The Jack Twyman who played for the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960s was a stranger to me. Sure, I have vague recollections of my father's NBA days, like the time I followed him into the locker room—a 5-year-old in a new red dress and black patent leather shoes—then stood with eyes riveted in amazement at the row of urinals. But I have no recollection of him on the court. When he retired in 1966, I was eight and distracted by a growing interest in ponies.
It wasn't until last spring, when he was elected to the Hall of Fame, that I began to appreciate what he had accomplished. Over his 11-year career he averaged 19.2 points per game, despite a 7.4 average his final season, in which he accumulated more than his share of pine time. Even then my father got the last laugh on his retirement night when coach Jack McMahon was virtually forced to play him, and he scored 39 points to help beat the New York Knicks 149-145 in overtime. His best season was 1959-60, when he averaged 31.2 points a game and scored a career-high 59 against the Minneapolis Lakers. As Boston coach Red Auerbach said, "Show Twyman a little daylight and—boom!—it's up and in."
Last August, 23 years after Auerbach's remark, I drove up from New York City to Monticello, N.Y. to watch my father participate in an old-timers' game. It was to be played before the annual Maurice Stokes benefit, a game involving NBA players, inaugurated in 1958 to help defray the medical bills for Maurice Stokes, a Royal forward who had developed encephalitis. Stokes died in 1970, but the game has continued, with all proceeds donated to a fund for needy players. To commemorate the game's silver anniversary last summer, most of the players from '58—my father included—were invited to play in an exhibition.
Of course, my father hasn't exactly been a fixture on the court since his retirement; he's the chairman of a Dayton-based wholesale grocery firm and only an armchair hoops fan. On the Sunday before he went to Monticello, Dad put himself through a three-hour refresher. It mustn't have been encouraging. "I don't know if you'll want to witness this," he said when I told him I was driving up for the game.
On game day I sat with him in his hotel room. He stepped out of the bathroom dressed in his gold game uniform and examined his reflection in the mirror. He had thickened in the middle and a second chin had developed where there was once one—a liability of being 49. "Hmmm," he said finally, "at least I won't be the worst-looking one out there."
"It'll be close," I teased, thinking to myself that he actually looked quite good.
The clamor from the capacity crowd of 3,118 in the field house was startling. Warming up on the court were the ghosts of NBA past. The practice period was longer than usual, a problem compounded by the rounds of greetings.
The game between the Blue and the Gold teams started with Wilt Chamberlain winning the opening tap. He was the crowd favorite, and the noise was deafening. Bob Cousy recovered the ball, drove down the lane and flicked a pass to Tom Gola. Two points for the Blue.
Several plays later Oscar Robertson, a Gold player, worked the ball down deep, then dropped it over his shoulder to my father, who was wide open. He missed, making him 0 for 3. This, I wondered, was the boom, it's up and in?
All the shooting was subpar, however, until the second half, when dormant skills slowly reawakened. A spell had been cast on the court, turning the clock back 20 years. Chamberlain's dunking brought the crowd to its feet. Dick McGuire shoveled off a pass to his left while looking to his right. Billy Cunningham was in perpetual motion under the basket, pouncing on any ball that didn't make it through the hoop.
My father caught fire, too. It didn't matter where he shot from, the ball found its mark. On one play he drove, made the easy layup and drew the foul. He high-fived Dolph Schayes on his way to the free-throw line, then looked over at me and winked.
That's when I began watching only him. He moved stiffly but instinctively, drifting to the open spot, finding the shot and following through. If my father could look this good at 49, what must he have looked like at 22?
I rejoined the game, watching from my seat at the press table, where I unabashedly broke a cardinal rule by cheering. In the thick of one of my table-pounding exhibitions, a game official tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a ballot for the MVP voting. I told him he couldn't be serious, but he smiled and insisted, "Just go ahead and vote." I scribbled D-A-D on the sheet.
The Gold won 49-42 and my father was voted MVP. "This is my last game," he said, hugging me across the press table. "My daughter finally got to see me play. What could top it?"
Not a single thing.