TULSA, Okla. (AP)—With his casket carried in a horse-drawn carriage, Wayman Tisdale was remembered Thursday as a basketball star and gifted musician by thousands of mourners swaying to gospel tunes.
The body of the former Oklahoma All-American traveled three miles from the funeral home to the downtown arena.
About 4,000 people, including former NBA players, pop musicians and former coaches, attended the memorial. There was live jazz music, clapping and shouting in honor of the man who died last week at 44 after a long battle with cancer.
“Wayman lived a blessed life,” said Billy Tubbs, Tisdale’s former Oklahoma coach. “He did more in his 44 years than most people can do in 88 years.”
Pallbearers stepped to the beat of jazz music played on stage by Tisdale’s band. Leading the pallbearers was a man wearing white gloves and holding a basketball above his head as he marched to the stage in step with the music. He placed the ball on a stand on the stage, and the casket followed.
Tisdale, a 6-foot-9 forward, played 12 seasons in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. Former NBA players Charles Smith, Rory Sparrow and John Starks paid tribute Thursday. A.C. Green, a minister and ex-NBA player, spoke early in the service.
“He, in my opinion, was the first athlete to really put Tulsa on the map,” said Starks, also from Tulsa. “Wayman was a person I looked up to.”
Country music star and fellow Oklahoman Toby Keith played the Willie Nelson tune, “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground.” He said he had written a song about Tisdale, but that he wouldn’t be performing it given the emotion of the day.
“We had so many big plans,” Keith told mourners. “Every time I tried to say goodbye to him, he never let me.”
Tisdale recorded eight albums. A bass guitarist who often wrote his own material, his most recent album, “Rebound,” was inspired by his fight with cancer and included guest appearances by several artists, including saxophonist Dave Koz and Keith.
His “Way Up!” release debuted in July 2006 and spent four weeks as the No. 1 contemporary jazz album. His hits included “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” “Can’t Hide Love” and “Don’t Take Your Love Away.”
Jazz musician Dave Koz worked on three of Tisdale’s albums. He ticked off a list of things about his friend: “that big, bald head, goofy laughs, those big, huge feet with those basketball toes, those big bites he took out of life and his sandwiches.”
Musician Marcus Miller said Tisdale never let a wall come between him and his fans.
“I’ve seen Wayman signing autographs with a chicken wing in one hand in the middle of dinner,” Miller cracked.
A day earlier, hundreds of mourners packed a small church to pay respects. Some waited more than two hours in line to catch a glimpse of the open casket.
Tisdale’s high school classmate Lisa Miles fought back tears while explaining why she came Thursday.
“He was a big teddy bear,” Miles said. “Always there to hug you, always had a good word to say. He was a beautiful man.”