Born: May 11, 1934
Died: May 30, 2012
Position: Small Forward
Rochester Royals (1955-’57)
Cincinnati Royals (1957-’66)
If you’ve heard of Jack Twyman, it’s likely because of his superhuman, graceful acts off the court. For over a decade he helped care for his teammate and friend Maurice Stokes. That story has rightfully been told several times and will continue to deservedly be told.
But Twyman was a fine basketball player and that, too, deserves to be remembered.
A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Twyman starred at the University of Cincinnati averaging 24.6 points and 16.5 rebounds his senior season. His spectacular offense intrigued the NBA’s Rochester Royals who made him the 8th pick in the 1955 Draft.
Also taken in that same draft and also from Pittsburgh was Maurice Stokes. Twyman and Stokes formed an incredible duo of forwards that looked to finally propel the Royals out of a dangerous mediocrity following their halcyon years with Bob Davies, Arnie Risen and Bob Wanzer. Of course, the superb tandem never really achieved their potential with the Rochester (and then Cincinnati) Royals. Stokes’ paralysis in 1958 curbed the team’s ascent and Twyman was the lone bright spot for the Royals for the rest of the decade.
In the immediate aftermath of Stokes’ loss, Twyman picked up some serious scoring slack. During his first three seasons, Twyman averaged 16 points a game. After assuming the role of lead Royal, his average during the next three seasons would surge above 25 points every season including 1960 when he and Wilt Chamberlain both became the first players to average over 30 points per game for an entire season.
But the Royals were just awful these seasons. In 1959 they stumbled to 19 wins and gave a repeat performance in 1960 with 19 wins. It appeared Twyman was going to toil in mediocrity, but another Bearcat arrived to salvage Cincy: Oscar Robertson.
With the Big O on board, the Royals improved to 33 wins. Twyman’s PPG fell from 32 to 26 but his shooting percentage increased to 49%after shooting only 42% the previous season. Indeed his pre-Oscar career numbers were 21 PPG but on 42% shooting. After Oscar’s arrival his career numbers became 18 PPG but on 47% shooting. It apparently pays to have a great point guard at your side.
And Oscar was indeed great as Twyman fed off him to perfection. Twyman could move off the ball well and work himself into good position for a spot up jumper with a trigger quick release. If the spot up was unavailable he could drive it baseline with effectiveness as well. One thing Twyman “never” did, as Oscar joked in Twyman’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, was pass the ball. An exaggeration of course, but once Twyman got the ball, he was looking to score. It was, after all, his greatest asset. But he usually was in a great position to fill it up once he got his hands on the rock, so really not much to quibble with.
These Royals of Twyman and Oscar reached their apex in the 1963 and 1964 seasons when they appeared in the Eastern Division Finals opposite the Boston Celtics. In the 1963 showdown, Cincinnati actually was able to pin Boston down 2-1 in the series, but the Celtics ultimately prevailed in 7 games. Twyman for his part averaged 17.6 PPG in the series and 21 points and 8 rebounds overall during these only two extended playoff runs of the 1960s Royals. That Game 7 in 1963 was the closest Twyman and the Royals would get to reaching the Finals.
Although the Royals’ fortunes began to wane despite the talents of teammates like Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, Twyman hit an important individual milestone in January 1965 as he joined Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy and Paul Arizin as the only players in NBA history at that point to surpass 15,000 points for a career and he did it with a little style:
Twyman’s 15,000th came on a backhand layup with 4:45 left in the third period. Time was called, and Detroit player-coach Dave Debusschere presented the ball to the Royal star.
Twyman scored 17 points, finishing the game with 15,003.
Jack wouldn’t score too many more points after that. His career total capped at 15,840 and retired the next season in 1966, but not before one final memorable night.
During his final season, the Royals held Jack Twyman Night. Robertson decided to make the nigh truly special by feeding Twyman over and over. Jack who was averaging 7.5 points in that final year netted 39 against the hapless Knicks. Quite a send off from the Big O.
Twyman’s impact on the court was made by being one of the finest scoring forwards the league has seen, but he also had an important role off of it. And that’s not even including his constant care of Maurice Stokes.
Twyman, along with Bob Pettit and Bob Cousy, began meeting with Larry Fleisher to strengthen the nascent players’ union. These efforts culminated in 1964 when the players threatened a boycott of the All-Star Game unless the owners recognized Fleisher as their representative and bargain in good faith to achieve such notable items as a pension plan. Twyman was no doubt inspired by the tragic plight of Stokes who had no financial aid forthcoming from the NBA for his medical problem caused by playing in an NBA game.
And that is the case with Jack Twyman. A man who always considered others and was the consummate teammate.. He willingly let his own scoring numbers dip to accommodate Oscar, Bob Boozer, Jerry Lucas and other Royals stars and he certainly proved that generosity a million times over off the court. Truly one of the great players and great men of the game.
PS – I’d like to thank Michael O’Daniel, for his help with article and in general. He attended nearly every Royals home game at the time and gave me valuable insight.
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1960, 1962)
6x All-Star (1957-’60, 1962-’63)
Regular Season: 823 Games
Playoffs: 34 Games