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‘An Unbreakable Bond’

Bearcats basketball legend Jack Twyman is at the heart of a new book about his incredible bond with NBA teammate Maurice Stokes

by Melanie Titanic-Schefft

A whole new generation is discovering one of the most inspiring off-the-court basketball stories in sports history thanks to a new book that features former UC great Jack Twyman.

Twyman set scoring and rebounding records while playing forward for the Bearcats in the 1950s and became an NBA six-time All-Star for the former franchise Cincinnati Royals. But Twyman’s personal excellence didn’t stop at the edge of the court. His dedication carried over into his personal life, especially when it came to the incredible responsibility he assumed and support he bestowed on his friend and NBA teammate Maurice Stokes, after a head injury left Stokes paralyzed.

Author Pat Farabaugh’s “An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman” showcases the altruism, dedication and the uncommon bond these two outstanding athletes shared not only while on top of their game, but most especially off the court.

Cover of the book "Unbreakable Bond"

Cover of Farabaugh’s Book: Stokes (No. 12) and Twyman (No. 10) of the NBA Cincinnati Royals. photo/courtesy Saint Francis University, Stokes Collection

Farabaugh is professor of communication at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania (where Stokes played college ball), but he learned of and fell in love with this story while serving as sports information director from 1999 to 2005.

Farabaugh explains in the book that getting Twyman — who died in 2012 at the age of 78 — to sit for an interview took some convincing because he feared he would be the focus instead of his friend. The author convinced him in 2011.

“He [Twyman] literally changed the trajectory of Maurice‘s life following his friend’s accident,” Farabaugh writes. “If not for Twyman’s tireless and selfless efforts, the last 12 years of Stokes’ life would have been markedly different.”

"An Unbreakable Bond" highlights how Twyman’s college and NBA All-Star achievements transcended basketball to break through economic barriers and the prevalent racial prejudices in the 1960s, as Stokes was African-American and Twyman was white.

Though Twyman and Stokes’ relationship was portrayed in a 1973 movie “Maurie,” until now, no formal book had ever been written about their bond. 

A life-changing injury

During the Cincinnati Royals’ final playoff game against the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958, Stokes suffered a head injury on the court and lost consciousness for a brief time before he returned to finish the game. On the plane trip home a few days later, Stokes suffered a seizure on the flight and quickly lost consciousness. 

Awaking from a six-week coma at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington, Ky., Stokes was paralyzed after suffering traumatic encephalopathy, resulting in permanent brain damage to his cortical motor strip, which disrupted the brain-to-muscle communication and made almost all of his voluntary movements impossible.

Because of the fragile state Stokes was in at the time, he could not be moved from the hospital and would have to stay in the Cincinnati area alone, as his parents and family were all back in Pennsylvania. Stokes’ teammates all had permanent residences outside of Cincinnati during the off-season, all except Twyman, who lived with his family in Indian Hill.  

Quickly realizing the dire straits Stokes was in with insurmountable hospital bills and a lifelong hospital residency on the horizon, Twyman immediately stepped in and became the sole caregiver, making financial and medical decisions for his long-term care and organizing all-star charity basketball games in the Catskill Mountains in New York to raise the extra funds for medical care.  

The real heart of Farabaugh’s story portrays how Twyman’s almost daily visits and unique friendship with Stokes grew stronger during this time. Before Stokes’ physical therapy enabled him to speak again, Twyman found a way to teach his friend how to spell words by blinking his eyes. And, after Stokes became more ambulatory in his wheelchair, Twyman’s family brought him home at least once a week for family dinners and quality time together. 

The inspiration that Stokes generated through his positive outlook and his aggressive approach to his rehabilitation inspired many, especially those who worked at Cincinnati’s Good Samaritan Hospital, as well as other patients.

“I benefited much more from being associated with Maurice than Maurice benefited from being associated with me,” said Twyman in his acceptance speech on Stoke’s behalf during Maurice’s induction into the NBA's Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004. “You learn pretty quickly what’s important and what isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, that’s Maurice’s legacy to the Twyman family. We learned a lot from him.”

Twyman became a basketball icon while playing for the Bearcats from 1952-55. While at UC he held the title as leading scorer all three years and became a second-team All-American in 1955. During his Bearcat career, Twyman became UC’s No. 2 all-time rebounder and No. 6 all-time scorer. He was inducted into the James Kelly UC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976 and the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Twyman’s retired jersey (No. 27) shares a spot on the wall in UC’s Fifth Third Arena with only three other Bearcat basketball greats – Oscar Robertson (No. 12), Cheryl Cook (No. 24) and Kenyon Martin (No. 4).

After numerous suggestions and requests by notables such as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to honor all that Twyman did to help his fallen teammate, former NBA commissioner David Stern approved a “Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.” The first recipient was Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups in 2013, and this year’s winner was Miami Heat’s Shane Battier. The award recognizes the NBA player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and as a role model to other NBA players. 

Farabaugh’s book chronicles how Twyman and Stokes’ lives became intertwined from their early Pennsylvania high school influences through the bonds of brotherhood they shared during Stokes’ last 12 years of disability.

The 250-page paperback shares scenes of basketball glory, along with illustrations of humor, perseverance, patience and, perhaps most notable, unconditional love.

UC and Saint Francis University will open the season at UC’s Fifth Third Arena on Nov. 14, and Farabaugh is planning a book signing at the arena prior to the game.

Melanie Titanic-Schefft is a UC journalism student and writing intern with UC Magazine.

Image gallery

Video of Twyman and Stokes