed blessing; he became a respected and honored member of the college community, but often felt very lonely and longed for the comfort of Homewood. This was much more than homesickness, but the effects of almost total cultural deprivation. Still, Stokes rose to become a good student and an outstanding basketball player who was drafted in the first round and entered the NBA to play for the Rochester Royals.
After nearly three full years in the NBA, Stokes had established himself as a star of singular abilities, one who could shoot inside and out, rebound with ferocity, pass crisply and accurately. He was joined by Jack Twyman, another rookie in 1955. They were the heart of the Royals, and their success for three years finally got them into the playoffs (with the addition of Clyde Lovellette) in the 1957–58 season. In the last game of the season, Stokes fell and hit his head but returned to the game later and played thirty-nine minutes in the first playoff game against the Pistons. On the plane returning to Cincinnati, Stokes had a series of seizures and was transferred from the plane via stretcher and [End Page 244] ambulance to the hospital. The initial diagnosis of encephalitis was in error; in fact, the blow to the head at the end of the season had caused severe brain damage.
Stokes was hospitalized in Cincinnati with almost total incapacitation of his physical functions, but, after a few days, he was able to blink his eyes and seemed to recognize people. The time in the hospital was expensive; there were no NBA union and no player insurance of any magnitude to handle such a catastrophe. Stokes’s parents could not afford the thousands that were required, and, with no one else for them to turn to, Jack Twyman stepped forward to become Stokes’s legal guardian and organized fundraisers to cover the costs of Stokes...