The Reagan Speech Preservation Society

The Best Basketball Story You've Never Heard

Modified: Tuesday, 20 July 2021 21:54 by admin - Categorized as: Podcasts
The following is a collection of the materials used in creating the ??? episode of the Citizen Reagan podcast about the Reagan's Radio Commentaries.





This is the Citizen Reagan podcast and I need to get in the habit of doing a few things with every episode, like asking you to rate and review the podcast with whatever services you use. Like asking you to share us with your friends, family, complete strangers and your worst enemies, I don’t care really, just as long as you share it. Like telling you that you can find past episodes, transcripts, research and more on a wiki on my webspace. The address for the wiki is but if you just visit, I have a variety of other projects there. I sell digitally restored books, magazines and pamphlets. I have constructed an archive of old pulp short stories. I accept donations through Ko-fi, if you're willing help out. It’s all there on the website. Now, with that out of the way, let's get to Reagan.

It's the best basketball story you've never heard about a player you've likely never known.

  • He still holds his college point and rebound records after almost 70 years.
  • As an NBA rookie, he averaged 16.8 points, 16.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per night, easily earning him the Rookie of the Year award. The next year, he set the record for most rebounds in a season.
  • He's one of 8 players to have 4 consecutive triple-doubles and the first to do it.
  • He was named to 3 All-Star rosters.
  • His jersey number retired by both his college and pro teams.
  • He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, almost 50 years after he left the court.
  • He has an NBA award named after him.

What does this have to do with Ronald Reagan? Well, obviously, Reagan did a broadcast about this player, well, strike that, about a movie about the player. There was a movie about him too??

Who am I talking about? Why haven't you heard of this player? I'm talking about Maurice Stokes and you may not have ever heard of him because he only played 3 seasons. Those that knew him, played with him, coached against him, said if he'd played a full career, he’d have been considered one of the top 10 in NBA history. I’d never heard of him myself until I listened to this broadcast.

Thus far, it's only a player you've never heard of. Once you hear Reagan, then my expansion of the history, you may agree about it being the best basketball story you've never heard.

Something happened a few weeks ago that gave me a better feeling about the movies than I got from the Oscar night. I'll be right back.

I suppose you could say that what I'm doing for the next few minutes is a commercial and maybe so because I'm going to try to sell you tickets to a movie. On April 22nd the Southern California Motion Picture Council presented an award to producer Frank Ross, co-producer and author Douglas Morrow and director Daniel Mann for a picture called "Big Mo." All three have considerable stature in the movie world. Among their credits, Frank produced "The Robe," Doug wrote "The Stratton Story," and the film biography of Jim Thorpe and Danny Mann has directed dozens of Hollywood's top films. "Big Mo" was the nickname of a great pro basketball player, the late Maurie Stokes.

The movie was released sometime back under the title "Maurie." It didn't sell. Whether it was the title, the distributing company (now out of business) or what, it was not a box office success, but those who did see it raved about it. Now the producers could have just written it off as another picture that didn't make it and gone on to other things, but they didn't. For one thing, making it had been a labor of love. They believed in it and so did virtually everyone who saw it. Cards were left in the lobbies of theaters and 99 percent of the people, old and young, who filled them out said more pictures like this should be made. So those of you who missed it will have another chance. It's being reissued under the new title, "Big Mo."

It's a true story of two pro basketball players, Maurie Stokes and Jack Twyman. At the height of his career, Maurie was suddenly stricken with a rare disability that left him totally paralyzed. Jack his teammate, couldn't stand the idea that Maurie would have to live out his life a physical vegetable, his mind active and alert but unable to even speak. Under Jack's insistent probing and questioning a doctor finally said that with years of therapy, at a cost of at least $100,000 a year, possibly, just possibly, Maurie might regain some ability to move and maybe speak. Jack said, okay begin. That was quite an undertaking for a basketball player who had a wife and child and another on the way and who only made $15,000 a year, but he took it on. For 11 years he went on playing basketball with Cincinnati, supporting his family and raising one way or another a $100,000 a year for therapy that gradually brought Big Mo to where he could speak and sit in a wheelchair.

Now that's all I'm going to tell you about the story because I want you to go see it. This is a picture that had to be made. We need it now more than at any other time. The acting is, in my opinion, outstanding. There is suspense, humor and deeply moving scenes that will make you realize once more that man has an indomitable spirit, that we do have a spark of the divine and we're capable of noble deeds and great love. Take the family, nothing in that picture would embarrass you but your children will be better off for having seen it, and so will you. In fact, you will come out of the theater feeling as tall as Jack and Maurie and they're six feet seven.

Watch for it. Big Mo a true story.

This is Ronald Reagan.

Thanks for listening.
We'll start with the movie. The movie stars former-NFL player Bernie Casey as Maurie and Bo Svenson as Twyman. You can watch a low-quality version of the movie on Youtube or, I also found it through a service called "Brown Sugar." First week is free, if you want to take a look. I went for the streaming service, and the quality looked very good, all things considered. The lone DVD edition I found is a DVD-R, meaning someone copied it from, most likely, a VHS tape.

Obviously, some level of license had to be taken in making a movie, but by all indications, it kept to the story very accurately. I could quibble about one thing or another based on what I’ve read, but I’d be operating on the assumption that what I read was accurate. There is one rather poignant line in the movie, perhaps among the most powerful. In the scene, Stokes' girlfriend, though he's trying to push her away thinking she'll be unhappy with him, is leaving the hospital after a visit. He’s also just had another visitor, Oscar Robertson, who’s going to drive her to the airport. They start talking about Jack Twyman:

Oscar: Where's Jack been all afternoon?
Dorothy: Well he flew over to Pennsylvania today. Another fund-raising luncheon. He'll be back for the game.
Oscar: I don't know how he does it.
Dorothy: Oscar, why does he do it?
Oscar: I don't know.
Dorothy: In all these years, he's never wavered. As if what he’s done for Maurie was the most natural thing in the world. Now to take that on along with his family and his career. Why?
Oscar: I don't know.
Dorothy: You've known Maurie and Jack for a long time. You must have wondered about it.
Oscar: Never wondered about it at all.
Dorothy: Oh come on Oscar you're not being honest. You're a sensitive man. You must have thought about it.
Oscar: No I never did because if I had ever wondered why Jack did it, I'd have to wonder why I didn't.

Now, this line does seem to imply, perhaps, that Robertson was there with the team when Stokes was struck down with his paralysis. This is not accurate. Robertson was drafted 2 years after the incident.

As for the real story. Was Reagan's version of events accurate? My research shows, yes it was. Let's get to expanding on the story.

Maurice Stokes, born in 1933 near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania one of four children of a steel mill worker. He attended college at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania. According to an ESPN Classic hour-long episode about him which I found on Youtube, he played basketball for the scholarship to go to college and get an education. Back then, you couldn't opt to leave school early either. You had to graduate from college to get drafted. How times have changed.

He was a dominant college player. I don't think there's any other way to describe anyone that can average over 25 points and rebounds per game. He was the MVP of the 1955 National Invitational Tournament, in spite of being on the fourth place team.

Stokes would be drafted into the NBA in 1955 as the 2nd pick, behind Dick Ricketts, a 2-sport pro, as Ricketts also played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. Jack Twyman, also, was drafted that year. Ricketts, having been drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, played with them for only one year. He would become a teammate of Stokes and Twyman, who had both been drafted by the Rochester Royals, the following year. To prevent any future confusion, now seems like as good a time as any to state that the Rochester Royals moved to Cincinnati in April of 1957. This is the team, historically speaking, that eventually became the Kings and moved to Sacramento.

Stokes was a unique talent. It's not unusual for a big man, again, he was 6 foot 7 inches as Reagan said, to be able to score or rebound, but he also finished 3rd in the league twice in assists. The only player to dish out more assists than Stokes during the same 3 year period, Bob Cousy, point guard for the Boston Celtics, called Stokes "Karl Malone with more finesse." Legendary coach Red Auerbach compared him to Magic Johnson and called him "the complete player" and "one of the few guys that could play all five positions."

On March 12, 1958, while playing against the Minneapolis Lakers (yes, kids, that's where the Lakers were originally from...the land of 10,000 lakes) Stokes was knocked to the floor over the course of normal play, but he landed awkwardly, struck his head and was knocked unconscious. He had to be woken with smelling salts and he returned to play. From all appearances, he was fine. He'd taken nasty falls during games before. Three days later, after a playoff loss to the Pistons, Stokes began to feel sick. He told Ricketts that he felt like he was going to die, which had a profound effect and led Ricketts to leave basketball completely and focus on his baseball career. Stokes would have a seizure on the plane trip home, possibly caused by the cabin pressure. He was taken to a nearby hospital in Covington Kentucky, where he remained unconscious for several weeks. He would be transferred to a Cincinnati hospital. He was completely paralyzed, limited to communication through blinking and eye movement.

Stokes' family was not in a position to take on his medical bills or move such that they could care for him, so Twyman stepped in. Twyman was the only player from the team to live in the Cincinnati area (he'd gone to college there). He would apply for and receive legal guardianship of his friend. He was able to start paying medical bills using what was left of Stokes' contract money, but this was nowhere near enough for long-term care. The Royals were quick to stop paying Stokes’ salary, and Twyman had to sue for workman’s compensation, since Stokes had been injured on the job. As Reagan said, he found ways to raise money for treatment and rehab. One of these was an annual charity basketball game, at a Catskills resort in upstate New York. In 2000, it was changed into a Pro/Am golf tournament. The NBA's insurance company would no longer insure players in the charity basketball game.

It took years of therapy, but Stokes would regain some movement. He could take small steps with the assistance of nurses and leg braces. He re-learned to speak, type and paint and was even able to attend some of these charity basketball games. However, after a period of decline, he would pass away of a heart attack in 1970. He was 36.

When inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, it was Twyman who accepted on his behalf. Twyman himself passed away in 2012.

There are two additional things I can add to this story, but I am actually hesitant to do it, because I don’t want to take this broadcast in a political direction.

The first, honestly, shouldn't even matter. Content of character, not color of skin, right? If you didn't know the story already and if you haven't stopped to look things up for yourself, maybe you don't know. Maurice Stokes was black and Jack Twyman was white and all this was going on in the 1950s and 1960s. Theirs is a story that should be celebrated and popularized.

The second is a simple statement I heard while watching Twyman's speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, also on Youtube.
Twyman: Um, over the 12-year period—think about this—totally paralyzed person, never failed, once, to vote, in a local election, in a state election or a national election.
I am still trying to track down information about voting in Ohio at the time, but I imagine he had the option to go to the polls on election day or an absentee ballot, no early voting. If I learn otherwise, I'll let you know. Voting isn't tough and it's worth your time. In my opinion, if a man suffering from paralysis like Maurice Stokes can vote every year, citizens really have no excuse not to participate. Wouldn't you rather have a say in your government?


Other Sources

Sports Hollywood, Maurice Stokes

Maurice Stokes’ Tragic Injury Set the Stage for Jack Twyman’s Heartwarming Act of Friendship -->

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